As data slowly reveals that black and Latino communities have been the hardest hit by COVID-19 deaths in many U.S. cities, Black Entertainment Television (BET) is stepping up to help.
The Viacom subsidiary announced Wednesday that it is launching a new partnership with United Way to raise money for African American communities impacted by the pandemic. The multi-pronged initiative kicks off Wednesday night at 8 PM Eastern with the first in a four-part virtual town hall titled “Unmasked: A COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Series Powered by NAACP & BET,” streaming on NAACP.org.
BET will also collect donations starting Friday, Apr. 10th for its United Way partner fund, which will distribute funds strategically to groups working on the ground in New York City, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago—areas where the black community has experienced the most coronavirus cases.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is savagely compounding the profound health and financial vulnerabilities many Black Americans face. Every day, there are new reports of how this pandemic is killing African Americans at much higher rates than other communities,” said Scott Mills, president of BET. “BET is using all of our resources—our capital, our media platforms, our relationships with the creative community, sponsors, businesses and charitable organizations to support our community in this time of crisis.”
It wouldn’t be television, of course, without a televised fundraising event. On April 22, BET will broadcast a star-studded special hosted by Kelly Rowland, Terrance J, and Regina Hall to drive viewers to the fundraising effort. “Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort” is also set to showcase performances and guest appearances by DJ Khaled, Charlie Wilson, Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, Fantasia, and Melvin Crispell III among others.
The event will bring awareness of the virus’ impact on black communities into the approximately 88,255,000 American households that receive BET.
The coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on people of color in the U.S. is just starting to reveal itself in medical data. On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci acknowledged during the daily White House press briefing that black Americans are more likely to suffer complications from the virus due to higher rates of underlying conditions like asthma and diabetes.
In New York, the health department revealed on Tuesday that Hispanic city residents made up 34% of COVID-19 deaths and black city residents made up 28% of COVID-19 deaths—and those numbers are said to underrepresent the total number of deaths because they do not count people who died at home.
Data in other cities show similar numbers: a ProPublica study found that black Milwaukee residents made up almost half of the city’s infection cases and 81% of its deaths, in a city where black residents are only 26% of the population.
But the virus isn’t the only thing hitting black Americans hard during the crisis; United Way said it will also direct some of the BET funds to families in need of emergency assistance with food and other unemployment-related needs.
“United Way is deeply embedded in communities across our country, and our ‘local-ness’ means we know the needs on the ground and how to get the right kind of help to those who need it most,” said Stan Little, chief experience officer of United Way. “We look forward to partnering with BET to bring much-needed relief and long-term recovery to already vulnerable communities that are being hit especially hard because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the city of New York alone, United Way works with over 550 community-based local groups, many of which work primarily with black and Latino residents located in areas like Harlem, the Bronx, and Bed-Stuy.
BET confirmed that the network also plans to put initial funds into the effort, but declined to specify a dollar amount.