The supervisors discussed proposals on how to spend federal pandemic relief funds (ARPA).

Volunteers work on painting a Black Lives Matter street mural during the BLM street art event on P Street in front of Fresno City Hall on Thursday,

Volunteers work on painting a Black Lives Matter street mural during the BLM street art event on P Street in front of Fresno City Hall on Thursday,

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Good afternoon, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, June 19th — and Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery of African Americans in the United States.

A rally will be held at the Cultural Arts District Park in downtown Fresno at 6 p.m. tonight to celebrate. Masks and social distancing are required.

ICYMI: We have new team members! Please welcome:

  • Dympna Ugwu-Oju, Editor

  • Monica Vaughan, Water and Development Reporter

  • Dayana Jiselle, Engagement Reporter

This week in Fresnoland, Dympna explored how the pandemic has exposed deep food insecurity and racial inequality in Fresno County; Dayana moderated a Facebook Live on reimagining community safety in Fresno; and Monica gave us an update on plans to blast an open-pit mine on the San Joaquin River.

In today’s newsletter, Shantay Davies-Balch, MBA/CLE/Doula, the President and CEO of the Black Wellness and Prosperity Center, and a representative of the Fresno African-American COVID-19 Coalition, talks about the group and how it hopes to address the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on the region’s Black community.

The African-American COVID-19 Coalition presented an investment plan proposal to the Fresno City Council earlier this week. The plan aims to rectify the disproportionate impact the pandemic has on the Black community. This proposal comes at a time when city officials are finalizing spending plans for Fresno’s $92 million allocation of CARES Act funding to address pandemic-related relief. Below is a lightly edited transcription of my conversation with Shantay about this effort.

How did this coalition come together? And what is the rationale for those selected to be part of it?

There are two parts to this answer. First, the initiation of writing a comprehensive AA [African American] COVID 19 response proposal was through a group of AA male leaders that consists of police officers, lawyers, firefighters, business leaders, organizers, pastors, and former gang members.

Ms. Mary Curry and Dr. Venise Curry took to the lead on the TCC [Transformative Climate Communities] proposal — and that’s an example of a community-led effort to develop our own solutions, not politicians and business leaders who want to impose on us.

After decades of placing Black men in jail with the whole “war on crime,” which led to our families being broken and our neighborhoods being disinvested, this leadership by our Black men is saying “ENOUGH is ENOUGH!” They chose to step up as business leaders, community leaders, educators, health professionals, and ex-gang members to say, “we have a plan, and it’s time to demand that CITY and COUNTY leaders invest in us after generations of discrimination, criminalization, disinvestment, and polluting our community.”

Anyhow, this group of AA men recognized a national trend in African American COVID-19 related morbidity. They felt there was not a timely response from local officials and wanted to be proactive in putting a plan together to serve the Black community.

Our coalition formed organically. It’s exciting to have this talented diverse group of Black leaders taking the reins! The broader coalition includes African American male leaders, the African American Clergy Task force, and the African American COVID 19 Collaborative. The collaborative includes BLACK Wellness & Prosperity Center, Cultural Brokers, Inc., Community Champion, Dr. Venise Curry, West Fresno Family Resource Center, Fresno EOC, and Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. There are many health needs in the Black community, and this coalition is looking forward to long term partnerships to address health disparities.

In what ways are community spread of COVID-19 cases more prevalent amongst African-Americans in Fresno County?

Black folks in Fresno and across the nation are the most vulnerable across every health, social, economic and well-being spectrum measure in Fresno. Their comorbidity — the burden of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes etc., contribute to infection vulnerability and morbidity trends.

Here are some mind boggling thoughts:

To date, more than 30% of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the County of Fresno reported diabetes and hypertension as an existing underlying cause of mortality. While diabetes is disproportionately high among all people of color, Black residents carry a disproportionate burden of these diseases. Nearly 40% of Black residents carry the burden of diabetes compared to just 25% for white residents. While Black residents make up just 5.8% of the population, Fresno African Americans account for 40% of lab confirmed COVID-19 hospitalized patients compared to 20% of lab confirmed white hospitalized patients.

What’s more, Black residents experience an infection rate of 100 per 100,000 cases, which is four times higher than the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) community spread prevention guidelines of 25 per 100,000 residents over 14 days. This equates to approximately 10% of the Black population while African Americans only comprise 5.8% of the overall population.

It’s really important to differentiate between overall numbers and disparities. The population size of Black residents in Fresno just can’t compete with population numbers from other race/ethnic groups. However, what is clear is the Black health disparity in specific health and COVID-19 outcomes.

Your letter cited hypertension and diabetes as significant co-morbidities related to Covid-19 in Fresno County. Can you talk about what neighborhood conditions contribute to these conditions?

In Fresno County, the [African American community] is especially impacted by environmental health conditions. For example, take the Darling Processing Plant in West Fresno—dig deep and here you’ll discover concentrated disease burden of asthma for example. The Journal of the American Medical Association released a report today showing that women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have premature, underweight or stillborn babies. In Fresno, enough Black babies die to fill about 4.5 kinder classrooms every 5 years. Black babies are about 3 times more likely to die than white babies before age 1, and, by the way, our infant mortality rate is similar to developing regions of Africa.

It’s pretty simple: Black folks in Fresno just don’t have an equal start for health and prosperity, based on zip codes alone.

Unfinished neighborhoods, like not having adequate green space, all contribute to poor mental health and birth outcomes. There’s a need for full-service grocery stores, higher density housing, better public transit, etc. Basically, Black people must be freed from the chronic burden of racist oppression where institutional systems and processes stymie the ability of Black people to invest in our own well-being. This chronic stress changes biological markers and makes Blacks more susceptible to disease infection and infection vulnerability.

[editor’s note: Bee reporter Manuela Tobias wrote an in-depth look at systemic racism that has contributed to these environmental conditions in west Fresno this week.]

Why do you think there hasn’t been targeted assistance to support Black residents of Fresno County in Covid-19 fight?

That’s a million dollar question! Generally, it feels like business as usual. Historically, city and county officials have allowed business leaders to use west Fresno and the Black community as a location for profit making by some of the dirtiest industries–a dumping ground for the rest of the city. Recently, we have seen the City take leadership and reverse, but their budget decisions and healthcare response to COVID will prove if they are committed to fixing past mistakes and discriminatory policies.

We are ready to partner in a meaningful way with the City and the County. At this point, we have full confidence they will respond with a tangible and direct financial investment.

Your proposal includes a request that the City of Fresno invest resources into preparing the way for a healthcare facility to locate in west Fresno [reader note: there are not any major healthcare facilities there]. What, if any efforts, are underway to support building more permanent healthcare facilities in west Fresno? What have been the barriers to establishing health care facilities in the community?

We’ve got a plan! We have a shared vision to build not only a wellness center where we address chronic stress reduction intervention, mental health and well-being and disease prevention and management; what’s needed is a clinic and hospital that provides high quality culturally concordant care. We certainly hope both the City and County will partner with us on investing in solid capacity and infrastructure so we’re not having the same types of conversations in the future.

(What stories are not being told in our coverage right now? Send tips to me:

And now, the week’s top reads:

(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit

Despite a stunning loss in the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, President Donald Trump vows to continue his efforts to end DACA. The Supreme Court had rejected the president’s effort to end DACA, the legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants. Until further action, the “Dreamers” will retain their protection from deportation and their authorization to work in the United States. Fresno Bee

CEMEX has completed its application for permits to continue mining north of Fresno for another 100 years — with a proposal to expand operations by blasting and drilling a 600-feet deep pit into hard rock near the San Joaquin River. An environmental review process and public hearing begins at 6 p.m. June 24 Fresno Bee

Undocumented residents of California have suffered most because of the pandemic. Approximately 360,00 have lost their jobs and livelihood. Unlike others who lost income, they are not eligible for any of the pandemic related relief. Fresno Bee

California residents are now required to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces, when riding in taxis and rideshare cars, taking public transit, standing in line to enter a building or walking through common areas like hallways, stairways, elevators and parking garages, according to a mandate announced Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The rule is designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Fresno Bee

About 200 people gathered in front of Fresno City Hall on Thursday morning for the Black Lives Matter Annual Proclamation and Street Art Event. The highlight was painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the P Street roadway. Fresno Bee

If you are having difficulty finding a job or restarting your business in California, you are not alone. The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic is moving slower than anticipated. Fresno Bee

Can Fresno’s police force be re-imagined? City Council and police chief discuss calls to defund the department. Fresno Bee

California’s budget approved by legislators on Monday included $15 million for a new medical school in the Central Valley, through a partnership between UC Merced and UCSF. Fresno Bee

Despite anti-eviction rules passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, some landlords in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods in South Los Angeles are still trying to evict tenants, using illegal methods. Los Angeles Times

Protesters say that leaders and police that make gestures that show solidarity with Black Lives Matter need to do more. They insist on reform. Los Angeles Times

More than 1.5 million people filed for unemployment benefits this week, making it the 13th straight week withmore than 1 million claims. New York Times

Black Californians’ housing crisis, by the numbers. CalMatters

Black businesses have suffered the worst effect from the novel coronavirus. New York Times

Plans to fix the Friant-Kern Canal are moving fast, with public comments due Monday on the draft Environmental Impact Statement. It is still unclear where the funding will come from to fix the canal. SJV Water

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