Renee Mahaffey Harris Says the Pandemic Has Shown That We Must Work Together

The president and CEO of the Center for Closing the Health Gap on serving the black community, collaboratively.

“Our organization has been around for 16 years, working to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities in Greater Cincinnati. When someone asked Dr. Fauci why there are disparate COVID-19 incidences and outcomes among black people in the United States, he said, How long do you have? Because the factors that put us in this place are systemic and have been here for some time.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

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“From the moment I heard about the stay-at-home order, I reached out to organizations that serve the black community—the Urban League, the African American Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, Councilmember Jan-Michele Kearney, and Roosevelt Walker, president of the Cincinnati Medical Association—and we came together to develop a website to provide trusted information on the pandemic. Things can be confusing when there’s conflicting information and when issues aren’t understood. We have weekly town hall meetings on Zoom and Facebook Live, with experts answering questions from members of the black community, and we do interviews with different experts on Radio One and in The Cincinnati Herald. We’ve created a hotline for seniors in Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority buildings so they can find out where to get meals, masks, and answers to their questions. Traditional word-of-mouth communication can’t happen in this pandemic. To reach young people, we’re utilizing social media, using the mechanisms they use. TikTok is a new one to me, but we’ve just done one showing kids that, when you walk out a door, you grab a mask. When you see kids talking to other kids about wearing masks, that’s when activation happens.

“We now have more than 30 organizations that have joined in, making sure they could be a part of this fight. I serve on the minority strike force for Governor DeWine, and he’s asked about some of the collaborative things we’re doing. There are many organizations serving marginalized populations in Cincinnati. The pandemic has shown that we must work together. That has to be what comes out of this. I’m optimistic it will happen.”

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