Three Black Women Leading Michigan’s Charge for Safe, Accessible Healthcare
When Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared racism a public health crisis in August, she noted that Black people in her state were four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their white counterparts. Poverty, frontline service jobs, lack of affordable childcare, and underlying health conditions are among the factors that put Black Detroit residents at high risk.
Black women Michiganders are spearheading the fight to educate the public and achieve better healthcare outcomes during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in their state. Supermajority News talked to three Black women in Detroit who have emerged as healthcare leaders in this crucial election year.
Kady Cox, Executive Director of Raising Awareness With Students
“Everyone in my family except me has diabetes,” Kady Cox told Supermajority News. “My great-grandma, back in the day, had to have her leg amputated. My mom was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 14. Growing up, I always carried candy in my purse because she could casually say, ‘Oh, my blood sugar is dropping,’ and I could help her.”
This ambitious former Obama White House intern, who is also a native of Detroit, launched Raising Awareness With Students (RAWS) in 2015. Cox’s non-profit organization educates young people on how to avoid diabetes – a COVID-19 risk factor – and other preventable illnesses. RAWS targets minority health disparities, from the lack of healthy food options for underprivileged families to false medical stereotypes about Black people’s ability to handle pain.
“Racism is a public health crisis, and we need to look at it through a public health lens,” Cox said. “It takes a toll on our mental health. You wonder, ‘If I get sick, how am I going to be treated? Am I going to get the right medicine and proper care?’”
Inspired by her mentor, Detroit Heals Detroit founder Sirrita Darby, Cox took a cohort of students to Washington, D.C. for the annual March on Washington, where they distributed PPE kits. She’s also fueled by the memory of a meeting with former U.S. Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during her 2016 internship.
“He said, ‘Politics is nice, working in government is cool, going to law school is great – but where you make the real change is on the ground in your community,’” Cox recalled. “It was a revelation for me.
Cox, a proud member of the Detroit Rotary Club, recently expanded her civic engagement as the Michigan director for Woke Vote. She has straightforward election advice for fellow millennial women.
“Do proper research, vote for the change you want to see, and follow up. Take the lead and don’t be intimidated. I think when we do that, we take back our own power.”
Trece Andrews, Union Steward for SEIU Healthcare Michigan
When Trece Andrews, a longtime laundry worker at the Regency at St. Clair Shores nursing home, was invited to bring her first-hand experience to a bipartisan task force on COVID-19 preparedness in Michigan nursing homes in July, she seized the opportunity to provide recommendations to Gov. Whitmer.
Michigan has seen more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and more than 4,000 cases among staff members. Andrews, who earns about $15 an hour, took several weeks off to care for her father, a cancer survivor, but felt the economic pinch without paid leave, plus pressure from her employer to get back to work.
“What we’re facing has made healthcare workers scared and afraid,” Andrews told Supermajority News. “We’re scared of taking COVID-19 home to our families or even just getting it ourselves. Some of the residents have passed, and they’re like our family, too.”
While the availability of gowns, masks, and sanitizer has improved since the start of the pandemic, Andrews offered taskforce recommendations including safer staffing levels, more affordable health insurance, and the designation of nursing home staff as essential workers.
Heading into November’s election, she is busy phone banking with union members, explaining where to vote and why SEIU Healthcare Michigan endorses Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
“The leadership needs to change, first of all, because COVID-19 came through here and tore up a lot of families, and a lot of people lost their lives. It’s no joke. It’s killing people. Without the proper leadership, we’re not going to be able to move away from it.”
At this challenging moment in U.S. history, Andrews said she has found her voice.
“It’s a great time for women of color who are advocating for frontline workers,” Andrews said. “We’ve been able to have a voice, and that means a lot for us as African American women – being heard. We’re being heard all over the news.”
Eboni Taylor, Michigan Executive Director of Mothering Justice
The four cornerstones of Mothering Justice’s “Mamas’ Agenda” — promoting Black maternal health, affordable and quality childcare, paid family leave and sick days, and guaranteed income — resonate personally with Eboni Taylor, the Michigan Executive Director of the organization. Both Taylor — a lifelong Detroit resident with a Master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan — and her husband, who is a University of Michigan academic advisor, work full-time on top of caring for their young sons, 4-year-old Mekhi and 2-year-old Esiah. In addition, Taylor lost her older brother in February and has been caring for his daughters several days per week.
That said, Taylor acknowledges she is privileged to still have a job and access to Mothering Justice’s in-home childcare and counseling services for employees.
Due to COVID-19, many Black women in Detroit, she says, “have moved beyond the crisis level because they were already vulnerable, already had to go into work without having many childcare options. COVID-19 has allowed us to say, ‘Look, we can’t return to normal. We have to return to a better place, because when we see natural disasters or pandemics, there are certainly populations that bear the brunt.’ It has only caused us to want to supercharge our efforts.”
Mothering Justice is building a national platform with online education programs like Accountability Academy, which assists white allies, and Mamas’ University, which promotes female leadership. Taylor offers a clear vision when asked what she wants to see nationwide come November.
“When women of color are excited by an election – which I’m hearing they are, and I would point to Joe Biden choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate – we can win. And we’re saying, ‘Black moms, moms of color, are too busy to stand in line. So vote by mail or drop your ballot off at a dropbox.’ As you know, Michigan is a battleground state. I think having mamas and women of color come out will be a game-changer.”