For many people, the danger, loss and economic devastation that came with the COVID-19 emergency are new. But poverty and racism have been killing African Americans and other minorities at inordinate rates since the inception of our country. The truth remains that these communities harbor deep suspicion of the government telling them what’s best for their lives.

Yet, our current situation requires all of us to observe science and follow public health guidelines. I wear a mask, practice social distancing and have worked to bring information and resources to all people, especially those disproportionately affected by this health care pandemic and economic crisis.

I have spent the last two decades pointing out inequities and working on legislation that attempts to give poor people and racial minorities a fighting chance, but for every step forward, it feels like there is a hundred more to go. So here we are again, in the middle of another tragedy whose effects overwhelmingly rest on the shoulders of marginalized people.

In our state’s recent history, I witnessed students lose out on a quality education because of their ZIP code until we stepped in and changed the school funding formula. I witnessed the lopsided effects of a budget impasse when the legislature was at odds with Governor Rauner over funding for social services and workers’ rights. Now, I am witnessing Black and Latino people contract and succumb to COVID-19 at higher rates than other ethnicities. That is no accident. It is the result of years of intentional racism.

However, I will not let the overwhelming devastation we are facing be paralyzing. When I heard that nearly a third of our state’s students were unaccounted for since remote learning began, I pushed the Illinois State Board of Education to tighten their attendance guidelines and process for wellness checks.

When I saw the disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 cases in the Black community, I worked with Governor Pritzker and led the Black Caucus to expand testing in our communities across the state. When outbreaks began at senior homes and police departments, I personally distributed disinfectant and masks to local entities across my district to help keep them safe.

Last week, the General Assembly passed a budget that protected social services and drove CARES Act funding to communities who need it the most. We secured aid for small businesses, day cares, renters and homeowners, and expanded Medicaid to cover undocumented seniors. Furthermore, I passed a measure that protects retail workers, who have become our front line of enforcement.

At a time when we are all tasked with finding the bright side of things, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to join me in the fight for equity, basic human rights and keeping local businesses afloat. We can all play a part in our recovery by helping a neighbor, making a donation, buying local and supporting one another.

The novel coronavirus is the great highlighter of the continued inequities in our society. In a short period of time, it has underscored almost every aspect where we fall short. We owe it to the vulnerable seniors, children falling through the cracks and displaced workers to do better.

My agenda as a senator and community leader belong to them.

Senator Kimberly A. Lightford is the Illinois senate majority leader and represents the 4th Legislative District.

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