The Natchez Trace Historical Tour: Expedition 2022

By Augusto Macedo

Famed American author William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past[.]” this proved to be accurate in our experience as we, a group of 13 (“G-13”) friends, cycled from April 1-6, 2022, from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN on the Natchez Trace Parkway (“N.T.”). The NT is a managed National Park Service scenic 444-mile road through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee that roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace” and “Trail of Tears,” a historic travel route used to remove Native Americans from their homeland forcibly. Our lives became enriched daily as we journeyed and visited with the people of that region, who welcomed us and shared their knowledge and experience. They showered us with “southern hospitality.” After planning for over a year and meeting weekly for five months via Zoom, our cycling journey took six days with overnight stays in Jackson, Kosciusko, Houston, Belmont, Collinwood, and Nashville.

In Natchez, Executive Director Bobby Dennis of The Natchez Museum of African American Culture escorted us through the Museum. He highlighted, among other exhibits, “The Black Butterfly,” Daisy Newman, a renowned hometown opera singer. In addition, he challenged us to be the authors of “our own” stories. With our minds enriched, it was time to enrich our bodies with southern cuisine. A fantastic meal was prepared specifically for us by Chef Jarita Frazier-King of Soul Food Natchez. While feasting, she educated us about the meal’s preparation and her family’s quest to preserve Southern African American recipes. Complementing our visit, we were honored to meet Natchez City Ward 2 Adelman, Billie Joe Frazier, who shared the history of his city, its county, and the state of Mississippi.

The following morning, the first day of cycling from Natchez to Jackson began with a wealth of anticipation and the “Circle of Life,” where everyone circled together in prayer for a safe journey, our daily ritual before each ride. Afterward, we dined at Ms. Darlene Wilson’s Southern Style Restaurant & Catering before our respective two wheels began turning northward. When we entered the N.T., several historic stops emerged, including Emerald Mound, Mount Locust, and the Sunken Trace, providing a wealth of historical and educational opportunities. We unexpectedly met Nashvillian Brad Meshell on his N.T. 444-mile journey to raise autism awareness in honor of his son. After lunch, Major Taylor affiliate Jackson’s Soul City Cyclists Club graciously met up with us on the N.T. and escorted us into the City of Jackson. Later that evening, President Aree Williams hosted G-13 at his home to a southern spread that included fish, chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, corn-on-the-cobb, and certainly, southern iced tea. We were treated like royalty!

We met Oral Historian Alissa Rae Funderburk from Jackson State University (“JSU”) Margaret Walker Center the next morning. She gave us a tour of the Council of Federated Organizations (“COFO”) Headquarters, where we learned about COFO’s execution of voter registration and education. The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was led by Robert (Bob) Moses, whose efforts Dr. King had described then: “Our nation sent out Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the under-developed nations of the world, and none of them experienced the kind of brutality and savagery that these voter registration workers have suffered here in Mississippi.” From JSU, we paid a visit to the state Capitol where we encountered a Post Reconstruction Era Confederate monument, which praised the enslavement of humans, a stark reminder that racism never really goes away. It just changes forms.

Leaving Jackson on our shortest daily ride of 55 miles to Kosciusko, we experienced the picturesque Ross Barnett Reservoir, Cypress Swamp, and more joshing with thoughts of “sexy blue,” “Dr. One Glove,” “Screwdriver,” “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” “G.C. a/k/a L.T.,” “Ms. Brown Rice,” “My Black Gummy Bear,” “u good?” “Professor,” “Black Bourgeoisie,” “Ms. Garmin,” “Doppler Master,” and “Mr. Heinz,” among others. Nicknames and key phrases led to laughter galore, which became daily shenanigan rituals!

Kosciusko native and retired educator, Mr. Charles Hall, visited with us and shared his wealth and rich experiences of his and Oprah’s hometown, including the horrific events described in Stokes McMillian’s book entitled: “One Night of Madness,” while we dined, more like threw down on collard greens with rice, Liberian style. In our Antebellum mansion over breakfast, we learned about Oprah’s financial support and the appreciated benefits to the local Kosciusko Boys and Girls Club.

From Kosciusko through Houston, Belmont, Tupelo, Collinwood, and finally Nashville, we toured the Bynum Burial Mounds built between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., Monroe Mission, where the Europeans imposed Christianity on the Chickasaw Nation, Pharr Mounds, and Nomadic Burial Mounds built around 1-200 A.D., all the while marveling at the accomplishments of the Native Americans. We visited Commander Meriwether Lewis Memorial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who died there in 1809. A surreal and amazing highlight was the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, where we were blessed to meet the spouse and dog of Tom Hendrix, who had hand-built the wall to commemorate his great-great-grandmother’s return journey after she was forced from her native land during the infamous “Trail of Tears and Death.”

The morning we left Houston, we had awakened to SAD news before Ms. Carol Koutroulis’ Bridges-Hall Manor (“BHM”) best-served country breakfast of the entire trip. Alexis Richburg, a friend, and brother, who had ridden with us on the 2021 Gullah-Geechee Tour to raise awareness for the cure of cancer, had lost his battle with cancer. The strong thunderstorms (thunder-boom!) that jolted G-13 and BHM were Alexis’s earthly farewell, and we dedicated that day’s ride to his honor. While in Belmont and after giving tribute to Alexis, we were reminded about the 1972 movie “Deliverance” and to be mindful of our surroundings, to which we adhered.

Doppler Master Glenn graciously informed us we had at least four category climbs to contend with over the next 95 miles into Nashville on the morning of our last cycling day. Shortly after that, we encountered and elected to take a “road less traveled,” a semi-paved road that led to a section of the original Natchez Trace Trail. We transported ourselves back in time as we traveled the 1.5 miles until it reconnected with the N.T. Cycling into Nashville was physically the most challenging as we encountered many rated long climbs often accompanied by strong headwinds. Still, we were elated at our safe completion of 444 miles without a single mechanical or flat tire! To the dismay of a few riders, there was no actual Mile Post (“M.P.”) 444 to indicate the end of our Amazing six-day journey. Screwdriver and Ms. Garmin went off in a desperate search to locate the M.P., to no avail! Fact, MP 444 doesn’t exist. As the day closed, Ice Cube reminded us that “Today was a good day!” While in Nashville, we visited Black institutions, including American Baptist College, Fisk University, and Meharry Medical College, and enjoyed a guided tour provided by Mr. Grant Winrow, a/k/a “the Mayor” of Tennessee State University. We also visited Black restaurants Slim & Huskies, Swett’s, and Prince’s Hot Chicken. We concluded our expedition with a tour of Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green Distillery for some good ole Tennessee Whiskey, which we downed with homemade “fufu and soup” prepared by Screwdriver. Experience, simply PRICELESS!

Augusto Macedo masterminded the G-13 expedition. It included Carl Adoph, Edward Dunn, Glenn Daniels, A.J. Haney, Carole Harris, John Johnson, Jerry Macauley, Teddy Macauley, Carolyn Misick, Toni Moore, Latricia Turner, and Howard Tyndle.

About the Author

Augusto “Gus” Macedo is hilarious, fun, Liberian war survivor, child trauma survivor, husband and father extraordinaire, lawyer/entrepreneur, beautiful loving kind friend, seeker of knowledge and truth, carrier of light and wisdom, pursuer of equity, kind soul, and gracious spirit who explores history, especially African American history while cycling. He received his BS from Tennessee State University and his JD from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. He resides in Maryland with his wife.

The Power of Will – and Its Limits

Moments of crisis force a reexamination of priorities that has the power to open new possibilities. What had seemed a bad idea or not worth the effort in a moment of tranquility can become essential. Crises, such as the Great Depression on World War II, generate a will that had not existed and, when channeled toward common goals, that will can make the impossible possible.

As detailed in this volume, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a crisis that has amplified disparities that have long plagued our society. In health and schools, housing and the workforce, the pandemic further exposed the vulnerabilities keeping so many from reaching their potential or even from finding basic stability. These gaps have existed for years and have been tolerated as merely a cost of a system that delivered national prosperity, however unevenly spread. There had been no will to comprehensively address housing and employment instability, gaps in the infrastructure of technology or the delivery of health care. The pandemic made addressing some of these longstanding problems more imperative.

All of a sudden, an evicted family that needed to search for new housing in the midst of the pandemic became a potential spreader of the virus. In a wrecked and uncertain economy, a worker who’d lost their job faced the possibility of months without any income, with impacts felt within the most vulnerable families and in the economy at large. What to do about children who would be attending school virtually, but whose homes did not have reliable access to the internet? Before the pandemic, such lack of connectivity might have seemed merely an inconvenience, a barrier to effective communication or robust research; in the midst of the pandemic, it became a barrier to participating in school at all (Camera, 2020).

In response, many discovered a new will to strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable in our midst. Policies that had seemed out of reach entered the realm of the possible due to the pandemic. Most notably, the federal government instituted a widespread moratorium on evictions (Ramsey Mason, 2020) and increased financial assistance to the unemployed (Alcala Kovalski & Sheiner, 2020). Other anti-poverty measures that had been fringe ideas, such as direct payments to individuals, families, and businesses (Edmonson, 2020) and forbearance of student loans (Rowan, 2021), became realities. Local governments, too, addressed needs exposed by the pandemic. Here in Memphis, the Shelby County government created relief funds for various categories of affected workers (Dries, 2021) and the Shelby County Schools worked to ensure wi-fi connectivity to students in need (Holguin, 2020). Having redefined the possible in the throes of the pandemic, policymakers have begun to consider how some of these measures can survive into the post-pandemic world, tightening the social safety net.

The power of more focused will was also evident in the response to the murder of George Floyd. The vulnerability of African Americans in encounters with law enforcement was certainly not a new or unknown phenomenon. However, activists protesting the dehumanizing, even lethal, treatment were often stymied in efforts to build support to enact more effective policies to reduce the number of such encounters and increase accountability when they did occur. Floyd’s murder, along with contemporaneous killings of others, such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, decreased the tolerance for inaction. Symbolically, there was a move from a world in which Colin Kaepernick was vilified for a solitary and silent protest during the national anthem in 2016 to a world in whicH entire sports leagues were supporting players in declaring Black Lives Matter in 2020. On a policy level, ideas for criminal justice reform that had been moving glacially or had stalled, such as eliminating chokeholds (Kindy et al., 2020), reexamining immunity for police officers (Gipson, 2021), and reconsideration of police involvement in non-violent circumstances (Thompson, 2020), found more favorable reception within many levels of government.

The reforms made possible in the pandemic or in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were neither perfect nor complete, but they revealed a shift in the universe of possible policy change to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. Introduced in a moment of crisis, they have revealed that the failure to consider such policies in more stable moments is due to a lack of collective will rather than to some inherent impossibility. The pandemic has revealed a new category of what is possible, if only we can muster the will to pursue it.

However, the pandemic has also revealed challenges to doing so. After all, will can be fleeting. As the focus of crisis dissolves, addressing the vulnerabilities it revealed can seem less imperative. Further, new enthusiasm for once-impossible policies can also have the effect of intensifying enthusiasm for opposition. Both of these limits on the power of will have emerged as the pandemic lingers.

While there has been talk of continuing many of the pandemic-related reforms, particularly those involving strengthening the safety net, those suggestions have been met primarily with concerns about costs. This presents a test as the urgency of the pandemic subsides. Having seen the benefits of a stronger safety net, will policymakers maintain the will to leave them in place? Or, absent a crisis at hand, will they be tempted to make cuts that shift the costs back onto vulnerable individuals and families? Similarly, translating the anger from the summer of 2020 into a sustainable effort to address criminal justice will require maintaining the will generated in a passionate moment through the tedium of policymaking.

Doing so becomes an even greater challenge because as an emergency pushes the bounds of potential policy change, opponents of that change strengthen their resistance. This was evident in the backlash against 2020’s Black Lives Matter movements – in the moment, resistance often took the form of criticism of the protesters, but as the work shifts to policymaking, those pushing for greater law enforcement accountability will do so in the face of fierce opposition. The opposition to extending the pandemic safety net or expanding health benefits is likely to be less emotional, but no less organized. Indeed, the politicization of the pandemic more broadly, seen in resistance to health directives, mask mandates, and vaccines, demonstrates the depth of the challenge ahead. Such resistance presents a true test of will.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered so much about the way we see the world and it is unlikely that we can ever return to the world that existed before such a formative societal experience. Amidst the trauma, however, we have been pushed to find new solutions to long-existing problems. The pandemic created a space to reimagine what
is possible and revealed that old excuses for not taking action to assist the most vulnerable could be removed so long as there was a will to do so. Having now seen how policies can provide stability within our community, the challenge is ensuring that such policies will continue to do so.

Recommendations

  • Research: Study the effectiveness of pandemic-related responses to persistent social problems, such as housing instability, employment instability, disparate access to technology, and reduction in bail, to demonstrate the impacts of these policies and their value even outside the context of the pandemic. Collect both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Organize: Build coalitions of individuals, community groups, and institutions to support efforts to pursue extension and expansion of successful pandemic-related policies addressing persistent social problems.
  • Advocate: Identify policymakers at all levels of government willing to lead in extending and expanding successful pandemic-related policies addressing persistent social problems; prepare to respond to criticisms of such extensions or expansions from unsympathetic individuals, groups, institutions, or policymakers.
  • Persist: Prepare for long-term work in preserving successful efforts as immediate urgency wanes, attention

shifts, and work evolves to more tedious efforts to build and implement policies.

REFERENCES

  • Alcala Kovalski, M., & Sheiner, L. (2020, July 20). How does unemployment insurance work? And how is it changing during the coronavirus pandemic?” Brookings Institute. Retrieved from https://www.brookings. edu/blog/up-front/2020/07/20/how-does-unemployment-insurance-work-and-how-is-it-changing-during- the-coronavirus-pandemic/
  • Camera, L. (2020, April 1). Disconnected and disadvantaged: Schools race to give students access. US News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-04-01/schools-rush-to-get- students-internet-access-during-coronavirus-pandemic
  • Dries, B. (2021, Jan. 6). Harris proposes county $2.5million restaurant workers relief fund. The Daily Memphian. Retrieved from https://dailymemphian.com/article/19120/harris-proposes-county-25m-restaurant-workers
  • Edmondson, C. (2020, March 25). 5 things in the $2 trillion Coronavirus stimulus package. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/us/politics/whats-in-coronavirus-stimulus-bill.html
  • Gipson, R., Jr. (2021, May 12). Why qualified immunity privilege is bad public policy and must be eliminated.
    The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved from https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/2021/05/12/ why-qualified-immunity-privilege-should-eliminated/5056753001/
  • Holguin, B. (2020, August 4). SCS provides internet hotspots to 24,000 families. WMC Action News 5. Retrieved from https://www.actionnews5.com/2020/08/04/scs-provides-internet-hotspots-families/
  • Kindy, K., Schaul, K., & Mellnik, T. (2020, September 6). Half of the nation’s largest police departments have banned or limited neck restraints since June. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www. washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/police-use-of-force-chokehold-carotid-ban/
  • Ramsey Mason, K. (2020, September 3). What the CDC eviction ban means for renters and landlords: 6 questions answered. Associated Press, Retrieved from https://apnews.com/ article/17b98671a11b95772dc2cdf1d9bcd490
  • Rowan, L. (2021, August 6). Biden Education Department announces one more student loan forbearance extension. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/student-loan- forbearance-additional-extension/
  • Thompson, C. (2020, July 24). This city stopped sending police to every 911 call. The Marshall Project. Retrieved from https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/07/24/crisisresponders

COVID 19 and Work Employment Disparities Magnified

By Elena Delavega, PhD, MSW (Professor, School of Social Work The University of Memphis) & Gregory M. Blumenthal, PhD (Principal, GMBS Consulting Memphis, Tennessee). From the 2021 Hooks Institute Policy Papers “Race in the Time of COVID-19.”

Introduction

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged at the end of 2019, resulted in the closures of businesses and workplaces, causing enormous disruptions to work and to the economy (Rothan & Byrareddy, 2020; Sorhabi et al., 2020), particularly to the most vulnerable in society including minorities, who often bear the brunt of poverty and exclusionary policies (Reeves & Rothwell, 2020; Weible et al., 2020; Wright & Merritt, 2020). Racial minorities experienced the worst of the pandemic early on (CDC, 2020). COVID-19 was a great game-changer, but in many ways, it was not. Existing disparities were only magnified.

COVID-19 and Employment/Unemployment

The pandemic did not affect everyone equally. Existing problems brought by social policies that advantage certain groups while excluding others were magnified by the pandemic (Long et al., 2020). Income inequality is associated with worse outcomes from the pandemic, but income inequality was not brought on by the pandemic; it is a preexisting condition (Graham, 2021).

Privileged Workers: Working from Home

Those workers who were able to work from home digitally were able to retain their incomes, health insurance, and housing (Long et al., 2020). People who were able to work from home were also impacted a lot less by school closures and lack of childcare, as they were able to stay home and watch their children (Gould & Shierholz, 2020).

Essential Workers

People in the service and hospitality industries were affected in the worst ways (Long et al., 2020). People in the service industry, particularly those in the lowest strata and with low to no power, did not have the opportunity to protect themselves by working from home, by practicing social distancing, or by having the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) (Glover et al., 2020; Miller et al., 2020; Van Drie & Reeves, 2020). These workers were not only not able to avoid work and social distance, but they were additionally burdened by school and childcare center closures (Gould & Shierholz, 2020). African Americans are disproportionately affected by these burdens (Yancy, 2020).

Essential workers such as grocery and warehouse workers and truck drivers were called “essential” because they provided services that allowed people who were able to work from home and isolate to continue to receive what they needed to support life (US. DHS, 2020). However, essential workers were not essential in the sense that they should survive or receive adequate compensation or protections – essential workers are, in fact, expendable workers. These workers have no choice because while the death rate from the virus may be between 2% and 10%, the death rate from starvation is 100%.

Workers Who Lost Their Jobs

Many people lost their jobs, particularly when restaurants closed and people canceled vacations (Long et al., 2020). People in precarious situations suffered the worst job losses, but others were furloughed, which meant they received no salary during the period (Graham, 2021). For a worker who depends on his or her salary for survival, the income loss was devastating. People who lost their jobs or were furloughed lost their healthcare also. (Graham, 2021).

Nationally, job losses between May 2019 and May 2020 were most acute on an absolute basis among restaurant, janitorial, and secretarial workers and on a percentage basis among tourism, entertainment, and hairstyling workers. There were actually strong increases in employment among computer programmers (absolute increase) and telemarketers (percentage increase). (BLS, 2020a, 2021a) Note that the increases were among occupations with high work-from-home potential, while the decreases were among occupations with required physical attendance.

Memphis Poverty and Job Distribution

Minorities in Memphis tend to have the highest poverty rates and to be concentrated in service jobs that were most likely to either disappear due to the drop in demand or to require the worker to continue to expose himself/ herself to the virus with no protection. In Shelby County, roughly 21% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics work in service jobs, while only 13% of Whites do. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c). Roughly 23% of Whites and 23% of Blacks work in office jobs, while only 113% of Hispanics do. Roughly 5% of Whites and 6% of Blacks work in agricultural jobs, while 30% of Hispanics do. Roughly 50% of Whites work in managerial or professional jobs, while only 25% of Blacks and 15% of Hispanics do.

In the Memphis metropolitan area, job losses between May 2019 and May 2020 were most acute on an absolute basis among restaurant, janitorial, and secretarial workers and on a percentage basis among agricultural workers. There were strong increases in employment among nonprofit social service workers and legal service workers. (BLS, 2020b, 2021b). As seen nationally, the increases were among occupations with high work-from-home potential, while the decreases were among occupations with required physical attendance. As seen above, jobs which employ Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately lost, while jobs that employ Whites were disproportionately gained.

The K-Shaped Recovery

People in low-wage jobs were hit hardest, and many of those jobs may not have recovered because workers moved to different jobs or different regions (Begley et at., 2021). In Tennessee, according to Opportunity Insights (2021), at the height of the pandemic crisis on April 17, 2020, the unemployment rate was for low-income workers minus 29.2%, for middle-income workers minus 15.6%, and for high-income workers minus 7.2%, what these had been in January 2020. The huge drops did not last long, however, and by June 30, 2020, things had stabilized somewhat, with the unemployment rate for low-income workers at minus 10.7%, for middle-income workers minus 4.9%, and for high-income workers plus 0.9% January 2020 levels. The situation has not improved much for low-income workers since then. When compared to January 2020, on May 5, 2021, high-income workers had gained 13.1% in employment, middle-income workers had gained 3.0%, but low-income workers were still 10.1% below where they had been before the crisis, or roughly in the same situation as in June 2020.

The same is true in Shelby County, with the difference that both low-income and middle-income workers have had much difficulty recovering. During the worst moment of the pandemic crisis on April 17, 2020, the unemployment

rate was for low-income workers minus 23.2%, for middle-income workers minus 11.8%, and for high-income workers minus 8.8% what these had been in January 2020 (Opportunity Insights, 2021) The huge drops did not last long, however, and by June 30, 2020 things had stabilized somewhat, with the unemployment rate for low- income workers at minus 9.5%, for middle-income workers minus 7.8%, and for high-income workers plus 0.3% January 2020 levels. (Opportunity Insights, 2021). The situation has not improved much for low-income workers since then. When compared to January 2020, on May 5, 2021, high-income workers had gained 11.5% in employment, but middle-income workers were still 6.4%, and low-income workers were still 10.1% below where they had been before the crisis, or roughly in the same situation as in June 2020 (Opportunity Insights, 2021)

Plantation System: Policy Choices and Implications

Tennessee Cutting Federal Benefits

The state of Tennessee has refused extended unemployment benefits for workers affected due to the pandemic (Tennessee Office of the Governor, 2021). State officials explicitly stated that they feel that these unemployment benefits, none of which exceed or even meet the poverty level, are considered to be larger than the income that workers have any right to expect (Sher & Flessner, 2021). To reiterate, the official position of the state of Tennessee is that workers have no right to be paid enough to avoid starvation for themselves and their families. The line between this and slavery is so thin as to be rendered meaningless.

Exploitive System

No one is exempt from economic shocks and labor market failures. COVID-19 threatened all people equally, but the effects of the pandemic were not felt equally by all. Those who had precarious jobs and no protections suffered the worst. (Graham, 2021). In addition to the exploitation suffered by vulnerable workers, the current system abuses small businesses to the benefit of megacorporations. It provides capital and trained, healthy employees to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. Small Black businesses get strangled under this abusive system.

Recommendations

Support for Workers

  • Income – To pay a worker less than it costs to feed, clothe, and house the worker is abusive. Unfortunately, it is just one example of the abusonormativity (the normalization of abusive behavior) of American society. This must change. Workers are humans and merit a living wage.[1]
  • Jobless benefits – When a worker, through no fault of their own, cannot obtain work for which they are qualified, they should be sustained and given the skills necessary to obtain work. Our failure to do so is another example of American abusonormativity.
  • Universal healthcare – The difference between humans and animals is that we do not leave our sick behind to die in the wilderness. Our failure to do so is yet another example of American abusonormativity. Universal healthcare is a necessity to maintain a productive society.
  • Childcare – It is often said that the lives of our babies are of primary societal importance until they are born, at which point they become expendable. This is still another example of American abusonormativity. Parents should either be financially supported in raising their children themselves or with outside assistance. Internet – The means of participating in our government and, increasingly, the education of our children are dependent upon access to the internet. Otherwise, we are applying a new poll tax and destroying public education by making these resources available only to those with excess resources. This is more American abusonormativity.

Support for Small Business

Small businesses are the backbone of America, providing almost half of all private jobs, accounting for almost two-thirds (2/3) of all job growth, and representing over 40% of US GDP (U.S. Census, 2018). These businesses have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic (Bartik et al., 2020). Over half of them had less than two weeks of cash on hand when the pandemic hit, and many experienced significant difficulties in obtaining CARES funding.

The answers to rebuild these businesses are obvious:

  • Capital – If banks and other lenders cannot or will not provide capital under relaxed criteria and low-interest rates, the government must step in as the lender of last resort. If the government is the lender, fair employment practices and living wages should be rigorously enforced.
  • Training – Well-trained employees do not appear out of thin air. Small businesses rarely have the resources to train employees from the ground up. Our education system, in particular our community college system, must have the resources to undertake this training on a large scale and at minimal cost to the trainees and small businesses.
  • Universal healthcare – Small businesses often lack the resources to provide quality health insurance to their employees. This results in expensive turnover and places small businesses at a competitive disadvantage against large private and public employers who can afford to negotiate better rates with insurers.

Watch the authors present on this topic on the Hooks Institute YouTube page: https://youtu.be/yCUx1Rl1R-k

REFERENCES

Bartik, A., Bertrand, M., Cullen, Z., Glaeser, E., Luca, M., & Stanton, C. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on small business outcomes and expectations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(30), 17656–17666.

Begley, J., Brooks, L., McCabe, B.J., Schuetz, J, & Veuger, S. (2021, May 12). What pre-pandemic job trends suggest about the post-pandemic future of the capital region. The Avenue, Brookings Institution. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2021/05/12/what-pre-pandemic-job-trends-suggest-about- the-post-pandemic-future-of-the-capital-region/

Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. (2020a). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): COVID-19 in racial and ethnic minority groups. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ 2019-ncov/community/health- equity/race-ethnicity.html

Glover, R. E., van Schalkwyk, M. C., Akl, E. A., Kristjannson, E., K., Lofti, T, Petkovic, J., Petticrew, M. P., Pottie,
K., Tugwell, P., Welch, V. (2020). A framework for identifying and mitigating the equity harms of COVID-19 policy interventions. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 128, 35-48. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j/jclinepi.2020.06.004

Gould, E., & Shierholz, H. (2020, March 15). Not everybody can work from home: Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework. Working Economics Blog. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/blog/black-and-hispanic-workers-are-much-less-likely-to-be-able-to-work-from-home/

Graham, C. (2021, April 6). Making well-being a policy priority: Lessons from the 2021 World Happiness Report. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future- development/2021/04/06/making-well-being-a-policy-priority-lessons-from-the-2021-world-happiness- report/

Miller, C. C., Kliff, S., & Sanger-Katz, M. (2020, March 1). Avoiding coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t afford. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/ upshot/coronavirus- sick-days-service-workers.html

Long, H. (2020, August). The recession is over for the rich, but the working class is far from recovered. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/road-to-recovery/2020/08/13/recession-is-over- rich-working-class-is-far-recovered/

Long, H., Van Dam, A., Flowers, Al., & Shapiro, L. (2020, September 30). The COVID-19 recession in the most unequal in modern U.S. history. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/ business/coronavirus-recession-equality/

Opportunity Insights. (2021). Percent change in employment. Retrieved from https://tracktherecovery.org/ Reeves, R. V. & Rothwell, J. (2020). Class and COVID: How the less affluent face double risks. Brookings Institution.

Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/03/27/class-and-covid-how-the-less-

affluent-face-double-risks/
Rothan, H. A., & Byrareddy, S. N. (2020). The epidemiology and pathogenesis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

outbreak. Journal of Autoimmunity, 109. Retrieved from https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102433 Sher, A. & Flessner, D. (June 8, 2021). Tennessee Gov. Lee defends decision to end federal unemployment aid

for jobless residents. Chattanooga Times Free Press. https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/

story/2021/jun/08/tennessee-governor-defends-decisiend-federal/548381/
Sorhabi, C., Alsafi, Z., O’Neill, N., Khan, M., Kerwan A., Al-Jabir, A., Iosifidis, C., & Agha, R. (2020). World Health

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[1] “Abusonoramtivity “ is a term coined by the authors to describe the normalization of abusive behavior by institutions and individual actor

Race and COVID-19: Illuminating Inequities in Education

Young students learning.

By Cardell Orrin (Stand for the Children) and Kelsey Jirikils (Freedom Preparatory Academy).

From the 2021 edition of the Hooks Policy Papers. “Race in the Time of COVID-19.

During a planning period in 2019, I heard school administrators discussing a 7th grader who was exhibiting early signs of a seizure. With no nurse or medical professional, the principal subbed for algebra while the algebra teacher, who fortunately happened to have EMT training, monitored the student. Luckily, the student was fine, but this experience highlighted a glaring issue: our school wasn’t equipped to give students the care they needed.

One of the authors worked at a Title 1 School in Memphis whose student population consisted of over 90% students of color and over 90% low-income students. From school segregation through the 1960s, to White flight in the 1970s, to district secession in 2014, racial disparities existed in Memphis long before COVID-19 (Kiel, 2008). However, the pandemic highlighted that many of the issues in Memphis schools that disproportionately affect students of color can be solved when people in positions of power decide to prioritize them.

Access to technology was an issue in Memphis before the pandemic. In 2019, all six of the municipal districts, which primarily served White students, had either fully implemented or were in the process of implementing a 1:1 initiative (1 device for every student) (Pignolet, 2019). Shelby County Schools (SCS), which primarily serves students of color, lagged behind. While Superintendent Ray proposed a 1:1 initiative soon after he became superintendent, there was not enough support for the proposal to pass with the required funding. As of the fall of 2019, the district had settled on piloting a 1:1 initiative in only nine high schools and making plans to phase the initiative to other schools over six years (Pignolet, 2019). Compared to their White peers, students in SCS were years behind in having access to technology and in learning critical computer skills that would prepare them for post-secondary success.

The pandemic pushed SCS to accelerate their timeline and pushed us as a community to reconsider what was possible. By August of 2020, SCS brokered deals with HP and Microsoft to secure tablets and laptops for Pre-K through 12th graders. These deals were made possible through an influx of money from the CARES Act and other federal funds, the City of Memphis, and other revenue streams identified by Superintendent Joris Ray’s administration (Jaglois, 2020). Of particular note is the five million dollars invested by the City of Memphis. The City relinquished responsibility for funding education in the 2014 fiscal year when their court-ordered mandate was removed with the historic merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools (Powell, 2021). While suburban municipalities have significantly increased their direct contributions to education, Memphis is now the only city in Shelby County that does not contribute to K-12 education (Powell, 2021). COVID didn’t create the funding disparity between Memphis and other municipalities; rather, COVID showed us that disparity is a choice. COVID showed us that if the city to invest in public education, then the city can make it happen.

Furthermore, COVID highlighted that education is a community issue. Prior to COVID, teachers were an easy scapegoat for all things wrong in education. COVID showed us that, even if a teacher was doing everything right, if the student and their family didn’t have access to stable housing, food, health care, affordable childcare, and a livable income, we can’t expect learning to happen at its highest level. Due to historic inequities, many low-income families and families of color felt the brunt of the economic downturn and were thus faced with unemployment and housing insecurity (Mitropoulos, 2021). This may have caused some students to start taking on adult responsibilities such as entering the workforce to provide for their families or caring for younger siblings in near fulltime capacities (Mitropoulos, 2021). On top of this, many were dealing with pandemic-related isolation and grief without the support of mental health care. These factors manifested in a substantial rise in chronic absence during the pandemic, particularly for students of color (Mitropoulos, 2021).

It is naive for us to think that a student can come to school and be fully successful while dealing with food insecurity, or working for 20+ hours a week out of necessity, or watching their parents stress about finding work and affordable housing. If we care about the children in our community getting a quality education, then we need to create conditions that ensure each student can be physically and mentally present to receive an education. That means making housing security a priority, making childcare affordable, making sure single parents can support their families without children needing to work to make household ends meet. COVID showed us, in an intensified state, that when we ignore the interconnectedness of these issues, we do a disservice to children, families, and our community’s future. The COVID pandemic has also shown us that when we put our collective commitment and resources (local, state, and federal) towards addressing challenging situations, we can identify solutions and put them in place.

The pandemic has laid bare that as a society, we have been failing to support the holistic needs of our students, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and students of color. In the classroom, we were allowing young people with the greatest needs to fall behind their peers in access to technology, mental health supports, and resources to support their academic achievement. Outside the classroom, we were failing to establish systems to support their families with access to housing, food, and extended financial resources. COVID didn’t cause these issues, but the pandemic has made them more apparent. During this pandemic, we have identified resources to support student education, mental health, housing, food access, and financial payments for families. It has been made readily clear that if we want to effect change, we can make that happen and the only thing stopping us is the will and courage.

Recommendations

The pandemic has laid bare that as a society, we have been failing to support the holistic needs of our students, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and students of color. While ambitious and requiring national and local support, the following policy recommendations would alleviate the crisis children and families face:

  • A guaranteed minimum income for poor families which would help address housing and food insecurities; Universal health care for children and adults;
  • Increase equitable funding to schools with the purpose of improving compensation to attract and retain more highly qualified educators and support staff within schools, along with resources targeted to literacy, social-emotional supports, and high school success.
  • Expand community schools that identify needs and connect students and their families to the resources and opportunities that will support them to thrive in education and life. This includes the recognition that these are not just school and district responsibilities and should involve investments and resources from local, state, and federal governments and agencies.
  • Permanent funding to bridge the ongoing digital divide for under-resourced families that will continue in the future even after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

References

  • Kiel, D. (2008). Exploded dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools, Law & Ineq., 26, 261-303. Pignolet, J. (2019, March 21). SCS wants to give every student a laptop to take home, but that may present
  • challenges of its own. Memphis Commercial Appeal. Retrieved from https://www.commercialappeal.com/
  • story/news/education/2019/03/21/laptops-shelby-county-schools-students-risks-research/3032466002/ Jaglois, J. (2020, August 3). The Investigators: Breaking down the cost of bridging Shelby County’s digital
  • divide. Action News 5 [Memphis]. Retrieved from https://www.actionnews5.com/2020/08/03/ investigators-breaking-down-cost-bridging-shelby-countys-digital-divide/Powell, M. (2021, June
    15. Memphis’ budget needs to redirect funds to empower and uplift our students. Memphis Commercial Appeal. Retrieved from https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/2021/06/15/disinvesting- education-hurts-memphis-students-and-families/7698480002/
  • Mitropoulos, A. (2021, March 21). Thousands of students reported ‘missing’ from school systems nationwide amid COVID-19 pandemic. ABC News, Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/thousands-students-r eported-missing-school-systems-nationwide-amid/story?id=76063922

Watch the lecture on “Race and COVID-19: Illuminating Inequities in Education” on our YouTube page.

COVID-19 and Evictions in Memphis

By Andrew Guthrie, PhD (Assistant Professor, City and Regional Planning The University of Memphis), Courtnee Melton-Fant, PhD (Assisant Professor, Division of Health Systems Management The University of Memphis), and Katherine Lambert-Pennington, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology The University of Memphis).

From the 2021 edition of the Hooks Institute Policy Papers “Race in the Time of COVID-19.”

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing racial inequalities in employment, financial security, and health access, and the economic repercussions have been disproportionately shouldered by women (Jin et al. 2021). Nationally and locally, Black, Latinx, and Asian people have higher rates of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality compared to White people (Lopez, Hart, & Katz, 2021). Structural racism – the intersecting and reinforcing policies, systems, and institutions that create advantages and disadvantages based on race (Bailey & Moon, 2020) – have resulted in racial disparities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the housing sector. The pandemic amplified housing insecurity, as millions of people lost income, jobs and dealt with COVID related health challenges and deaths.

Housing insecurity, lack of access to safe, affordable, and stable housing, disproportionally impacts communities of color. Black and Latino families have lower rates of homeownership, live in more segregated neighborhoods, pay more for housing, and have been at greater risk of foreclosure than White homeowners. Further, Black and Latinx households are more likely to be renters than White households; they also face evictions at a much higher rate (Greenberg et al., 2016). Given income and job loss, Benfer et al. (2020) estimate that 30-40 million renters are at risk of eviction. To help mitigate this risk and stem the likelihood of COVID transmission (Nande et al., 2021; Jowers et al., 2021), the federal government imposed a national moratorium on evictions recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and provided $25 billion dollars to states and local governments to fund emergency rental assistance.

Research has shown that the national mortarium on eviction hearings and decisions was effective in slowing evictions and allowed households to use financial resources to meet immediate needs (An et al., 2021). However, as the economy slowly recovers, and enhanced federal unemployment benefits end, the long-term impact of the pandemic on housing security is likely to be devastating. While data is not fully available, two key indicators of housing affordability- income and the proportion of income to rent cost, often referred to as cost-burden- serve as important determinants of a household’s risk for eviction. Additionally, racial disparities in housing security and employment in essential worker roles, and vulnerability to COVID-related job loss are crucial to understanding what policy steps would be most effective to address the impending housing crisis in Memphis. Manifestations of structural racism that are particularly relevant for Memphis include racial residential segregation, the proliferation of housing insecurity in Black neighborhoods, and the overrepresentation of Black and Latinx workers in the service industry.

Early Indications of Pandemic Effects

With one of the highest rates in the nation, evictions in Memphis have been an acute problem for years. Despite a state eviction moratorium in the spring and summer of 2020 and the CDC order, which was extended until October 3, 2021, eviction filings in Memphis have continued. Over eighteen thousand evictions have been
filed since the start of the pandemic and are continuing at a rate of between 200 and 300 per week (Princeton University, 2021).

Systematic analysis of the effects of COVID-19 on the housing sector is complicated by the ongoing, dynamic nature of the pandemic and the 1- to 2-year time lag in availability of most sources of social data at the fine geographic scales needed to fully understand the social and spatial dynamics at play in Memphis. In particular,
the lack of unemployment data at less than county scale obscures a crucial link in the chain of events most likely to lead to an eviction as a result of COVID: pandemic-related job loss leading to an inability to make rent. In the interest of providing as much timely information to policymakers and the public as possible, proxy measures—such as residential locations of workers in sectors especially likely to experience job loss—can approximate unavailable data.

Data

The table below shows specific measures of COVID’s implications for housing in Memphis, as well as definitions of each measure and data sources. These measures consider vulnerability to eviction directly via pre-pandemic housing unaffordability and susceptibility to job loss as well as in a context of structural inequality and historic marginalization.

Measure

Description

Source

Rent-Burdened Households

% of households paying >30% of monthly income in rent

American Community Survey (2015-2019)

Black Residents

% of population who self-ID as “Black or African American”.

American Community Survey (2015-2019)

Service Workers

Number of workers in the Retail Trade, Accommodation and Food Service and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation sectors

Longitudinal Employer and Household Dynamics (LEHD) Database (2018)

Evictions

Number of legal evictions recorded by the county. Expressed both as a count and as the ratio of evictions to rental households

Shelby County Housing Court (via Innovate Memphis); American Community Survey

Geospatial Analysis

Although this data is preliminary, strong spatial relationships exist in Memphis between key measures of social marginalization and economic vulnerability and the prevalence of evictions in 2020. The following four maps show these measures as densities. Density maps allow us to explore where in the city the greatest numbers of people experience eviction, housing insecurity and other social factors which increase vulnerability to both. For each map, we select a social condition to explore—i.e. paying more than 30% of one’s household income in rent, being a service worker before the pandemic or being evicted—count the number of times that condition occurs within a quarter-mile grid, and use a heat-map algorithm to smooth the result into continuous gradients based on surrounding squares’ values. All five maps use a quintile scale, with the darkest gray squares showing areas in the 80th percentile or above, next darkest the 60th-80th percentile, etc. This mapping approach allows us to see patterns of social disparities from one neighborhood to another while also focusing on neighborhoods with relatively the most intense housing injustices.

Map 1

Map 2

The second map (above) shows concentrations of Black residents. Memphis is a racially segregated city, as can be seen by how tightly concentrated the Black population is, compared even with the rent-burdened population. (i.e., Memphis is still a highly spatially segregated city, with the vulnerabilities of rent burden and service-industry employment compounded by historic disinvestment and structural racism). Note, however, that concentrations of Black residents do follow the most intense concentrations of rent burdened households quite closely.

The third map (below) shows concentrations of where workers in the retail, sales, hospitality, food service and entertainment industries lived before the pandemic. County-level data indicate workers in these sectors were disproportionately likely to have suffered job loss. Note again the general similarity with the preceding maps, with the degree of concentration falling between Black residents and rent-burdened households. In particular, the spatial relationship between workers likely to have lost jobs and households already facing unaffordable rents beforehand shows the susceptibility of their neighborhoods to an economic and health shock like COVID.

Map 3

The final two maps (page 8) show concentrations of evictions, both in absolute terms (for consistency with the preceding maps) and weighted by the number of renter households in each census block group (for consistency with standard measures in the housing field). Eviction densities do not show all the housing precarity or injustice in a neighborhood, but they do represent a rapidly-available, geographically precise measure of extreme housing injustice due to legal filing requirements. Though the scale of the (upper) absolute map is somewhat dominated by a single, intense cluster of evictions to the southwest, the overall spatial pattern is both stark and by this point familiar, tracking those of Black residents and service workers especially closely. The most intense areas of the (lower) weighted eviction density map show a largely similar shape to those of the absolute map, but do not stand out as strongly from their surroundings, likely due to smaller numbers of renter households in wealthier and/or suburban areas. It is important to note, however, that this final map shows evictions are a problem county-wide and may only appear not to be in outlying areas due to lower densities of renters.

Map 4

Map 5

We can see from these maps that the highest rates of evictions in Shelby County have a strong spatial relationship to long-standing patterns of structural inequality—particularly in the case of the unweighted map. However, the weighted map shows us that evictions are a problem throughout Shelby County in the context of an individual renter household’s likelihood of being evicted, though it is crucial to note that patterns of structural inequality still appear in the weighted map, even accounting for inter-neighborhood differences in numbers of renters. In other words, though a robust policy response is required throughout the county, special focus must be placed on neighborhoods affected by structural racial and economic inequality. Finally, the close spatial correspondence between eviction rates and pre-COVID rent burden shows that evictions are both an acute problem and a chronic one: the pandemic did not create a crisis where there was none before; in large part it seems to have pushed households who were already struggling over the edge. Understanding this does not change the need for rapid, emergency assistance to Memphians facing eviction, but it does also call for a longer-term policy response to ongoing issues of housing unaffordability and insecure tenure.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the existing housing crisis in Memphis, but the full effect of housing insecurity on eviction rates and neighborhood stability have yet to be fully revealed. The ongoing housing crisis in Memphis and the COVID-19 pandemic require multifaceted policy solutions that not only respond to immediate needs but also address the larger housing affordability issues in the city. While policy interventions are needed at all levels of government, we focus our recommendations on state and local level policies that are most relevant to the Memphis context. As shown in Figure 1, Memphis is already implementing eviction prevention and mitigation policies and working to increase housing stability.

Figure 1. Policy levers for improving housing stability

* Denotes policies and programs that are currently being utilized in Memphis

Recommendations

  • ŸIncrease outreach and education about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA)
    The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA), funded through the CARES Act and administered in Memphis by United Housing, provides eviction settlement funds to households who have suffered a finan- cial loss due to COVID-19 and live on less than 80% of their county’s median income. A total of 1,320 Shelby County residents received rental assistance in June. Though data are only available at the state level, the Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey estimates 84,447 Tennessee households fear being evicted in the next two months. Proportional to population, Shelby County’s share of that total would be 11,593—over ten times the number currently being helped—even ignoring our high rates of pov- erty and structural inequality. Though funding is available to help significantly more households, difficulties in applying and obtaining cooperation from landlords have reduced numbers served.

    • Providing additional community outreach and education about the program and direct assistance in applying as well as encouraging landlords to participate as strongly as permitted by law are im- portant steps to ensure Memphians who could be helped are not needlessly evicted.
    • In addition, though CARES Act funds are limited to renters making less than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), roughly 15% of households earning 81-100% AMI in Shelby County make more than that, but not enough to afford a median rental cost (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2021). These households may face additional risk of eviction due to the “benefit cliff” coming at an income low enough to still render most housing unaffordable. Other options should be explored for providing assistance to households facing eviction who fall outside CARES Act eligibility requirements, as a means of funding unmet needs while, crucially, holding those renter households most in need harmless.
  • Provide sustainable infrastructure and funding for the Eviction Settlement Program (ESP)
    The ESP is currently being funded with federal CARES Act dollars to provides tenants with legal assistance and mediation when they are behind on their rent. This program relies on volunteer attorneys and mediators and could provide more assistance to tenants if they had more resources. The services provided by the ESP are critical for preventing evictions and preserving affordable housing (Benfer et al, 2020, Sabbeth 2018).
  • Enact laws at the state and local level to prevent evictions and lessen the negative downstream effects
    • Tenants who are represented by attorneys are less likely to be evicted (Sabbeth, 2018), but Ten- nesseans do not have a right to counsel in eviction cases because eviction proceedings are civil actions, not criminal matters. Right to counsel laws can ensure that tenants have representation during eviction proceedings.
    • Having an eviction or eviction filing on one’s record makes it more difficult to find housing because many landlords do not want to rent to them. Eviction record sealing and eviction expungement laws can improve tenants’ access to housing following an eviction or eviction filing (Fleurant, 2020).
  • Increase investment in historically underserved communities that were disproportionately affected by both COVID-19 and housing instability
    Memphis needs an estimated 30,000 affordable housing units (Innovate Memphis, 2020) and is using multiple levers to address this gap including the establishment of the Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund (MAHTF) and the Memphis 3.0 Plan to guide investment and land use regulation in the creation of healthy affordable communities. However:

    • The MAHTF is underfunded compared to peer cities and funding for 2021 was not included in the budget because of COVID-19 (BLDG Memphis, 2020).
    • Memphis has comparatively low capital investment that is segregated by race and poverty (Theo- dos et al, 2021). The Memphis 3.0 plan is the city’s comprehensive approach to equitably develop and invest in the city. Time will tell if the plan will be able to overcome historical and longstanding patterns of disinvestment and policy that have contributed to the current housing crisis.
  • Stronger enforcement of existing laws
    In addition to affordability issues, many Memphians live in substandard housing conditions that are harmful to their health. Like many other states, Tennessee has laws requiring landlords to maintain their properties and provide habitable conditions for tenants. Yet, these laws are not always enforced, and tenants may not be aware of these laws (Sabbeth, 2018). Enforcing these laws is necessary for increasing the supply of affordable, healthy housing and keeping tenants in their homes.
  • Increase vaccination access and uptake in structurally vulnerable communities
    Recent research has shown that neighborhoods with higher eviction filing rates have lower vaccination rates indicating that the higher risk of evictions and of contracting and passing COVID-19 are spatially con- centrated. Place-based interventions, tailored to the specific concerns and desires of these communities, are needed.

Interested in more? Watch the lecture of “COVID-19 and Evictions in Memphis” on the Hooks Institute YouTube page.

References

  • An, X., Gabriel, S.A. & Tzur-Ilan, N. (2021). More than shelter: The effects of rental eviction moratoria on household well-being. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3801217 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ ssrn.3801217
  • Bailey, Z.D., & Moon, J.R. (2020). Racism and the political economy of COVID-19: will we continue to resurrect the past?. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 45(6), 937-950.
  • Benfer, E.A., Vlahov, D., Long, M.Y., Walker-Wells, E., Pottenger, J.L., Gonsalves, G., & Keene, D.E. (2021). Eviction, health inequity, and the spread of COVID-19: housing policy as a primary pandemic mitigation strategy. Journal of Urban Health, 98(1), 1-12.
  • BLDG Memphis. (2020). Memphis affordable housing trust fund. Retrieved from https://www.trustfund901.org/ affordable_housing_trust_fund.
  • Collinson, R., & Reed, D. (2018). The effects of evictions on low-income households. Unpublished Manuscript. [Google Scholar], 1-82.
  • Cunningham, M.K., Hariharan, A., & Fiol, O. (2021) The looming eviction cliff. The Urban Institute. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/103453/the-looming-eviction-cliff_0.pdf
  • Princeton University .. (2021). Eviction Lab: Memphis, Tennessee.. Retrieved from https://evictionlab.org/eviction- tracking/memphis-tn/.
  • Fleurant, S. (2020). Eviction expungement: A civil legal tool to improve housing stability and health. The Network for Public Health Law. Retrieved from https://www.networkforphl.org/news-insights/eviction-expungement- a-civil-legal-tool-to-improve-housing-stability-and-health/.
  • Greenberg, D., Gershenson, C., &Desmond, M. (2016). Discrimination in evictions: Empirical evidence and legal challenges. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 51, 115–58.
  • Hepburn, P., Louis, R., Fish, J., Lemmerman, E., Alexander, A.K., Thomas, T.A., Koehler, R., Benfer, E., & Desmond, M. (2021). U.S. eviction filing patterns in 2020. Socius, 7, 1-18. https://doi. org/10.1177/23780231211009983
  • Jin, O., Lemmerman, E., Hepburn, P., & Desmond. M. (2021). Neighborhoods with highest eviction rates have the lowest levels of COVID-19 vaccination. Eviction Lab Updates. Princeton University. Retrieved from https://evictionlab.org/filing-and-vaccination-rates/
  • Jowers, K., Timmins, C., Bhavsar, N., Hu, Q., & Marshall, J. (2021). Housing precarity & the COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts of utility disconnection and eviction moratoria on infections and deaths across us counties (No. w28394). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Jowers, K., Timmins, C., Bhavsar, N., Hu, Q., & Marshall, J. (2021). Housing precarity & the covid-19 pandemic: Impacts of utility disconnection and eviction moratoria on infections and deaths across us counties (No. w28394). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Lopez, L., Hart, L. H., & Katz, M. H. (2021). Racial and ethnic health disparities related to COVID-19. JAMA, 325(8), 719-720.
  • Nande, A., Sheen, J., Walters, E. L., Klein, B., Chinazzi, M., Gheorghe, A. H., … & Hill, A. L. (2021). The effect of eviction moratoria on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Nature Communications, 12(1), 1-13.
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2021). Gap Report: Tennessee. Tamarack Media Cooperative. Retrieved from https://reports.nlihc.org/gap/2019/tn.
  • Sabbeth, K. A. (2018). Housing Defense as the New Gideon. Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, 41, 55-117. Theodos, B., González-Hermoso, J., & Meixell, B. (2021). Community development finance in Memphis. Urban Institute. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/104511/community- development-finance-in-memphis_0.pdf.

Hooks Policy Papers: Race in the Time of Covid

As the world confronted the pandemic unleashed by COVID-19, new language emerged. “Social distance” transformed from Georg Simmel’s concept referring to social relationships between racial, gender, and economic groups to the 6-foot physical distance vital for stopping the virus spread. Concepts like “isolation” and “quarantine” took on new meaning. People grew comfortable with medical terms like “asymptomatic” or “incubation period.”

Yet, even as we faced an unprecedented and deadly global test, tragically familiar and stubbornly persistent disparities were amplified by the encounter with the pandemic. Alongside the new vocabulary, familiar concepts reasserted their relevance in phrases like “racial inequality,” “housing insecurity,” and “health disparities.” While these societal failures have always demanded action, the crucible of the pandemic has even more directly made them matters of life and death.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, but it has certainly not affected everyone equally. Preexisting conditions in our nation’s communities have ensured that those already most vulnerable to depressed economic, educational, and health conditions were impacted the most. In the healthcare field, “social determinants of health” have emerged in recent years as a powerful way of connecting disparities in health to social inequities that exacerbate those disparities. In Memphis and Shelby County, as elsewhere, the roots of the unequal impact of COVID-19 can be found in inequalities that long predate the outbreak of the disease. Our community’s social determinants of health have amplified the effects of the pandemic on our most vulnerable neighbors.

This issue of the Hooks Institute Policy Papers addresses the varied ways COVID-19 has magnified and worsened racial and socioeconomic disparities in Shelby County and other communities. Beginning with housing, educational, and employment effects, and concluding with health disparities and the impact of COVID-19 mortality disparities on the preservation of wealth, each writer connects preexisting social circumstances to the travails of the pandemic. Offering a wide range of expertise, the papers recommend short-term interventions to the acute crises brought on by the pandemic and long-term preventative changes to address the underlying social deficiencies.

In “COVID-19 and Evictions in Memphis,” Andrew Guthrie, Courtnee Melton-Fant, and Katherine Lambert-Pennington provide staggering spatial representations of social marginalization and economic vulnerability in Shelby County, focusing on susceptibility to evictions. They note the ways in which the pandemic amplified housing insecurity but observe that the pandemic did not create that crisis; rather, it merely pushed those already struggling over the edge. They further note that with the removal of pandemic-related protections, evictions are likely to increase the deterioration of circumstances for the county’s most economically vulnerable, a group made up disproportionately of African Americans.

In “Race & COVID-19: Illuminating Inequities in Education,” Cardell Orrin and Kelsey Jirikils highlight how the pandemic more clearly revealed the vast disparities in resources available to students throughout Shelby County. Of note, as schools moved to virtual learning, disparities in access to technology ensured that some students would have difficulty in even accessing education at all. Further, despite increased needs due to the social isolation and trauma of the pandemic, students were unable to access mental health services that would have strengthened their ability to get the most out of schooling.

Elena Delavega and Gregory M. Blumenthal build on these themes in “COVID-19 and Work: Employment Disparities Magnified,” where they quantify the ways in which the pandemic’s work disruptions fell most harshly on the most vulnerable, again, a group made up disproportionately of racial and ethnic minorities. The pandemic exposed a divide in who could work from home (and thus maintain employment, health care, and oversee children in virtual school) and who could not. The authors critique the fact that workers deemed “essential” in terms of providing services for the more privileged were not provided protections and salaries consistent with such “essential” status.

In “The Power of Will – And Its Limits,” Daniel Kiel provides a slightly different perspective by examining the emergency policy responses to the pandemic’s most urgent social needs. A mortarium on evictions, free provision of technology for students, and expanded unemployment benefits were not new ideas when the pandemic arrived, but it took the shocks of COVID-19 to make them viable policy options. To Kiel, this demonstrated that solutions to longstanding social problems are possible, but only where there is sufficient public will and need, something that will be difficult to maintain as the pandemic subsides, but that is no less urgent.

Turning more directly to the health impacts of COVID-19, Albert Mosley discusses the social determinants of health in the age of the pandemic in “Through a Glass Darkly: Musings on the Harsh Realities of COVID-19.” Highlighting racial disparities in hospitalizations, mortalities, and vaccination rates, Mosley laments that such distressing statistics were entirely predictable given this community’s history with systemic racism which has perpetuated economic and educational disparities. In addition to bearing shortcomings within the healthcare system, COVID-19 provided a harsh mirror to the broader community on the topic of providing wellness, the most basic of human needs.

Finally, in “Life After Death: COVID-19’s Impact on the Wealth of African American Families,” Daphene McFerren describes the deterioration of wealth that results when individuals pass away without a will or proper direction as to how to distribute their estate, a problem made tragically more vital during the pandemic. Urging more attention to estate planning in the African American community, McFerren pushes for greater access to legal resources and a shift in community attitudes in order to stop the massive racial gap in net worth from growing even larger due to a loss of intergenerational wealth.

Cumulatively, these papers examine the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic augmented some of society’s most obstinate problems and each display how these problems are interconnected. While the pandemic has brought much suffering and further social division, it has also provided an undeniable perspective on the urgency of these lingering social problems. The recommendations here provide a starting point for meaningful discussions and effective treatment.

Daphene McFerren, JD Executive Director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change the University of Memphis

Elena Delavega, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Social Work the University of Memphis

Daniel Kiel, JD Associate Director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change FedEx Professor of Law, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law the University of Memphis

Read the policy papers here.

“Duty Before Race”: The Life of Colin Powell

Colin Powell. Charles Haynes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

by Le’Trice Donaldson

Colin Powell, the trailblazing statesman, and beloved American patriot was laid to rest recently. One of the most common statements proclaimed about the late general was that he loved this country. Indeed, Powell, the protégé of Henry “Gunfighter” Emerson and Casper Weinberger, was viewed as loyal, someone who followed orders, and one who always did his duty. These past few weeks, I have been reflecting on the late general’s military career and the one thing that stood out was that Powell always put his America before race.

Growing up in a Black West Indian immigrant household in the Bronx and Harlem exposed Powell to Black people from throughout the Diaspora. Despite being familiar with a sense of Black solidarity, the former commander’s long and distinguished career is laden with moments where he chooses duty over racial obligation. Powell firmly believed his loyalty should always be to the country first. Yet, the reason he is a trailblazer has everything to do with his race.

Powell proclaimed in one of his autobiographies, “The Army has always been good to Blacks.” When Powell joined the Army in 1958, the U.S. Armed forces were still struggling to desegregate and become fully integrated. At Fort Benning, Powell trained in a predominately white world and traveled long distances to eat at Black-owned establishments and worship at a Black church. Despite these inconveniences, Powell enjoyed the structure and clear path to success that the military provided. When his mentor and commander General Emerson put him in charge of rooting out and cracking down on Black militants in the Eighth Army’s First Battalion in 1973 in Seoul, Powell eagerly jumped at the chance to prove his worth.

A race riot broke out within a few days of Powell’s arrival. The racial tensions amongst the men ran high because of fights between white and Black soldiers at local bars and symbolic infractions, including the removal of a Black Liberation Flag. General Emerson believed that showing Brian’s Song (1971) would be the best way to achieve racial harmony. Powell, a Lt. Colonel, did not attempt to understand the source of these tensions. He discharged Black soldiers who had organized to have their racial grievances heard and drilled his battalion so hard that they could not fight one another. By viewing the Black soldiers as troublemakers, Powell proved his allegiance to the Army to the detriment of other Black soldiers. Historian Jeffery Matthews in his book Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot, described Powell as a loyal follower and subordinate. Major General John A. Wickham asserted, “He was very reassuring to those above him.”

Powell moved up the ranks both militarily and politically. He became the senior military assistant and protégé to Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1980. In 1983 he helped organize the 1983 invasion of the small Black Caribbean nation of Grenada. The U.S. military began conducting mock invasions of Grenada in 1981. The Reagan Administration took full advantage of the assassination of Maurice Bishop to ensure a pro-American government was installed. The Reagan Administration viewed Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Leftist movement as a Soviet satellite, even though it was not. Powell was the first Afro-Caribbean American to serve in that position. He helped orchestrate the Grenada invasion without considering the long-term consequences for the rest of the Caribbean or his representation as a Black man of Caribbean descent aiding in the invasion of a Black Caribbean nation.

In 2001, a few days before the world-changing events of September 11th, Secretary of State Colin Powell decided to withdraw U.S. participation from the World Conference Against Racism. In a letter to Dr. Dorothy Height, the then chairperson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Powell cites the possibility of the conference focusing on “divisive regional issues, thereby preventing the Conference from addressing the larger issue of racism affecting all societies.” The divisive issue was related to tying Zionism to racism. Powell chose to follow the Bush line rather than participate in a global initiative to fight racism, xenophobia, and intolerance. He chose duty before race.

The legacy of Colin Powell reflects the life of a fallible but loyal patriot; yet, in all the eulogies and reflections on his life, it is important to remember the totality of his legacy including what he did during the Obama years, the Reagan years, and in Korea. He repeatedly chose a path most pleasing to the military community rather than the Black community.

Le’Trice Donaldson is an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and a Benjamin L. Hooks Academic Research Fellow. She is the author of Duty Beyond the Battlefield: African American Soldiers Fight for Racial Uplift, Citizenship, and Manhood, 1870-1920

The Power of Language for Brain Function

Hooks Academic Research Fellow Dr. Kami Anderson was a recent guest on Brain Power TV hosted by Dr. Hokehe (Eko) Effiong. In the episode, they discussed the brain benefits of learning another language in children and adults. Dr. Anderson is a trained scholar and master teacher of Afrocentric teaching strategies that ensure language retention, not just learning, and speaks directly to the neurological ways in which people of African descent process and embody languages.

Watch the episode below:

Transitioning from Fate to Destiny

by Paige Pirkey

Have you ever wondered how to transition from fate to your chosen destiny? I have, too. After years of reading, reflecting, and searching, I believe I’ve found the answer; and I’d like to share my learned lessons with you in this article. My learned lessons center around this idea called “purpose”. Our purpose is our chosen destiny, but how do we find it?

The first step is to meet yourself where you’re at. We must be open and honest with ourselves. We must be willing to dive deep into the inner recesses of our hearts to discover what lies beyond the veil of our emotions. Under every negative emotion lies a fear: A fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal, being found unworthy, unlovable, broken… As we identify this fear and bring it to the surface, we’re able to unlock another layer of armor around our hearts by greeting it with the keys of love, compassion, and presence.

The second step is to trust yourself. Trust is essential and requires patience. In fact, to fully develop trust, one’s patience may need patience. Both patience and trust are skill sets that must be developed along the path to finding one’s purpose. Even as I type now, I notice the physiological experience of tightness in my chest and jaw… I then notice the stories I tell myself: That this process is taking too long or that I’m not doing it right… But perhaps, instead, I’m hoping to deliver the best, most uplifting message… If I choose to shift my interpretation of my perception, the understanding and experience of it also shifts, from anxiety to enthusiasm. After all, my purpose, or at least discovering it, should bring me joy. I’ve learned that, sometimes, we must unlearn what we’ve learned and trust our decision making, that we’re on the right path. And it takes patience to rebuild that trust in ourselves and our unfolding process.

The third step is to recognize our strength, our resilience, our bravery! We need to give ourselves credit for our tenacious efforts; again, we cycle back to phases 1 and 2: Meeting yourself where you’re at and trusting yourself. The process of discovering and living your purpose requires time, effort, and practice –all of which require strength; this will lead us to our chosen destiny. By purposefully, continuously choosing to disrupt our old ways of experiencing life, we create a new story, our destiny. This is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves –and passing along this strength to future generations is one of the most loving acts we can do for them.

And we can do this together. As promised in my previous article, I will now dedicate time to introducing the pilot project that I recently created, implemented, and evaluated:

Yoga and mindfulness practices are supportive on the journey from fate to destiny. Yoga uses the mind, body, and breath as tools for self-realization and self-actualization. By engaging with a physical pose, one enters a moderately uncomfortable, stress-induced state; this state of being reflects the stress we encounter in our daily lives. In that process, we focus on our breath in the present moment. And in that moment, we discover those repetitive stories that we tell ourselves that lead us to our fate. This realization presents us with the opportunity to choose a different story, to change how we engage with and interpret our experience. And with time and disciplined practice, this effortful process becomes automated and thus, actualized. We have, then, embodied the skills needed to transition ourselves from fate to destiny…

These life skills are exactly what I taught to kindergarteners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders at a local school system. The school system serves mostly minority students (54% Latino; 38% African American; 5% European American; 2% Asian); ninety-five percent of students’ families reside in the urban Memphis area with 77% living in Shelby County zip codes below the lowest median household income (below $42k). Approximately 91% of students meet the federal guidelines for free/reduced lunch.

The pilot program was 3-weeks long wherein students [and some teachers] received 4, 30-minute sessions per week. Below comprises selected excerpts from this study:

  • Students’ post-program excerpts:
    • “Yoga taught me more about myself, about what I think is better than what other people think I should think.” –1st grade, girl
    • “[When I’m feeling sad or stressed or overwhelmed], I do yoga to feel better, to remind us that we can do anything.” –2nd grade, girl
    • “We also learned that we can feel how we want to feel –even if we feel sad. It’s okay to feel our feelings.” –1st grade, boy
    • “It teached me how to be creative, like trying the yoga thing made me excited, and then, I went back home, and it made me build new crafts. I used to give up.” –2nd grade, boy
    • “It’s helped me learn about how our feelings communicate.” –2nd grade, girl
  • Teachers’ post-program excerpts:
    • “…[T]hey showed patience… I definitely saw some growth with independence and self-direction.” –Teacher F
    • “I’ve seen that change in my students as well; they definitely are more eager to help each other after the program, too.” –Teacher J
    • “A lot of my kids took your breathing technique… I would watch them do it in the room when they were upset.” –Teacher A
    • “I want to say thank you for creating an environment for my student to be relaxed and calm and to be a kid… I was pleasantly surprised, and it made me so happy. I think he was truly comfortable around you, and just truly relaxed around you, which is truly amazing because you’d only known him for a few weeks.” –Teacher A

To be sure, I learned just as much from my students [if not more], as they learned from me. For persons interested in learning more or collaborating in some capacity on this project, please reach out to me via email at paige.pirkey@memphis.edu.

For an audio recording of this post, click here.

Paige Pirkey is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow. Her current research focuses at the heart of change-making education, centering on urban schools by adopting a bottom-up approach that promotes healing and self-empowerment.