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‘Unique moment in our history’: Community leaders reflect on how COVID-19 impacted racial justice

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — It’s been more than a year since the first case of COVID-19 hit this country. Since then half a million people have died from coronavirus.

Latinos and African Americans were disproportionately impacted by the virus, and the killing of George Floyd was the tipping point that led thousands to protest police brutality.

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Luz Pena: “Were you shocked to learn the numbers early on the pandemic and notice how disproportionately this virus was impacting the Latino community?”

Jon Jacobo: “Honestly, never did I imagine that the first study we did in April of 2020 we would find that 95.5% of all the people who tested positive were form the Latino community,” said Jacobo, Health Committee Chair for the Latino Task Force.

Asians were targeted and vilified.

“The anti-Asian racism stuff is not new. Whenever times get bad then it comes out again,” said Rev. Norman Fong, Chinatown Community Development Center.

VIDEO: ABC7 presses SF DA about what’s being done on crimes against Asian Americans

As we stayed home protecting ourselves from this virus, community leaders and activists point to racism as the intangible virus that the pandemic enhanced, and the killing of George Floyd by a police officer was the tipping point for many.

“Without a doubt I’ll be lying if I said that the pandemic had nothing to do with how many people who were really outraged. At the time, for two and a half months, everyone was just inside,” said Oakland resident and activist, Xavier Brown.

To understand where we go from here, ABC7 News spoke to Dr. Jennifer Tran, an Ethnic Studies professor at Cal State East Bay. Dr. Tran believes lasting change will need to come from within these communities.

“For 2020 the communities who have been historically overlooked and marginalized and repressed decided that collectively we had to work together, otherwise our communities will continue to be overlooked,” said Dr. Tran.

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We’re seeing this transformation now. In the midst of the pandemic, Xavier Brown, Reverend Fong and Jon Jacobo turned their pain and love for their communities into fuel.

“I think this is a very unique moment in our history and we have an opportunity to truly bring equity to those communities that have been left behind,” said Jacobo.

COVID-19 highlighted the inequities the Latino community was facing. Jon Jacobo helped lead the opening of a community vaccination site in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Reverend Fong came out of retirement after 30 years of service.

Luz Pena: “Norman we are in your community, what do you see?”

Rev. Fong: “I see a lot of history. This is our living room. All the seniors use to hang out here with no fear and now they can’t.”

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Rev. Fong continues to set meetings with ethnic groups to find common ground, but says there’s a lack of education that is playing a role in these attacks.

“One side on a higher level, total solidarity with the Black community who get it, the Latino community, Muslims leaders, they understand what Asians are going through, but how do we get the youth to understand it as well? Cause on the youth level, that’s where a lot of the violence is taking place. We need help. They may need jobs, programs, but that hate has to go,” said Rev. Fong.

Xavier Brown and his friend Akil Riley mobilized 15,000 people to protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Brown is also standing with the Asian community in solidarity.

“My heart goes out to the Asian community that is being so unfairly discriminated, attacked and I want them to know that I have their back and I think because we are all minorities, even if we are in different ways, we should all support each other. There shouldn’t be any waves of attacking or anger,” said Brown.

RELATED: Video shows brazen, ambush-style attack on older Asian man inside SF laundromat

Dr. Tran believes educating minorities on commonalities will be key in changing stereotypes and ending racism.

“This is US. We are widening the circle of who encompasses and constitutes US. US meaning the African American Community, the Asian community, Latinos and everyone else as one… We are definitely dismantling this false binary between us versus them and see that we cannot succeed, we cannot survive and thrive until we come up with solutions that elevate all of our humanity,” said Dr. Tran.

Community leaders also made emphasizes in what you and I can do every day. Becoming an ally to those facing systemic racism in our workplaces, circles and community.

That individual work they say will make the difference.

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