Words By Steven Monacelli
As the COVID-19 delta variant continues to drive high case numbers and hospitalization rates across North Texas, Dallas City Council has decided to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund multicultural advertising campaigns to promote COVID-19 awareness in newspapers like The Dallas Weekly. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that it is less than was initially proposed and that the funding cut would have been even more dramatic had it not been for the efforts of two Black city council members. Had they not lobbied for an amendment, the funding would have been cut by more than 90 percent.
But thankfully, they did.
Initially, the budget had recommended $3,000,000 for communications programs for public health awareness using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. About half of that amount was slated to go toward advertising in papers like DW regarding COVID-19, targeting 17 high-risk zip codes. The other half would go to a variety of other public awareness campaigns, such as direct mailings and signage on public transportation. But amid the typical budget season horse-trading, a series of amendments whittled that recommended funding down to a mere $250,000.
Councilmember Casey Thomas, who represents portions of Southwest Dallas in District 3, took issue with the dramatic cut to a program that promotes COVID-19 awareness in underserved communities, including some in his district. During the September 9 council meeting, Thomas made his case clearly.
“We need to make sure to get the information out to those who need it most,” Thomas said. “And when we look at the data, communities who are affected most by this delta variant are in the African American and Latino community. It’s been that way before the variant too.”
Age-standardized data from the CDC shows that Hispanic, Black and Native American folks are still twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts. It’s also the case that the Black population still lags behind white folks in terms of vaccination rates, further emphasizing the need for ongoing public awareness campaigns in the Black community.
Backed by Councilman Tennell Atkins, who represents portions of Southeast Dallas District 8, Councilman Thomas successfully motioned to increase the amount of recommended funding that would cover the advertising program to $1,000,000. Although this is lower than the $3,000,000 that had initially been proposed, Thomas still considers it a success.
“The amount of money going to Black, Brown and other publications in underserved communities, though smaller in total amount…will still be enough to adequately spend on advertising,” Thomas told DW.
The need for print advertising in particular was emphasized by Thomas, who pointed to internet access issues in minority communities. Indeed, Dallas is among the worst cities in the world when it comes to internet access. Research indicates 42 percent of households in Dallas lack a fixed connection to the internet.
This disparity is primarily along economic lines, but in Dallas, those lines overlap with racial divides. Areas with predominantly Black populations tend to be economically disadvantaged. In effect, the digital divide is a form of redlining.
Indeed, a 2019 analysis by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance found that “AT&T has withheld fiber-enhanced broadband improvements from most Dallas neighborhoods with high poverty rates, relegating them to Internet access services which are vastly inferior to the services enjoyed by their counterparts nearby in the higher-income Dallas suburbs.”
Given that Black folks in Dallas are far less likely to have access to the internet at home and are far more likely to face the impacts of the Coronavirus, promoting awareness through the local Black print media is not only a good idea, but a life saving one.
“And when we look at the data, communities who are affected most by this delta variant are in the African American and Latino community. It’s been that way before the variant too.”Casey Thomas
Which is exactly why Thomas and Atkins fought to ensure that there would be enough money to spend on advertising in 19 different publications that serve communities where not everyone has access to the internet.
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So, let’s all tip our hats to Council members Thomas and Atkins for their efforts. Thanks to them and the communications and media staff at City Hall, important public health messages will be adequately funded. But if you have yet to get your COVID-19 shot, don’t wait until you see an advertisement in this paper to get it. Don’t hesitate. Vaccinate!