A group of Wichita-area leaders called for the Sedgwick County Commission to prioritize their response to COVID-19 to include the most vulnerable communities. While Sedgwick County has not provided COVID-19 stats by race or ethnicity, across the country, African-American and other minority communities have proven to be disproportionately impacted by the disease.
At a press conference, held on May 5 in front of the Sedgwick County Court House, the masked and socially-distanced leaders called for the commissioners to increase the availability of testing in Northeast Wichita, to improve the quantity of personal protective equipment (PPEs) in the community, and to provide financial support for small African-American businesses.
Through the federal CARES Act, Sedgwick County has received $93 million to be used exclusively to fund its COVID-19 response. Presenter after presenter called for the commissioners to direct a fair share of those funds to the community most impacted by the disease.
To not do so would be “insensitive, irresponsible and inconceivable,” said Rev. Dr. T. Lamont Holder, who led the press conference.
KS Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau commented on the number of people in Northeast Wichita who she says aren’t wearing masks. When she asks them, “where’s their mask,” they tell her they don’t have one, nor do they have the resources to make or buy one.
She called for the commissioners to use some of the CARES Act funding to purchase and make masks available to Northeast Wichita residents.
Former City Councilmember Lavonta Williams asked the commissioners to prioritize testing in the community. Testing should be readily available in Northeast Wichita to make it accessible to people who don’t have transportation said Williams.
Williams, a former school teacher, also asked for the commissioners to look at ways to work with USD 259 to see how they can help vulnerable children who may have been left behind with distance learning, because of limited access to computers and the internet and/or the lack of structure and educational support in their homes.
Current District One City Councilmember Brandon Johnson expressed concern about and called for the commissioners to support small community-based businesses who have been hurt financially by the pandemic. He mentioned specifically beauty and barbershops, a popular business in African-American communities, who have been closed for more than a month.
He asked that some of the county’s CARES Act funding be used to help them pay for PPEs.
“They don’t have revenue right now and need access to free PPEs,” said Johnson.
He also called for the commissioners to help minority businesses financially, either through loans or grants.
Community activist Danielle Johnson expressed concern that the commissioners had not reached out to the vulnerable African-American community to see how they might help.
“Don’t wait for my email, my phone call or my text – come to me, come to our community, come to our organizations,” said Ms. Johnson, who further noted how politicians don’t hesitate to come to the community when they want “our” vote.
Finally, the group asked that the commissioners involve a diverse group in the decision-making process of how the $93 million will be spent.