Understanding the Role of African American Churches and Clergy in Community Crisis Response

This study, commissioned by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and carried out by leading researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, provides important insight into how much of a financial burden racial disparities are putting on our health care system and society at large. The researchers examined the direct costs associated with the provision of care to a sicker and more disadvantaged population, as well as the indirect costs of health inequities such as lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism, family leave, and premature deaths.

This study documents the failure of government and nonprofit agencies to engage Black clergy and churches as a key resource in responding to the urgent needs of people of color in Katrina’s aftermath. As a result, only one of the Black churches studied was reimbursed for the costs of assisting Katrina victims and survivors. Some of the African American ministers serving as first responders had lost everything themselves, including the assurance of a pay check or a church building to return to. However, no special arrangements were made and one pastor reported he was moved seven times before ending up in a FEMA trailer. Likewise, a number of Black clergy were routinely ignored by mental health professionals on the scene, despite the fact that the emotional and spiritual support they can give congregational members is pivotal to the success of mental health treatment and interventions. Even more striking was the failure of government workers to use Black ministers as mediators or advisors in instances where Katrina survivors pointed out racial biases and discrimination on the part of American Red Cross personnel and others.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008