Black Equity Coalition Newsletter # 2

Black Equity Coalition Newsletter # 2

NewsLetter Production Timeline

Narrative Deadline: Oct. 19, 2021 – Editor review: Oct. 20, 2021 Digital setup: Oct. 29, 2021 – Release: Nov. 12, 2021

Introductory Note from The Huddle

Welcome to the 2nd publication of the Black Equity Coalition Newsletter. We created this newsletter to share updates on our work, where we are going and where we have been, and to provide resources regarding data, vaccine events, and important information for you to share with friends, family, and other stakeholders concerned about equity in our region.

For nearly two years, The Black Equity Coalition (BEC) has worked to support the creation of equitable systems that arm the dignity of every human being through collaborations, networks, and policymaking. We are a group of physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health and health care practitioners, social scientists, community funders, and government ocials concerned about addressing COVID-19 in vulnerable populations.

While our original focus was responding to COVID-19, the Coalition quickly realized that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the health, well-being, and economic stability of people of color highlighted the need to address institutional racism and structural impediments that continue to plague Black, undervalued and underserved communities. Thus, we are committed to working on matters of racial equity beyond the pandemic’s eventual end, aligning this work with the Social Determinants of Health, connecting resources to needs, developing partnerships that support collective impact, and addressing the systemic inequities that plague our region.

We have included a number of important resources, updates, and guides in this Fall/Winter issue of our newsletter and we hope that this information is helpful to guide you in navigating the pandemic and staying informed and safe. Please continue to practice the 3 W’s – wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands.

We invite your input and feedback and we thank you for joining us on this journey. Sincerely,

The Black Equity Coalition

Ruth’s introduction as the newest BEC Community Coordinator

The BEC would like to send a warm welcome to our newest team member, Ruth J. Howze, who will serve as the BEC’s Community Coordinator. Ruth comes to us with over 30 years of service in the community and the expertise of addressing public health issues on the ground in the Black Community. Ruth Howze is a native Pittsburgher from the Hill District and has provided health education across Allegheny County regarding conditions or serious health risks that posed a threat to the entire Black community. Ruth began her public health career at Primary Care Health providing HIV/AIDS Outreach to numerous neighborhoods across the county. Her work quickly drew the attention of Pitt University and the Allegheny County Bureau of Drug and Alcohol, who eventually formed a partnership to conduct a research study to evaluate behavioral changes with intravenous drug users and their partners to reduce the risk of infection. Ruth has also worked with Family Health Council (now Adagio Health) focusing on safe sex and tobacco use among teens and with Allegheny County Department of Human Services and the late Larry Davis to study recidivism and reintegration for ex-offenders. While working and raising her four children, Ruth obtained her bachelor’s in communications and her Master’s in Project Management and Technology at Carlow University. We at the BEC look forward to working with Ms. Howze to bring the BEC closer to the people that sure the most from social determinants that continue to perpetuate the disparity gaps most prominent in our region.


Homewood Health and Wellness Summit

The BEC were major sponsors of the 1st Annual Homewood Community Health and Wellness Summit. The BEC members also conducted and facilitated The Black Health Equity Panel Discussion with community members.

Pittsburgh’s Soul Food Festival

The BEC was a supporting sponsor of Pittsburgh’s Soul Food Festival, which honors and celebrates the rich history of Black culinary, butchery and food across Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh’s Soul Food Festival also oers specialized foods for sale, BBQ content, speakers, local and national music entertainment as well as kids activities.

A Soulful Taste of the Burgh- Pittsburgh Soul Food Festival

BEC + Pennsylvania DOH join for the first annual Community Health Summit hosted at the Kingsley Association

Members of the Black Equity Coalition (BEC) and the Oce of Health Equity for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, gathered on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 for a culturally relevant conversation providing COVID-19 information in efforts to reduce health inequities in not only Allegheny County but the state of Pennsylvania at large. The Community Health Summit was held at The Kingsley Association and was live-streamed on Zoom, Facebook and YouTube to increase education and access to COVID-19 resources. Please visit @blackequitypgh on YouTube to watch the full recording of the Community Health Summit or contact directly.

Building Trust in the Black Community

The door hinge squeaks as someone enters and gives the group sitting in chairs around the room an upward head nod. Clippers hum. Voices and laughter rise and fall. The outside world is only background noise. For the 30 minutes spent in the Barbershop, each week or maybe two, the Black man with the clippers standing behind the chair is the most trusted in the world. Then with a flick of his neck duster brush, he is finished. His client stands, feeling smooth, confident and ready for the world. It is a familiar scene for many and a unique opportunity for community collaboration.

Regionally, the Hair Initiative has joined with barbershops in the Black communities of Pittsburgh for two decades to promote public health education in high-risk communities. Owner of the barbershop, Kevin “Bat” Andrews, stated, “I have done these health events for over ten years. It’s my way of giving back to the community. I understand that I influence people around me. It was a great success.”

The Black Equity Coalition sponsored the latest installment of the Hair Initiative, this time focusing on COVID-19 vaccinations. The “Shots at the Shop” event brought together Bethany Community Ministries and UPMC to provide COVID-19 vaccines in East Liberty. Bat’s Barber Shop on Penn Avenue in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh hosted the event on September 18, 2021. “We vaccinated 25 individuals,” reported UPMC medical sta, “the highest number of first-time vaccinators at an event in months.” Partners in the broader COVID-19 initiative, with various efforts focused on the city, county, and state, include the Black Equity Coalition, the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Health Equity.
Those who opted for the Pfizer two-dose vaccine returned to Bat’s Barber Shop on October 9th for their second dose.
Some who attended Shots at the Shop also participated in a community survey on vaccine hesitancy. The hesitancy survey is yet another example of regional partnership among Pitt’s School of Public Health; Center for Health and Equity, Adagio Health, and the African American Strategic Partnership (AASP), a collaboration of regional nonprofits. Information collected through the anonymous survey will help to inform the BEC and AASP’s outreach and vaccine education.


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 95 percent of COVID-19 infections are a result of the delta variant, which is more dangerous and easier to catch than any variant we have seen. That is why it is more critical than ever that Black communities and those most vulnerable to complications

from COVID-19 renew the commitment to social distancing, handwashing, and vaccination to prevent further deaths and hospitalizations.
Technology is wonderful. But Human-ology is key to effectively spreading accurate information on how to

stay safe. AASP’s members have a long history of working hand-in-hand with each other and with our participants. We have consistently tackled issues that impact African American communities and providing true messages through trusted relationships is the first step of the AASP Community Trust through Information, Education, and Support (TIES) project.
Starting in September, AASP’s member organizations are joining forces to support health and well-being among Black communities. The purpose is to build knowledge on how to stay safe so that residents can make informed decisions. AASP Community TIES partners will champion a networked approach in alignment with COVID-19 advocates and public health and medical experts. Partners will host educational events featuring African American medical professionals. These community conversations will gather perspectives and answer questions related to the risks and benefits of COVID precautions. AASP Community TIES will also connect residents to vaccination clinics for seasonal flu, COVID vaccine and boosters when the time comes. Partners will use surveys with the hope of better understanding the challenges and stressors the pandemic has raised among residents and how AASP can help.
AASP members have shown our care for equipping community members and have provided basic needs like food, clothing, and housing support throughout our neighborhoods. Through AASP Community TIES, trusted organizations will continue to advocate for the wellness of our neighborhoods. We hope that you will join us and unite to protect our communities. We need your help to make sure that everyone gets the chance to make the best choice for themselves and our futures.

Feature Article

Restructuring Life During a Pandemic By Mercedes J. Williams

The juggling act of raising a Black family of five in Pittsburgh is already a daunting task, but when you add a global pandemic to the equation almost every job becomes insurmountable. COVID-19 has changed how I protect myself and my loved ones from this deadly virus, causing a residual life to restructure.

The dicult part is the reorganization of our routine. It required tending to everyone’s needs and talents during a pandemic — mainly the social isolation from friends and family. It was a turbulent balancing act.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we had the luxury of not searching for toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant because couponers had those items in abundance. We actually thrived during the first few months with the coziness of staying home. Working from home and going to school remotely provided an additional blanket of security and the timing was ideal.

The most immediate concern we all faced was my husband’s decision to not vaccinate. What else can a wife do besides love and pray for her husband, support and respect his decision, and continue to educate him with scientific information? In addition to his decision to not get vaccinated, my husband works in the healthcare field-so there was a good chance that COVID-19 could be at our doorstep. But, to date, he has remained COVID-19 free.

Ironically, in November 2020, it was me who tested positive for COVID-19. I have chronic asthma and the gasps for air and chronic fatigue left me nonfunctional. For 14 days, I wore a mask around the house, disinfected common areas, and was confined to my bedroom to protect my family. I relied on my husband and oldest daughter to do simple tasks that were typically labeled as mine. Vaccinations were still in the trial stages at the time, so as you can imagine, I was eager to receive the vaccine in early March. If getting vaccinated reduced the chances of contracting COVID-19 again and possibly harming my family and others, the decision was easy.

The kids have now returned to school in-person and the basic right to education has become an uphill battle: public transportation because of the driver shortage; new early start time of 7:15 AM, which requires my children to catch the 6:35 AM bus; school sports for my son are non-existent; mask and social distancing are required the entire day.

Two of my children were forced to be quarantined days after starting school, which ultimately forced the entire family into “lockdown.” The rat race to find a testing site and appointment, call o of work from two jobs, and make arrangements with my professors and manage my schoolwork at home was laborious. As a matter of fact, we all became ill — chills, fever, cough, and fatigue. This lasted about a week. I had no other choice but to call on family and friends to pick up the slack.

The pandemic has not been all bad though.

If anything, these past 20 months have been a unique opportunity for my family to grow closer and reset. We started “pandemic picnics,” where during the warmer months, we grab a blanket, choose a restaurant, pick a park, and just hang out for hours. The socialization piece of the pandemic has created a more cohesive unit at the Williams residence.

Twelve years after dropping out of college, I returned to school with plans to graduate this December with my bachelor’s degree of Liberal Arts in Multiplatform Journalism and Theology from Duquesne University. With the help of my little sister, my business, Movie Scene Queen, is now a registered trademark, and I’ve picked up numerous freelance writing jobs.

This pandemic is teaching me the art of balancing my energy in the midst of darkness and uncertainty. I am taking my health and wellness back! I have lost my pandemic weight, plus more. And finally, I will start a master’s program in Spring 2022. My best advice is to PUSH (Pray until something happens).

Vaccination News and Highlights

If you are not vaccinated, Get Vaccinated!
Pfizer Vaccine Boosters have been approved and are recommended.
FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Children 5 through 11 Years of Age | FDA

According to the Centers for Disease Control, booster shots are available if you received the Moderna, Pfizer, or J&J vaccine more than 6 months ago and are:

  • ●  Age 65+

  • ●  Residents and sta in long-term care settings

  • ●  Age 18+ and have underlying medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, obesity

  • ●  Age 18+ and work in high-risk settings including healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store

    Additional doses are recommended for immunocompromised individuals.

    Get a flu vaccine: September and October are good times to get a flu vaccine. You can get a flu vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine. Find your flu vaccine



    When it comes to numbers, more is often better. Take, for example, higher salaries and higher grades are both the goal. But for the numbers on COVID deaths, not so much. We want to get to the lowest possible number. According to the numbers throughout the pandemic, Black and brown communities have consistently been on top, and not in a good way. Higher rates of infection can mean longer stays in the hospital and lead to higher death rates.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control unvaccinated individuals had more than 6 times greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and more than 11 times greater risk of dying from the COVID-19.

We need to get to the bottom line…a closer look at COVID deaths shows that people who are vaccinated have the lowest death rate when they do get COVID, while the unvaccinated (black line) represent the “mountain” of COVID deaths. The only way to get to the bottom line is to get vaccinated and stay fully vaccinated by getting the booster, as needed.

The need for vaccination among all of us, but especially elders, is still great. The table below, updated in early November, demonstrates that seniors (65 – 79 yrs. and 80+ yrs.) have been impacted much more than other groups of unvaccinated people. Another striking reality is that unvaccinated people between the ages of 50 and 64 are at just as much risk as vaccinated 80+-year-olds, who though protected somewhat through vaccination, tend to have more medical issues that put them at risk of death even with protection from the more severe symptoms.

By Allegheny County Councilwoman Liv Bennett

Being a policymaker comes with great responsibility; especially since historically, policies have been used to oppress Black and marginalized people. Being a Black policymaker in a time such as this allows me to legislate policies that reverse the inequities in our fundamental systems and institutions and make a more just and equitable society for all.

Much of our society is based on the hierarchy of White Supremacy. The more one is able to assimilate towards Whiteness then the more one can access the full benefits of the American promise. This is how I see the role of a policymaker: supporting a just and equitable society by making sure our laws allow all of our citizens to live safely as exactly who they are and how they were created.

One of the most unsafe places for Black people to be themselves is in their place of employment. This was especially true for Black women if they chose to wear their natural hair. But this was not true of just women but of men as well if they chose to wear locs, braids, cornrows, or any other natural hairstyle that did not assimilate towards whiteness. Knowing this fact, I sponsored and passed an amendment on Council to add hairstyles as a protected class in the County Code of Ordinances.

We have seen and heard stories of injustices when it came to police and civilian relations. There are countless police shootings with very little accountability. I have often been on the frontlines of protests demanding accountability or at least explanations for the families of these victims. One of these victims, Antwon Rose II, reignited the call for a Countywide Independent Police Review Board (IPRB).

The County Council had tried and failed twice to pass a Countywide IPRB. So when I was elected to Council in January 2020 I started the work of making sure we passed legislation to create an IPRB as a critical step to keeping Black people in Allegheny County safe. The IPRB is not everything that I envisioned for the County but it can be built upon as we continue to push for more equitable policies in our region.

It is also important that we acknowledge the history of Black people through inclusive education and by celebrating and acknowledging the freedom of enslaved Black people in our country. I worked to make Juneteenth a Countywide holiday to acknowledge our past and the true history of this country. I worked to declare racism as a public health crisis so we can start to repair the damage that the sin of slavery did specifically to Black people. I am now working to have our full history acknowledged through our education system through the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

We cannot forget that just two years ago Pittsburgh was named as the worst city for Black women to live. Part of the reason for this is our policies. It is my job to correct this and as long as I am blessed to serve in my seat I will continue to work to bring about justice and equity for Black people.

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