Christy McDonald talks to Rev. Simmons in Brightmoor about coping with COVID-19 and how we as a community should respond.



Christy McDonald Joining me now is the Reverend Larry Simmons. He is the pastor at Baber Memorial A.M.E. Church on the west side and Brightmoor is also the executive director at the Brightmoor Alliance. And we’ve done a lot of work with him at Detroit Public Television. Pastor Simmons, it’s good to see you.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Good to see you, too.

Christy McDonald How’s everything going?

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Well, you know, as the deacon said, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the best of times because we’ve seen community rally together in ways that we could only imagine before. And obviously, it’s the worst of times because so many of our citizens are suffering from this virus and several succumb to it horribly. And so those are the worst of times. You have two members of my congregation who have come down with the virus. Thank God they seem to be okay.

Christy McDonald That’s good news.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance So they’re processing through. We have one community leader. He and his wife have had the virus. They have come through. They are now clear and clean and they are, you know, older. So, they were in the high-risk group. So it’s a time it’s different than anything any of us have ever seen because it’s different than anything that has ever happened in the world.

Christy McDonald And I feel like it is kind of getting through and day by day when news changes or situations change. How have you managed to, because people look to you for counsel or look to you for guidance about some of the fear and some of the ‘What will life look like beyond this, especially in Brightmoor?’

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Well, you know, fundamentally, fear is the emotion we have when we are confronted with the thing. We don’t believe we have the power to resist. That’s what generates our fear response. And our emphasis has always been in general that all human beings have power. And so, we have power even in COIVD. If we eat right, if we eat growing vegetables, if we eat fruit, we actually help our immune system, which is at this point the only cure for the COVID 19, is actually with our own immune systems, which will later and treatments help to sustain us.

And of course, I’m a man of faith. And so, if you look at our web site, we have listed there what we call the Brightmoor 5. The Brightmoor 5 says you faithful, you believe, you space up, stay in. If you can stay six feet apart if you can, you clean up everything, the doorknob, your phone, your hands constantly. You cover up, cover up your mouth, cover up your face, cover up when you sneeze. And doctor up. If you think you got the symptoms, call. There is help available. So, don’t be afraid. Be empowered to resist this because most people, even those who get very sick, pass through it. They come out of it.

Christy McDonald What is happening right now brings to mind a lot of wider policy issues, access to health care, access to those leafy green good vegetables and produce you talk about that can help our bodies, access to water. This is exposing a lot.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance It is. I would contend it is going to compel us to change fundamentally our disposition towards things like water. When you look at what has happened, water is not just a privilege for the person who receives it. It is a health imperative. When people don’t have access to water, it means they cannot clean properly. The people who cannot clean properly and more subject to disease, which all of us can get. And so, there’s not really just COVID 19, but hepatitis B is a rampant problem in a community. And part of the cause of that is that there’s too many people who don’t have access to water.

And as you point out, for many of us in Brightmoor, except for Meijer and two other stores, we’re in kind of a food desert, and one of the things we’re fighting back with, in that community is organizing its own vegetable garden growing program this year. And all of our block clubs are partnering together to grow vegetables, which we will be able to share among each other. It’s important for us never to lose sight of the fact that we have power. Now, we may always not be enough to solve the problem, but it’s certainly enough to begin the process of solution.

Christy McDonald You know, I always think of kids in these circumstances. And we’ve had conversations about trauma. We’ve had conversations about stress that kids live under anyway. And in Brightmoor, what have families been talking to you about specifically during this time and what we can do to help kids move through this, knowing that this is going to be shaping who they become?

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Yes. I don’t think yet a protocol has emerged for this particular situation. So, there are some general things that we talk about always. If you love your child, you know, hug them, talk to them, have a conversation. It can be about nonsense crazy as it may sound sing to them and play with all these things which are fundamental, always particularly important today, these six a day that we talk about through the hook start here network is critical to helping children stay connected to us. And we have to convey to them because we feel it ourselves that we have power in the situation and we can manage this. It is a big issue.

We speak a lot about what adults are going through. But from the point of view of a child, this is like this is world-shattering. Children rely on structure. They like patterns. They want to get up at a certain time. They will have breakfast at a certain time. Go to school or whatever the rhythm of the household is. And all of that is disrupted today. All of it is disrupted. So, we have to assure them constantly, reassure them constantly that we love them and that together we’re going to get through this.

Christy McDonald How would you kind of categorize or what would you say in the next two months or so? And again, knowing that we don’t exactly know what things will look like two months from now, but advocating for Brightmoor specifically, what would you like to be part of conversations for?

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Health, we have to begin to realize that health is an equity issue it’s not just for the benefit of the recipient of the health services. It’s for all of us. So, health number one, which means adequate nutrition. One of the things that Brightmoor Alliance does is, we publish where you can get food in Brightmoor every day of the week that is made available. So, health and nutrition obviously employment. I know, we talked earlier about political will. We’ve got to rethink how we allow people to participate in this new economy that is coming forth. Is the 40-hour workweek, still the way we want to structure our society.

Are there other ways we can think about that? Is there such a thing as a minimum annual income? How do we think about that and make it available? Because here’s what we know and we can see this. The disparity in the deaths of African-Americans is rooted in the disparity in health care and access to resources that we’ve long known characterize life in the African-American community to too great of a degree not all African-Americans are confronted with that. But too many are. And as a consequence of that, we see rates of death from COVID virus that are literally three or four or five hundred percent higher than all the groups. That’s intolerable in the United States it is intolerable. So I would say, as I advocate for Brightmoor, I’m advocating that we get a health care center in our community, that we have access to good nutrition. We could talk about how that happens, whether we look for ways to elevate the income prosperity of the community in ways that strengthen it. And then, you know, we talk about education, all those other things. They’re important. But right now, nutrition, health, access to resources are the key.

Christy McDonald Lieutenant governor has just started a task force looking at the disparity between how the disease has impacted the black community. Do you think that’s enough or what would you add to what he is already looking to corral, you think is the first good step forward anyway?

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance I have not seen the makeup of the commission. Here’s what I would say. Well, when we were forming under the leadership of Skillman. The Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children

Christy McDonald Yeah, a couple of years ago.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance One of the things we consciously did was to make sure that we have both Republicans and Democrats. Public school officials and charter school officials sitting around the same table and working through our issues to form a unified view about what we have to do for education. I hope that the governor is going to do the same thing. And their partners will come to the table from all of our different perspectives and recognize what we’re looking at in real-time. I’m sure because I’ve had the privilege of meeting the governor once or twice. Of course, I know the lieutenant governor well. I’m sure that they have a spirit to do that. But it’s so easy to slide into our partisan corners and as a result, the welfare and the well-being of our community suffers. So I would say as they look at this. Don’t limit yourself, be willing to look at sacred cows, both yours and they, whoever you are, whoever they may be. But let’s look at our sacred cows that have the courage to say we have to change and we have to change because all of us suffer if we don’t.

Christy McDonald You’ve seen a lot in the city of Detroit. Administration wise and grown up here and on Brightmoor has been through its share of struggles. How would you categorize what it’s facing now, what the city is facing now? And I guess just a little perspective about how we move forward.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance Well, you know, I say with great pride that I’m an old man. The Bible says once I was young, now I’m old. I’ve never seen the practice of God hungry for bread. I’m one of the old guys, I’m 73 years old. And I say this because I want to be clear that I speak from a certain perspective. I was a young man when Detroit was probably in its last booming period, which was during the 60s and early 70s when the auto industry was really humming and most people had jobs. You could leave a job in the morning and get another job in the evening. It was a completely different time. I’m seeing Detroit now begin the process of comeback. So I’ve seen both the best of Detroit’s times. I’ve seen the worst.

But I guess I would say this. We are the most resilient. Inventive. Grinding people, I think, in America. And I believe that the gift to overcome the situation are already present in our community. If we can find a way to do this instead of that. And that’s what I would say. Going forward, we have to openly solicit participation and collaboration across all the aisles. Political, spiritual. We have to reach to the other and invite the other into our space so we can reason together. I believe that if we get together and make a decision, we’re going to make the right one. Just like the jury, you got these twelve people in a room that come from all kinds of different places, all kinds of education. But something magic happens in that jury room and then that process that they generally come back and get it right. That’s the kind of coming together we need to have for our community right now in this moment. We have to come in this way, not that way.

Christy McDonald Well, we know that you’re going be part of a lot of those conversations. Pastor Simmons, it’s good to see you.

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance It’s always good to see you.

Christy McDonald Yeah, be well. And we’re going to check in with you a little bit and give our best to everybody in Brightmoor, will you?

Rev. Larry Simmons, Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance I will do that. Stay blessed.

Christy McDonald The Reverend Larry Simmons. Thank you.