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Derrick Johnson, CEO and president, NAACP

President and CEO of the NAACP Derrick Johnson has helped guide the Association through a period of re-envisioning and reinvigoration since he took office in 2017. In addition to campaigns in other areas, the NAACP under his leadership has addressed health issues and disparities, including through the 2020 We are Done Dying Campaign, exposing inequities embedded into the American health care system and the country at large.

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, he has elevated the Association’s visibility and voice, calling for a national response to the disparate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and other people of color. In this email interview, edited for length, he addresses the Association’s COVID. KNOW MORE campaign, a direct outreach effort, using tools ranging from research to social media, to present facts and fight misinformation on the virus and vaccination.

Q. How did the NAACP begin this campaign?

A. We launched the COVID. KNOW MORE campaign this year to ensure that our communities continue to stay informed and get the facts they need to make best decisions for their families and communities. Our intent with this initiative was to provide Black Americans the most comprehensive suite of relevant information and resources on COVID-19 available, curated specifically for them, to help them safely navigate back to normalcy—but this initiative is only a continuation of our work in this space.

Through our pioneering COVID Unmasked virtual town hall series, local mask distributions, and other COVID education efforts, the NAACP has been dedicated to fighting this pandemic from the outset.

Additionally, accurate information about COVID-19 and the vaccines is critical because the human cost of misinformation can be so high. The African American community needs to pay close attention to the most reliable, trusted resources, so we’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, moving forward.

Q. What are the roles of some of the partners in the campaign? Were people ready to help?

A. Corporate partners have been on board and active with us since the beginning. Among the partners who were engaged in facilitating the rollout of COVID. KNOW MORE are J.P. Morgan Chase, and international rideshare operator Lyft. Lyft has launched a Universal Vaccine Access initiative in collaboration with us, with the goal of providing a total of 60 million rides to help get people vaccinated. Lyft users can easily secure transportation to and from their vaccine appointments by requesting a promo code, and then adding that code to the Rewards section of their Lyft app before requesting a ride to the location.

Q. What are some reasons an information campaign specifically serving Black Americans is vital to the effort to stop the spread of COVID?

A. Simply because the numbers don’t lie. The most devastating impacts of COVID-19 are found in many of our most vulnerable communities. African Americans over-index and contend with not just the most staggering infection rates, but also the pandemic’s long-term health implications and unprecedented economic setbacks.

To be more specific, not only are Black people nearly three times more likely to contract the coronavirus as compared with white Americans, but nearly a third of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred within the Black community.

Q. The regional statistics on COVID are of concern, especially since many senior living providers are based in southern states, which have been hard-hit. Can you share some of the research and findings there—and good news, as well?

A. Well, let’s look at my home state of Mississippi, for example. In Mississippi, the top 19 counties with the highest COVID-19 infections in the state are all primarily populated by white, unvaccinated individuals from rural areas.

The evidence reveals that while Black people may not account for the largest share of the unvaccinated, less than 40 percent of our state’s population are fully vaccinated. As of last month, nearly 12,000 Mississippi students tested positive for the virus, and about 30,000 students were quarantined.

When you factor in the state’s ill-advised regulations of not requiring mask mandates, new Delta variant infections in Mississippi and other states will continue to balloon if stricter legislations are not put in place to protect all residents.

The good news is that yes, more than half of all African Americans today report that they’re fully vaccinated or are more willing to get a vaccine. But many southern states are declared hotspots, and 66 percent of Black Americans reside in the southern United States. Younger, lower-income and southern Blacks continue to lag behind.

 

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