Heart-Wrenching PSA Shows the Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans

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Jason Hargrove could be your dad. He could be your husband. He could be anyone’s bus driver; because, in fact, he was one for the city of Detroit. But the difference between the married father of six and so many other regular working-class Americans is this: last month Jason was alive, and now he’s dead.

A powerful new PSA featuring Hargrove will run beginning this weekend on African-American cable networks and digital media outlets. An in-house spot from Chicago’s longstanding multicultural marketing firm Burrell, it’s part of a larger campaign to help get COVID-19 resources in front of the black community. The video, titled “For Jason,” will be distributed across TV One, Black News Channel, Revolt TV, iOne, Rolling Out and Bounce TV—all of which are running the PSA pro bono.

The PSA pulls from a video Hargrove himself posted to his Facebook page on Mar. 21, and combines his words with stark statistics on how coronavirus is disproportionately impacting the black community. Speaking into his phone camera at the time, a fuming Hargrove shared his frustrations over passengers and others not taking the pandemic seriously.

“We’re out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families,” said Hargrove in the video that quickly went viral after he posted it to Facebook. “But for you to get on the bus, and stand on the bus, and cough several times without covering up your mouth, and you know that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don’t care.”

Eleven days later, Hargrove was dead. And according to a harrowing, painful story shared with Time by his wife Desha Johnson-Hargrove, his death might have been prevented had doctors taken his condition seriously over three separate visits to the emergency room.

Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white neighbors, according to data released Friday by American Public Media’s APM Research Lab. Across the U.S., African-American people are dying at rates that represent more than twice their share of the population.

The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the black community compelled Burrell into action.

“We’re an African-American agency, and we represent that community,” said Lewis Williams, evp and chief creative officer at Burrell. “Marketing is selling burgers and cars and everything else. But when we see an issue in the community, we also need to use our talents to do something about it.”

Racial disparity as a marketing problem

Five years ago, Burrell launched a PSA campaign titled Black Is Human. In a series of videos, young African-American children talk about what they’d like to be if they grow up, and other topics, in a sobering reference to the fact that homicide is the top cause of death for black boys.

Jason Hargrove’s story fit the Black Is Human platform well. His death might have been prevented were doctors more likely to take complaints from African American patients more seriously. (Studies have shown that implicit bias has led to black patients receiving inferior medical care). And he represents the 39% of black Americans who work in jobs that qualify as essential during the pandemic, according to a McKinsey report, making them vulnerable to viral exposure at work.

“We are twice as likely to die from COVID-19,” said Williams. “Why is that? It’s because of our preexisting conditions. Why is that? It’s because of a high unemployment rate, a lack of access to healthcare, all of those things. And I can’t work from home if I work for the sanitation department. I can’t work from home if I drive the number 3 bus. I can’t work from home if I work at the grocery store.”

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