This is a time of profound loss of life in the wake of COVID-19 and deep mourning for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and victims of racial violence throughout America. Issues of equity on which MDC has toiled for more than 50 years have been laid bare and intensified. The ground we thought we had gained seems to be vanishing under our feet.
James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” MDC knows that addressing racialized, structural inequity is bitterly hard and utterly necessary. Recent events make us more determined than ever to help our region name, face, and change barriers to fairness and opportunity for people on the receiving end of injustice, and we vow to push ourselves to deepen even further our commitment to racial equity in all our work.
We are heartened that across the South, communities and organizations are stepping up in inspiring ways to reveal injustices and address the coronavirus pandemic and its unprecedented effects. This emergency is asking a lot from all of us, and we are thankful for those who are stepping into the breach. MDC wants you to know that we are there with you.
Despite the disruption, we will continue our work in Southern communities, from Chattanooga to Charleston and Mississippi to Kentucky—to strengthen early childhood systems, design networks to deliver integrated social services to vulnerable families, equip Southern philanthropy to address disabling inequities, and build strong educational pathways to upward mobility that will be even more critical going forward.
While the moment we are in is sobering, it also challenges us to keep working to reduce the conditions that put our vulnerable neighbors at risk and to make the South a place where all people have the opportunity to thrive, even when times are tough.
The virus and the region’s response to racial violence are reminding us of the inner strength of the South and its people to face hardship with bravery and compassion. The times also reveal the reality that commands MDC’s daily attention: that the South’s traditions of underinvestment in essential systems for health and social support, and tolerance of deep inequities in the criminal justice system, make too many of our neighbors vulnerable to the disruption, danger, and challenges presented by the virus, racial violence, and make clear the urgency of necessary responses.
For example, families now forced to stay home recognize move than ever the value of high-quality child care—particularly informal “family, friends, and neighbor” care. We offer two insightful papers out of the Great Expectations program in Forsyth County, N.C., about the importance of early childhood education and family, friends, and neighbor care to helping children, their parents, and child care workers rise up the economic ladder:
- Critical Infrastructure: Supporting and Strengthening Informal Child Care
- Early Childhood and Economic Mobility
We know that even before the coronavirus emergency, the South had the lowest rate of upward economic mobility in the nation. Even before this health crisis, we knew that, as our State of the South report in 2018 said, “The failure to expand Medicaid in states across the South not only has made it difficult for patients to receive and afford care, but for hospitals to keep their doors open.” As the Institute for Southern Studies found, “The rural South has lost more than 3,500 hospital beds due to hospital closures since 2005 — beds that could have helped in dealing with the spread of COVID-19.”
We know that only five Southern states have taken advantage of Medicaid expansion—now a top policy priority for advocates across the region. And we know that, by early June, there were nearly 400,000 cases of coronavirus in the South and more than 15,000 deaths.
As we learn more about innovative responses that can be helpful to a wider audience, we will raise those up through our networks, website, social media, and newsletters.
In these troubled and uncertain times, MDC stands with the people of the South. We are with you.