We’d like to recognize the fact the annual Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast was originally scheduled to take place tomorrow. This community gathering celebrates the life and work of Bayard Rustin, one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin’s life is the subject of the 2003 documentary “Brother Outsider.” You can learn more about ways you can watch that movie here.
Created by a group of visionary volunteers in support of AIDS Action 30 years ago, the Breakfast recognizes the impact and contributions of LGBTQIA+ people of color in the fight against AIDS. It is a truly inspiring event, drawing on the spirit of Bayard Rustin’s work in human rights, civil rights, equality, and social activism. The Bayard Rustin Award for Courage and The Belynda Dunn Award, named for a beloved local activist and former staff member of AIDS Action who contributed greatly to the fight against AIDS and related illnesses here in Boston, are presented at each Breakfast.
While the Breakfast will unfortunately not take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can still take time this weekend to honor and uphold the spirit behind it. The current public health crisis has highlighted the many long-standing health inequities that harm communities of color.
A recent Fenway Health blog post noted the racial disparities in COVID-19 infection and death rates. For example, in Cook County, Chicago, 58 percent of those who have died of COVID-19 are Black, even though they only make up 23 percent of the population. In Michigan, where Black residents make up 13 percent of the population, they comprise 33 percent of all positive cases of COVID-19 and 41 percent of the deaths. Similar disparities can also be found in North Carolina and here in Massachusetts, Chelsea, where the majority of the population are Latinx immigrants, has become a COVID-19 hotspot.
“Although COVID-19 does not discriminate along racial or ethnic lines, existing racial disparities and inequities in health outcomes and health care access may mean that the nation’s response to preventing and mitigating its harms will not be felt equally in every community,” U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Robin Kelly and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, and Kamala Harris wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
During this time of fear and uncertainty, it is fitting that we pause to remember a man who was a leader, a fighter, an activist, and a hero, and to acknowledge the contributions and impact of LGBTQIA+ leaders, activists, and health care providers of color in these times. Together, let us continue to lift up the legacy of Bayard Rustin and recommit to ending health care disparities and advocating for the health of our communities, today and always.