The Alaska Black Caucus (ABC) and ABC Allies for Change would like to publicly thank the Anchorage Assembly, especially Assembly members Christopher Constant, Kameron Perez-Verdia, Felix Rivera, Meg Zaletel, Forrest Dunbar, Pete Petersen, Suzanne LaFrance and John Weddleton, for their support in appropriating American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the Alaska Black Caucus with capital needs to be used for the purchase and management of a building where ABC will provide centralized services and programs for the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community in Anchorage. We are grateful for the support of our elected representatives.
The Alaska Black Caucus is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works to assert the constitutional rights of African Americans in the areas of health, economics, justice and education. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected BIPOC communities across the country and in Alaska, highlighting and exacerbating long-standing inequities and systemic racism in medicine and public health, as well as economic inequities. The ABC directly addresses these issues and has been a trusted leader in working toward health equity during the ongoing pandemic.
In the United States, Black, Alaska Native, American Indian, Latinx, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian people experience higher death rates from COVID-19 compared to white people. In Alaska, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian as well as Alaska Native communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. We know that these disparities are not due to race, but systemic racism. Racism is a social determinant of health, meaning that the experience of interpersonal and structural race-based discrimination is consistently associated with poorer health through several causative pathways. For this reason, major medical and public health organizations including the Alaska Public Health Association, Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Alaska Academy of Family Physicians, American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Public Health Association and others recognize that racism is a public health crisis.
BIPOC are also disproportionately affected economically. People of color are heavily represented in many front-line industries, often in low wage jobs. Additionally, job losses and a slow subsequent recovery have disproportionately affected BIPOC, especially Black and Hispanic women. As a result of this systemic racism, people of color are more exposed and less protected from the virus.
Thankfully, federal funds have been made available to help communities recover from the pandemic. The Department of the Treasury clearly states that the funds under the American Rescue Plan Act “lay the foundation for a strong, equitable economic recovery, not only by providing immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses, but also by addressing the systemic public health and economic challenges that may have contributed to more severe impacts of the pandemic among low-income communities and communities of color.”
The ABC intends to use capital funds to purchase and maintain a Centralized Services Facility focused on serving the BIPOC community. The facility will be the home for the ABC and a space from which other BIPOC-led organizations will organize and operate. The building will serve as the primary physical space for ABC’s programs including college preparation, mentorship, reading, and STEM programs which will help BIPOC students recover from the challenges of remote learning and isolation during COVID-19. The ABC also plans to hire staff who will engage in projects including the Bettye Davis African American Summit, health fairs, weekly Community Conversations, Black Alaskans Health Status Report and Needs Assessment, and support for BIPOC youth pursuing careers in medicine. The Centralized Services Facility will directly support BIPOC-led businesses by providing access to below market rate coworking and event space which will aid in the economic recovery of businesses impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, the building will feature a commercial kitchen for the community, and for struggling food service business owners to begin their programming, events and cooking again.
The ARPA and CARES Act funds include appropriations for many needed capital expenditures in Alaska, including for health clinics, food pantries, emergency services, the arts, sports facilities and other non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, the appropriation for the Alaska Black Caucus’s capital need has become the focus of increased scrutiny by some individuals, even though the mission, goals and work of the ABC are directly aligned with the intended use and need for these funds.
These uninformed, reflexive criticisms of ABC’s American Rescue Plan Act funds highlight the need to continue our work to dismantle systemic racism. The Alaska Black Caucus stands with our Alaska Native, Native American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, Asian, Latinx, and Hispanic neighbors, our LGBTQIA+ siblings, and our allies as we work together to heal, repair the damage to our economy inflicted by COVID-19, and build the Beloved Community.
We encourage members of the Alaska Black Caucus and allies to thank your Assembly members for their continued support. Additionally, the Alaska Black Caucus Capital Campaign is now underway to match the funds that have already been granted and complete the purchase and repurposing of the Centralized Services Facility. This effort is entirely volunteer-led and we need your support to reach our goal of $500,000. For more information and to donate, please visit https://www.thealaskablackcaucus.com.
This commentary was jointly authored by the members of the Alaska Black Caucus Allies for Change: Leon Jaimes, Allison Hourigan, Mark Foster, Rachel Blakeslee, Megan Cacciola, Ginny Grabowski, Jason Slemons, Laurie Fernandes, Joshua Branstetter, David Walberg, Edgar Blatchford, Dana Dardis, Nolan Klouda, Toni Biskup, Criss Mitchell, Regan Brooks, Anthony Nakazawa, Carol Paredes, Jyoti Chadda, Katharine Brooks, Kaelan Dickinson, Rev. Michael Burke and Ryan Brooks. To join the Alaska Black Caucus and the Allies for Change group and to learn more about its current actions, visit the Alaska Black Caucus online.
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