ABC7 Unite: Frontline workers open up about COVID-19's impact on Black community

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Three African Americans working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City opened up about the health crisis which is disproportionately impacting their community.

Three-quarters of the city's essential workers are Black.

"Could it be more diverse? Absolutely," Lt. Tracy Joseph, an FDNY paramedic, said.

"There are not enough African American male doctors in this country," Dr. Phillip Fairweather, who works in the emergency room at Elmhurst Hospital, said.

"When a patient or a family member comes in and sees someone who looks like them, it means everything," Mount Sinai Staff Chaplain Rocky Walker said.

They are three heroes continuing the fight to save lives.

"This virus hit particularly hard the African American community," Walker said.

Pervasive social inequalities like poverty and overcrowded housing have led to more Black and Hispanic people contracting COVID-19, studies show.

"The truth is we were also putting our families at risk or our significant others at risk," Fairweather said.

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Fairweather rode out the pandemic at Elmhurst Hospital.

The public hospital in Queens was pushed to the brink last Spring.

"At its worst it was chilling. It was very hard," Fairweather said. "One of our nurses died as a result of that infection and so to observe all of that and have to come to work and continue working was tremendously difficult."

As an FDNY paramedic, Joseph oversees EMS dispatch.

The Crown Heights native said she also lost coworkers to the virus.

"It can be emotionally draining. It could be your family member, it could be your friend," Joseph said.

Walker, a former Army pilot, is now working on a different battlefield.

"The work, the tireless efforts and we flattened that curve with our bare hands. It happened in this hospital. We watched it," Walker said.

During a year that saw this country undergo a racial reckoning, Dr. Fairweather had this message about the meaning of Black History Month.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at ourselves and say we're worthy. We're present. We have made huge contributions to the history of this country and we're an invaluable resource and should not be underestimated," Fairweather said.

ABC7 Unite: Inside 'The Historymakers,' the nation's largest African American video oral history archive
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Sandra Bookman reports on the archive helping future generations learn about the many accomplishments of African-Americans.


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