Prayer rally in Muskegon Heights to call attention to the continuing effect of the coronavirus on black communities

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – A new grassroots organization, formed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, will hold a rally in Muskegon Heights on Saturday to raise awareness of the ongoing pandemic effect on black communities.

The denominational organization, Six feet in the streets, will host a dozen simultaneous public prayer rallies across the country to raise awareness of the virus’s disproportionate impact on African Americans, said Pastor Toney Hines, who helps organize the Muskegon Heights event.

Thirteen blocks of Hackley Avenue in Muskegon Heights will be blocked starting at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 27, according to Hines, a longtime Heights resident now based in Grand Blanc. A half hour of prayer will take place starting at noon, followed by about an hour of information sharing on COVID-19, which started to surge in at least seven states, after months of uneven foreclosure policies across the country.

“A lot of people don’t think of it to be a disease,” Hines said. “We are trying to raise awareness, so that people can understand that you can be asymptomatic, you don’t have to have anything that shows you have the disease.”

In Muskegon County, where there have been 775 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 318 – or 41% – of those cases have been in black residents. Thirteen black residents have died from the virus, representing 27.7% of the county’s 47 COVID-19 deaths.

In comparison, African Americans make up 13.7% of all county residents, according to national data.

Participants at Saturday’s rally are required to wear masks and will stand 6 feet from each other out of respect for social distancing guidelines, Hines said. Eighteen members of the clergy, from various Christian denominations, will be in attendance, Hines said, and neighborhood leaders will be stationed along Hackley Avenue from Baker Street to Ray Street to lead prayers.

Simultaneous rallies will be held in Dallas, Texas .; Kansas City, Missouri .; Cincinnati, Ohio; Takoma, Washington; East St. Louis, Missoui .; Decatur, Illinois; and in two cities in California, Hines said.

“It’s not gone,” Hines said of the coronavirus. “He’s raising his ugly head again. We want people to know what to expect, we want people to know what is going on.

The various Six Feet in the Street locals are also hoping government officials will attend these rallies, although Hines has yet to confirm which leaders may attend the Muskegon Heights event.

The organization was founded in recent weeks in recognition of the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on African Americans, Hines said. The group seeks to establish a partnership between the clergy and local elected officials to draw attention to systemic racism, according to its website.

This includes issues such as police brutality, which has been the subject of protests around the world in recent weeks, although the issue was not the subject of Saturday’s event, Hines said. This event will remain focused on public health disparities, he said, with information sharing on registering to vote and participating in the U.S. census as well.

Michigan has seen some of the most stringent stay-at-home orders in an attempt to prevent the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 disease. Here, as in other communities, black residents are disproportionately susceptible to the adverse effects of the disease.

In Michigan, African Americans understand approximately 14 percent of the state’s population, but account for 28% of confirmed coronavirus cases and 38% of coronavirus deaths, according to recent status data.

Six Feet in the Street was founded in East St. Louis on April 30, according to the group’s website.

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