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How Ford Is Helping Underserved Communities Recover From COVID-19

The auto company is giving help to those who need it the most.

Business

This article is in partnership with Ford.

No one could have predicted the dire effects of the COVID-19 crisis, especially on Black communities. One consequence: Black-owned businesses are now almost twice as likely to close as other businesses because they're more likely to be located in areas hit hardest by the pandemic. If these effects--and this roller coaster of a year--have taught us anything, it's the need for people to not only recognize racial disparities but also take meaningful action to undo them.

As lockdowns took effect and the reality of what was in store sunk in across America, many individuals and businesses shifted gears from driving profits to community-focused problem-solving. Ford is one such company that put nearly all business aside early on to focus heavily on helping Americans in vulnerable positions, including first responders, educators, and small business owners.

Ford

The automaker has historically been one of the largest employers of African-Americans in the country, and supported initiatives and organizations that positively impact black communities.

That's especially true in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. For one, Ford has teamed up with the National Urban League, to give Black business owners exactly what they need to get back on their feet ASAP: money.

"Access to capital is one of the biggest hurdles Black-owned businesses face," says National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial. "The pandemic has only widened the racial disparity." That's why Ford and the National Urban League have established the Emergency Capital Access Program (ECAP) to give Black business owners immediate access to a total of $600,000 in grants, along with technical assistance and counseling.

With priority given to businesses located in areas with Black populations of 25 percent or more, Ford and the National Urban League aren't just helping Black businesses, they're giving a necessary boost to Black communities too. "Small businesses are a cornerstone of the African-American community and play a vital role in their economic success," notes Pamela Alexander, director of Community Development at Ford Motor Company Fund, on the importance of deeply-rooted Black businesses fostering community well-being.

Ford

Of course, the most important way to support Black communities at this time is to focus on their health. Ford has also teamed up with Wayne State University and social services organization ACCESS to deploy its own vehicles as mobile testing units, servicing more than 10,000 residents in the company's home state of Michigan. The units are also equipped to test for conditions that can put individuals at high risk for contracting COVID--some of which are more commonly experienced by African-Americans than other groups. "Although there is still a strong need for COVID-19 testing, expanding our services to include blood pressure and HIV testing, and broadening our community outreach, allows us to have even a bigger impact in improving community health," says Wayne State University's Dr. Phillip Levy, M.P.H.

Ford

Above all, the most notable response to COVID-19 by Ford has been Project Apollo. Not long after the U.S. went on lockdown in March, the automaker quickly pivoted from producing auto parts to creating millions of CDC-compliant masks, face shields, ventilators, respirators and washable isolation gowns. This massive supply of PPE continues to be distributed to Black communities and HBCUs, as well as healthcare workers, first responders, disabled veterans, food banks, schools in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and other at-risk individuals throughout Michigan. In October, more than 700,000 of the masks Ford produced were delivered to breast cancer patients, survivors and their families in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, showing that, despite the pandemic, the auto company is continuing its existing outreach programs like Ford Warriors in Pink®.

Though nothing will right the innumerable wrongs Black communities have and continue to endure, these invested, forward-thinking initiatives offer a glimpse of much-needed positivity and teamwork in a country healing from more than just COVID. And while recovering from the pandemic will no doubt be a long process, prioritizing communities that need the most help is the best way to ensure that we'll come back even better than before.

Featured image courtesy of Ford

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A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

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To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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