MILWAUKEE - As the COVID-19 outbreak spread through minority communities during the onset of the pandemic, too many lives were lost and equity was magnified. Over the past year, heartbreak led to increased efforts toward health and safety.
As intensive care units filled, some patients were turned away from hospitals and others left looking for access to testing or treatment for COVID-19.
"We were already in a position of having lack of access to healthcare," said State Representative David Bowen.
State Representative David Bowen
African Americans were disproportionately impacted as the coronavirus first spread through our area in March 2020.
"We were already in a position of have lack of access to living-wage jobs that you can't work from home, that you can just adjust to protect your family. We were the essential workers," Bowen said.
Bowen was among those who contracted the disease early on.
"By the grace of God I made it through that tumultuous time," Bowen added.
Sadly, many have not. Elvaughn Riley paid tribute to his father. 66-year-old Lawrence Riley was the first person in Milwaukee County to die from complications of COVID-19.
Looking at a memorial table Riley said, "It just shows our respect for him and dedication to him and memories of him."
As we approach a year since his passing, Riley said, "It’s been a hard year for me and my family."
Riley remains positive adding, "It's been a hard year for everyone. But we’ve got to fight through this."
Also, losing his uncle to the coronavirus battle he has words of warning.
"You just have to be aware and be cautious and we need more of that our community cautiousness," Riley said.
That is a major part of efforts coming from the Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs.
"We are doing all we can to make sure all voices are heard," Executive Director Jeffery Roman said.
Roman said the organization has played a critical role in helping create an equitable community response.
"Our community resilience action team with a group organization which are black and brown led, who have been informing strategies not only around testing and making sure residents have access to resources and vaccinations," Roman said.
Bowen added a lot has changed and evolved over the past 12 months.
"The state has made investments, the local municipality has made investments, the federal government made investments to ensure things are more accessible than they were before," Bowen said.
Still, the community needs to galvanize in the fight against COVID-19.
"Continue to wear these and follow protocol," Riley said.
It is a gesture of protection -- and asymbol of hope and unity.
"Let’s pay homage let’s highlight the lives we lost in this process. How do we move forward with them in our hearts with them on our mind with them in our actions of how we take care of each other," said Bowen.