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Black History Month: Resilience amid unprecedented challenges in past year

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 3:55 PM CST
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(CNN) - This week marked the start of Black History Month, and across the country people are raising awareness of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the Black community.

They’re also celebrating the resilience of Black Americans who faced unprecedented challenges this past year.

A global pandemic: COVID-19 killed the father and grandfather of Detroit’s Keith Gambrell.

“It’s very frustrating, it’s heartbreaking. It’s bitter. It’s America,” he said.

The virus has disproportionately impacted the Black community, highlighting long-standing inequities in health care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Black Americans are dying at three times the rate of white Americans.

In response, Thermo Fisher Scientific, a science equipment company, pledged $15 million for tests and equipment to historically Black colleges and universities in August.

“This has gotten Black and brown researchers so excited, the community that’s given me so much growing up,” said Micah Brown, Howard medical student. “It’s really important to see more testing efforts being brought to DC.”

Then came the vaccines, but some are hesitant to get the shot.

“We know that lack of trust is a major cause of reluctance - especially in communities of color - and that lack of trust is not without good reason, as the Tuskegee studies occurred in many of our lifetimes,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, former U.S. surgeon general.

While battling a new pandemic, an old foe reared its ugly head: racism.

Several states have now declared racism a public health emergency, acknowledging a painful past for Black Americans that’s still felt in present day.

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans at the hands of police motivated a movement.

People spilled into the streets, demanding an end to police brutality and racial inequality, and channeling the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

With the heartbreaking loss of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, there was a renewed push for legislative change.

The Congressional Black Caucus celebrated as the House passed a police reform bill named after George Floyd and urged more action.

“Protests spread around the world with people in other countries calling out human rights abuses in the United States,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.

Big companies like Google and Yelp stepped up. It was perfect timing for Black business owners, who are shutting down in numbers twice as large as others during the pandemic, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

But for Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan restaurant, before and during the pandemic, there was a growing pandemonium for vegan burgers.

“It takes a village. you know?” said owner Pinky Cole. “I couldn’t be who I am by myself.”

The business owner opened two more shops and a food truck, just one glimmer of success in an unprecedented year.

A year that included pain and protest after protest, with Black Lives Matter and other demonstrators marching all the way to the ballot box for change.

“The Black community came together and united to really put forth an effort to get everybody out to vote,” said Sharon Strange Lewis, Howard University director of Alumni Relations.

In Mississippi, a nearly 40-year fight was finally won to replace the confederate-themed state flag.

“Black folks in this state, very proud,” said Reuben Anderson, former Mississippi Supreme Court justice. “Young Black folk don’t have this flag to look to for the rest of their lives.”

Georgia elected its first Black U.S. senator. Nationally, a glass ceiling was broken when Kamala Harris became the first woman and person of color to be vice president - another historic moment to add to the long list of accomplishments celebrated during Black History Month.

Copyright 2021 CNN Newsource. WAPT, WJLA, WJZ, BAY NEWS 9 contributed to the report. All rights reserved.