July 9, 2020
The past several weeks have seen Atlanta’s youth take to the streets to demand an end to police brutality and over-policing of Black communities. If you listen close, or speak with a youth, they will quickly expand the conversation to the injustices they see in their everyday life. The lack of economic opportunity in their neighborhood, low quality schools, poor housing, lack of quality healthcare, and grinding poverty that have held their family back for generations. Kids in our city know these things are not disconnected from policing, that they’re all part of a system designed to be disadvantageous to Black people. They dream of a better future and rightfully demand more from leaders in positions of power.
As our society reels from more killings of Black Americans, including those in our own backyard – Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia – I’m reminded again that things that seem disparate and unconnected are not, that the ugly system is rising its head again. When it’s not killing Black men, women and children with bullets or brutality, it’s killing them with a virus.
COVID-19 is still a real and present threat, as evidenced by the surge in cases seen across the nation and here in Georgia. From the beginning, this pandemic has been exacerbated by the system of racial injustice. A study by Morehouse School of Medicine shows that African-Americans in Georgia are being disproportionately affected by the virus. According to the COVID Tracking Project’s Racial Data Dashboard, Black people account for 31% of Georgia’s population but 47% of COVID-related deaths. The effects of this virus are placing even more strain on an already fragile system weakened by the disparities of income inequality and systemic racism. These are the very systems our youth are protesting.
As we reach the midpoint of summer and school districts are making decisions about how to return to school in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, I’m reminded of my days as a middle school science teacher. Summer was a break for me, a chance to relax and recharge, but for many of my students, who came from low-income and low-opportunity families, this same season is often one of the most stressful times of the year. When children are out of school, food insecurity rises, childcare costs skyrocket and housing stability becomes fragile. In Atlanta, where income inequality is the highest, these barriers are faced most by Black families.
Now, in the throes of a global pandemic and the most widespread protests for racial justice that we’ve seen in decades, I’m feeling urgent concern for low-income families across Atlanta, especially the children who are innocent victims of the effects of this virus and our broken systems. As a community, we must think about them and ask ourselves – What will happen to the children this summer?
Will they go hungry? Atlanta Public Schools, along with many other school systems, effectively provided food to families even as the school year was shortened. Atlanta Community Food Bank continues to stretch its resources, and organizations like Goodr are connecting families with surplus food from businesses. However, the supply won’t meet the demand. There will be hungry children in Atlanta this summer and beyond, unless we find a solution.
Will they be ready for the next school year? Much has been reported about the digital divide. Virtual school from home only works for those who have access to electronic devices and consistent Wi-Fi. According to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, 37% of students in their 23-county service area do not have access to an electronic device. Local Atlanta nonprofits like Inspiredu (formerly Power My Learning), which has distributed more than 825 devices to kids since mid-March, are helping to meet the gap. Community Guilds STEAM Truck has partnered with Brown Toy Box to provide custom-made activity boxes that encourage kids to get outside, get dirty and make something. The Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) at Georgia Tech has quickly pivoted a STEAM camp serving more than 400 Washington Cluster students to an entirely at-home program. Despite these efforts, there will be kids who experience a version of the “summer slide” that’s more drastic than we’ve ever seen before.
Will they get the emotional support they need? Research shows that children are more vulnerable to the impacts of traumatic events than adults. Because of COVID-19, children in Atlanta have been out of school and away from friends and school-based support systems for months. Groups like CHRIS 180 have been providing tremendous support, continuing to offer mental health services to children through the Westside Empowerment Center and virtual appointments. This crisis will have long-term effects, however, on the mental health and well-being of children, especially for those whose families will not bounce back quickly.
Will the children even have a place to call home? The Georgia Supreme Court has extended the hold on evictions until July 14. The national CARES Act prohibits evictions for approximately four months beginning March 27 for rental units in properties that participate in federal assistance programs or are subject to federally backed mortgage loans. Both are due to expire this month, and many experts in Atlanta are fearing a tsunami of evictions. If the basic need of housing isn’t met, it sets off a chain reaction that impacts every part of a child’s life.
I believe that ultimately, it is the responsibility of all the adults in Atlanta to make a better future for the generations behind us. I’m encouraged by the work of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way, who have galvanized so many behind the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, and by the nonprofits of all sizes who remain focused on serving those who need them. If you’re able, I encourage you to provide valuable assistance to our local nonprofits and the people they serve, donating either directly to nonprofits, particularly those I’ve mentioned here and others serving children and families, or to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. You can access the donation page for the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund here: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/united-way-of-greater-atlanta-inc/covid-19-relief-fund.
In the long term, we can’t let this moment be a flash in the pan. We must continue to fight racial injustice and dismantle the systems that are disproportionately affecting the Black children of Atlanta. Don’t accept this as an unchangeable reality, and don’t let this be the summer that more kids slip through the cracks. They may never recover if we do.