W. Kamau Bell Kicks Off ‘Masks for the People’ Fundraiser

W. Kamau Bell (John Nowak / CNN)

As more detailed demographic information about COVID-19 deaths emerges, the virus’ disproportionate effect on black and brown populations is becoming painfully clear. In Michigan, 40% of those who have died from COVID-19 are black, yet African Americans represent just 14% of the state’s population. Cities with large black populations—including Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans—are the growing coronavirus hot spots.

Inequities in access to testing, insufficient care stemming from racial bias, chronic preexisting conditions, lack of health insurance and long-standing mistrust of the medical establishment all combine to make this pandemic even more dangerous for these already vulnerable communities.

Which is why comedian W. Kamau Bell is joining civil rights leader and pastor Michael McBride to help raise $1 million in a new humanitarian campaign called “Masks for the People.” Those funds will go towards sourcing masks and hand sanitizer directly from manufacturers, creating an uninterrupted supply chain of much-needed resources to black and brown populations in urban and rural settings alike.

McBride is the director of Faith in Action’s LIVE FREE campaign, a network of congregations and community leaders that works to reduce the prison population and end gun violence. He says the $1 million will buy them 250,000 N95 masks, one million surgical masks and about 50,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

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The campaign begins Monday, April 6 at 6pm with an Instagram Live event co-hosted by Kamau Bell and McBride, featuring a lengthy list of speakers and special guests, including Warriors coach Steve Kerr, musician Erica Campbell, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and Phillip Agnew, senior advisor for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The event isn’t geared toward entertainment alone (though Kamau Bell will likely keep things lively); activists, medical professionals and journalists will share their knowledge with viewers. These days, information is another form of personal protective equipment.

The pastor says the April 6 event is just the start of a nationwide campaign to deliver resources and information to communities otherwise unable to access them. “We do not believe these lives should be written off or be deemed as disposable,” McBride says. “So we’re going to do our part to make sure that they are not forgotten.”