The current health crisis, economic crisis, and racial crisis has produced a devastating cold front that has wreaked havoc on our nation. Unless something dramatically changes, years from now historians will have no choice but to describe 2020 as being not the best of times, but the worst of times. The seasonal calendar says it is summer in America but metaphorically speaking, it feels a lot like winter.
Make no mistake, it is winter in America when a deadly coronavirus has sickened more than 3.0 million Americans and killed 136,000 to date and counting. And while all demographic groups have been impacted, according to the COVID Racial Tracker, nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. While underlying health conditions are part of the problem, we can’t turn a blind eye to the glaring health care inadequacies and the overall neglect that still exists in poor communities across the nation; especially in communities of color. This dismal picture is a clear indication that health care reform is an imperative that Congress must immediately address. Health care coverage shouldn’t be a privilege but a right given to all people of this nation.
It is winter in America when an economic crisis, agitated by the coronavirus, has made more than 40 million Americans file for unemployment since mid-March. As a result, food bank lines are getting longer, personal debt is increasing and patience is running thin. The shelter-in-place orders may have slowed the spread of COVID-19 but it had a negative impact on the economy. With no vaccine or therapeutic drug available, the economy will continue to suffer and thousands of people out of work will need additional financial assistance from the federal government.
It is winter in America when a racial crisis such as the senseless deaths of Mr. George Floyd, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, Mr. Rayshard Brooks, Ms. Breonna Taylor, and others send thousands of people of every race, creed, and color, in the middle of a pandemic, to the streets shouting: Black Lives Matter! While some people reject this phrase, I’m disappointed that we even have to say it at all. Nevertheless, all lives will matter when Blacks Lives Matter too. And so as the debate over police brutality, the renaming of U.S. military bases, streets, buildings, and the removal of symbols of oppression such as Confederate monuments and memorials rage on, the soul of the nation remains on trial hoping to redeem itself from sins of yesterday.
Finally, if our nation wants to become a more perfect union and cast aside the pall of winter for a spring bright with hope, both the White House and Congress must have the unmitigated courage to address and resolve health care inadequacies in poor and minority communities; provide additional economic relief to workers and small businesses; and facilitate the means to have a national solution-oriented conversation about systemic racism and police brutality; an all too familiar problem that has negatively disturbed the ebb and flow of our country for many years. If we fail to act now, these viruses will continue to spread and potentially harm and kill more precious souls. While some advancement has been made, more needs to be done to defeat this giant and bring healing to our land.
Progress will not be realized if business is exclusively conducted on the far left or right. Real change and progress happen when leadership, in the spirit of unity, takes a giant step outside its comfort zone to meet in the middle and solve the burgeoning issues of our time. Victory is well within our reach, but for it to manifest, our leaders must find common ground in the middle of the road. Until then, we all will be sadly entertained by a political sideshow that will make our nation not great again but divided again. And a country divided can’t stand together in unity or move to higher ground.
Dr. James D. Key is a U.S. Army chaplain (lieutenant colonel) and the author of the new book, A Long Way from Crenshaw: Lessons and Stories about Race, Love, Honor, and Faith for These Changing Times.