Protest, but don't forget: We're still in a pandemic

Stan McLaren

In a speech often quoted in recent days, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that promises of freedom and justice have not been met.  And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” 

As the father of an African-American son who stands 6-foot-5, is a college student, and lives in the neighborhood of Dorchester, my heart is with the people from Boston to Los Angeles who peacefully march in protest of the senseless murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis last week.  This incident evokes very real anguish, grief and, fear for many Black and Brown families in America. 

The Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center family extends our thoughts and prayers to the family of George Floyd and honors the countless other lives that have been lost to racism in America. We also honor and grieve for the more than 100,000 lives lost in this nation over mere months to COID-19.

Please remember, we are still in the pandemic.

As the CEO of a community health center on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, the neighborhood reporting the largest number of positive COVID-19 cases in the City of Boston, and as a dedicated community leader, I am very concerned about what I see in front of my health center and on the news each night.  

I recognize and applaud the right to free speech and to hold peaceful demonstrations, but the close proximity of marchers to each other and the shouting and chanting that occurs, accelerates spread of the virus.  I want to encourage people to conduct themselves responsibly.  We cannot afford a resurgence that costs even more lives, the majority of which will once again be Black and Brown.

We must demonstrate peacefully and act responsibly.

Destructive, violent behavior will not solve the problem. It will only damage our community and take away from the larger goal of seeking justice for the George Floyd family and taking steps to undo the prejudice, ignorance, and entitled power that leads to the horrifying racist acts we have too often witnessed.  

My son was determined to attend one of the recent demonstrations, so I made sure he had extra hand sanitizer, face masks, and told him to leave immediately if he sensed the beginnings of unrest.  Thankfully he did as I asked and as soon as he returned home, I told him to remove his clothes at the door and head to the shower.  

As a parent who also has underlying health issues, I understand the anguish that so many are experiencing. I urge you to protect yourself so that you safeguard those you love most. Don’t take the virus home to your grandmother, your parents, siblings, spouse, and other family members, or to your friends and neighbors.

Finally: Get tested!

I encourage everyone who has been a participant in a large group demonstration to get tested for the COVID-19 virus as soon as possible. If positive, you and your close contacts can quarantine and prevent deadly spread.  

To learn more or to schedule a test, please call Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center at 617-825-3400 or visit harvardstreet.org.
Stan McLaren is the president and CEO of Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center.