“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were seeing, nationally, trends of more severe outcomes and impacts of Covid in African Americans and in the African American population, so that prompted us,” said County Counselor and Black Equity Coalition founding member Olivia ‘Liv’ Bennett.
The Black Equity Coalition is a network of predominantly Black professionals, executive leaders, medical doctors, researchers, and community stakeholders who are intentional about ensuring that Black and brown communities receive accurate and reliable information about COVID-19.
Early on in the pandemic, they took action to better service Black neighborhoods.
“There were only two testing places…which is very difficult for people to get to that are in African American communities like the Hill District and Homewood. One of our requests to bring about equity was to have them put testing centers in more accessible areas for the Black community,” said Bennett.
She adds that work is being done that provides positive impacts in both the short and long term.
“The Black Equity Coalition is a hub and spoke model. There are numerous spokes to the hub, and so those spokes look like data, community engagement, policy, business, and workforce,” said Bennett. “Out of those spokes is how we are digging down into the weeds of those different ways of equity and making sure there is equity in these responses. We are looking at data and using data to tell us what’s going on in our community, but we’re also on the ground, for example bringing clinics into underserved and marginalized communities.”
To date, Bennett is most proud of how the Black Equity Coalition has fostered a better relationship between the Allegheny County health department and federally qualified health centers.
“The federally qualified health centers are [now] in the community and can be the response for those folks in the community, so I was very happy about that partnership.”
While COVID-19 was their starting point, Bennett does not see the organization’s work ending there.
“We understand that the impact that we saw from COVID-19 was because of the disparities that were already existing prior to COVID-19, so those things are the things that we are seeking to address…We want to make sure that we’re not just addressing the symptom, but we’re actually addressing the root cause.”