When Cathy Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, got the call from Blue Shield of California’s corporate citizenship team, she was with colleagues, talking about weathering the COVID-19 crisis. The company was giving the Chamber $100,000 to support Black-owned businesses, struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic.
“I was right in the middle of a meeting, and I stood up and started screaming right there,” Adams said. “I felt like I was in the audience at one of Oprah’s giveaway shows: ‘and you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car!’”
In addition to the grant to the Chamber, Blue Shield also gave $100,000 to Oakland’s Roots Community Health Clinic to support their pandemic response. The clinic provides care to low-income communities of color and the unsheltered local population.
According to Antoinette Mayer, Blue Shield’s senior director of corporate citizenship, the $200,000 in grants are part of the company’s commitment to combatting both the health and economic impacts of systemic racism. “We are seeing the effects of social determinants on health outcomes. People of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and Black people are dying at two to three times the rate of White people.”
Roots, based in East Oakland where there is a high concentration of Black, Latino, and homeless residents, is seeing double the number of cases in the zip codes surrounding the clinic than the overall Alameda County numbers.
“Having an unrestricted gift of $100,000 from Blue Shield honors community-defined strategies and uplifts our voices to better serve marginalized populations,” said Dr. Noha Aboelata, Roots CEO. “Many of our patients worry about getting tested for COVID. For both Latino immigrants and long-term Black residents, many fear large health bureaucracies. At Roots, we offer barrier-free testing.”
That means there’s no ID needed, no email needed, and no questions about immigration status.
“We just treat human beings, and we treat them with culturally-responsive services,” Aboelata said.
Going beyond COVID-19 to deal with ‘underlying’ problems
Roots has tested roughly 6,000 local residents for COVID-19, and each lab test costs between $100-$400 to run. This does not include Roots’ medical staff time, their PPE, or all the disinfecting necessary to run a clinic and testing site.
Dr. Aboelata said that while testing is the most essential piece to stopping the spread of the virus, the clinic also provides public education, neighborhood outreach to encourage people to get tested, and support for those who test positive.
Mayer stressed that Blue Shield’s commitment to creating health equity also must include dedicating attention to root problems. “As a health care company, it is important for us to address systemic bias within health care, as well as the economic disparities which contribute to health inequities. That’s why we are looking to Black-led and Black-supporting organizations to create a ripple effect in the community.”
Blue Shield’s gift to the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce went to its Resiliency Fund. The Chamber has raised close to $1 million dollars to provide $2,500 to $10,000 in relief to more than 100 Oakland Black-owned businesses for rent, equipment, supplies, technology, and financial training to both weather the crisis and create long-term sustainability.
The funds are filling the gap of the federal government’s response. “The Small Business Administration and the Payment Protection Program relies on the banking industry, which has a history of racism and not investing in communities of color,” said Adams. “So instead of relief checks, Black business owners got rejection letters.
“It’s a big deal that Blue Shield can come together in solidarity against racism, and because of this grant, some of our Black businesses will survive. I’m hearing, ‘You helped save my business and created a light at the end of the tunnel.’”
Mayer concurred. “Oakland is the home of Blue Shield’s headquarters, and we want to be good neighbors. Our goal in investing locally is to create a healthy and inclusive community. We have a responsibility to use our company’s voice and resources for positive change, especially in communities of color.”
Adams said Oakland is feeling that positivity and summed it up perfectly: “It’s more than money. It’s hope in these horrible times.”
For more on Blue Shield of California’s charitable giving click here
For more on the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce or to donate to their Resiliency Fund go to OAACC.org
For more on Roots Community Health Clinic or to donate to their pandemic response, go to rootsclinic.org