Derrick Johnson is the President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Johnson previously served as the vice chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors, as well as the president of the Mississippi state chapter of the NAACP.
Johnson is a veteran activist who has dedicated his career to defending the rights and improving the lives of Mississippians. As State President of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, he led critical campaigns for voting rights and equitable education. He successfully managed two bond referendum campaigns in Jackson, MS that brought $150 million in school building improvements and $65 million towards the construction of a new convention center, respectively. As a regional organizer at the Jackson-based non-profit, Southern Echo, Inc., Mr. Johnson provided legal, technical, and training support for communities across the South.
Black EOE Journal had the chance to talk with Johnson about his views on COVID-19 and its effects on African-American communities.
BEOEJ: In your opinion, how is the black community handling the pandemic? Have you seen that more African Americans are seeing more underlying conditions from the effects of COVID-19?
Johnson: The Black community is facing the brunt of this pandemic. When we get infected with the COVID-19 virus, we are more likely to die from it due to underlying conditions. Unfortunately, African Americans have higher rates and earlier onset of both chronic conditions and disability than white Americans, as well as less access to high-quality health care for those conditions.
BEOEJ: How have you been helping African Americans facing the brunt of this pandemic?
Johnson: What we’ve heard from many of the people we’ve spoken with or assisted during this time is the lack of clear, concise, reliable information has caused confusion and fear. Information during times of crisis can be the saving grace for so many people. The NAACP has provided countless individuals with access to information through our Virtual Town Halls series in conjunction with BET. We invited congressional leaders, policy and health experts, as well as wellness leaders, who presented a great deal of comfort, support and answers to pressing questions regarding COVID-19.
BEOEJ: Are there areas that are harder hit with the virus? Are you seeing any improvement in other areas?
Johnson: The areas hit the hardest with the virus are counties in places like Michigan, New York, California, with predominantly people of color and Black populations. While we see a flattening of the curve in places like New York, we must recognize that we have not eradicated the virus, nor have we created a cure for it. With that in mind, operating with caution should still be a priority for all people, particularly Black Americans. We can’t afford to prolong recovery efforts by going about business as usual.
BEOEJ: What other issues is this pandemic causing, i.e., unemployment. Is this worse for the African-American community than others?
Johnson: Aside from the health crisis COVID-19 is causing, we are also witnessing a calamitous disaster across the economy, and subsequently, unemployment rates are skyrocketing. We know that Black unemployment has always been as twice as high as White unemployment. This virus is creating a compounding effect and raising unemployment for our community even higher.
BEOEJ: Are there efforts being put in place specifically for African Americans?
Johnson: The stimulus packages are providing relief for some, not all. However, we need a stimulus geared directly toward the Black community hit the hardest by this pandemic. This pandemic has only worked to stifle our community’s social and economic progress. We need a stimulus package that provides self-employed and gig workers access to benefits as well.