Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.

Reflections on Race: Will you be the change?

Tina Shelvin Bingham
Community advocate Tina Shelvin Bingham Photo by Travis Gauthier

Reflections on Race: African American Challenges Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.

In my reflection of the challenges faced by the African American community, I started by writing down every challenge I could think of affecting this community. The list was long. I thought about all of the conversations I’ve been a part of over the years, and the list got even longer. Could our greatest challenge be that there are so many challenges? How can you arrive at a solution when the challenge seems to be far and wide, with craters and mountains?

One thing I have noticed over my short life is that a crisis of any nature — natural, man-made, financial, biological, — is always devastating in the African American community. This past year and recent events have continued to highlight issues that have existed within our community for generations. Inequality and inequity in education, health care, housing, economic advancement and criminal justice reform are just a few of the topics that always rise to the top of discussions.

Access to safe, affordable healthcare has always been a challenge for African Americans. The spread of COVID-19 across our country continues to highlight the inequality and lack of equity in our healthcare system. The African American community was instantly put on alert because pre-existing conditions can be a potential death sentence to anyone contracting the disease. African Americans are at high risk for diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease. Our elders are no longer dying of old age. Everyone is at risk, and we need to make a change. Most of these diseases can be helped with a proper diet and exercise. Right.

But research shows that when the term “food deserts” is used it is usually in reference to food insecurity in African American and other indigenous and people of color communities.

Many of Lafayette and Acadiana food desert communities are located in minority communities, have limited access to supermarkets and are transportation limited, to name a few. Instead of grocery stores and healthy food options, our communities are riddled with dollar stores and fast food restaurants. How can members of our most vulnerable community improve their health when these things are not as accessible as in other communities?

The disasters of 2020 also helped to expose vulnerabilities within our local and national economic markets. Months after the shutdown and businesses reopening, we continue to see businesses across our community close their doors, come back, or be revamped into new concepts.

Black-owned businesses are needed more than ever, to help rebuild, repair and restore our communities from decades of neglect and disinvestment from both the public and private sectors. New developments and opportunities tend to trickle into African American neighborhoods; you see this trend across the country. African American communities struggled to receive the same economic developments as more affluent, whiter communities — often being told there is no market for the development or being ruled out because of income levels.

Intentional reinvestment in African American businesses and communities is needed. Programs like the Opportunity Zones are great when you have an investor truly interested in sharing equity with the community in which their investment is occurring.

About Reflections on Race

Black history is unfortunately not always recognized as American history — even today as it was in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, hailed as the Father of Black History, and others brought his “brainchild” to life.

If you ever wondered how Black History Month originated, you need go no further than the founding group’s website asalh.org. It stands for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In its own history, focusing on Dr. Carter, the association notes: “During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world.”

The association chose as this year’s Black History Month theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

Our guest columns for Reflections of Race will help to secure the foundation of the Black family by identifying challenges and issues facing the African American race. We asked our guest columnists to comment from a local or national viewpoint, and offer solutions along the way. And they did just that.

Ruth Foote, collection editor

We should be more open to finding the opportunities within and outside of Opportunity Zones that would facilitate the improvements and advancements we’d like to see happening in our community. When our communities gain equitable access to economic opportunities, we can begin to create generational wealth for our families and employment for members of our community.

My last challenge and my solution to most of these challenges is Black leadership and representation. Being an African American leader in any community is an act of political warfare. We need many people willingly to begin a journey, knowing the path will not be easy. We need more activated leaders to help build and guide the actions needed to continue to advance our community. And as the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) bandwagon travels across our community, to our white-presenting and non-Black peers, we need your assistance and leadership to create a space for representation at the table or power in the decision. We need your help to hold yourself, corporations and this community accountable. In the words of screenwriter Lena Waithe, “The only way to really see change, is by helping to create it.”

Will you be the change?