This week we unfortunately reached another milestone in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Johns Hopkins University, the global death toll from COVID-19 has now exceeded one million. There have been more than 219,000 deaths from the virus in the United States alone. In addition to the loss of lives, Americans have seen record-breaking unemployment, and the pandemic sparked the most unequal recession in modern US history, according to the Washington Post.
Color communities – many of which had struggled before the pandemic – were hit hardest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. And yet, as we all struggle to find a new normal in these uncertain times, there are people out there who are committed to mitigating some of the economic effects of the coronavirus.
Terry Thomas, EVP at Unilever USA, spoke to BET.com about the second phase of the company's United for America campaign, which is now focused on rebuilding the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
BET.com: Could you please give us a rundown of Unilever's latest initiatives to support communities during the pandemic?
Terry Thomas: I'm very excited to speak to you about our United for America campaign, which is in its second phase. The first phase was about the relief when COVID first started and now we're moving into our second phase, which is about rebuilding. In order to rebuild, we believe it is critical that we work with some of our largest retailers (Dollar General, Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons, HEB, and others) nationally to target vulnerable groups. We target families, women and the black and Hispanic communities in regions hardest hit by COVID-19. And to bring this to life, we're focusing on community rebuilding by addressing three main areas, the education gap, access to food and basic services, and the first is She-Cession.
BET.com: Can you tell us more about She-Cession?
Terry Thomas: We know that women were disproportionately affected during the pandemic. We know that the unemployment rate for women is higher than that of men. Women entrepreneurs have problems and the majority lack the resources to really survive. That's why we partner with an organization called Luminary, a women-centric collaboration and community space organization. We will be providing grants to 250 women-owned companies in the United States, and within those 250 women, we're specifically ensuring that 50% of those grants are for companies owned by women in color.
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BET.com: How will the initiative address educational issues?
Terry Thomas: Unfortunately, the education gap is growing, especially for disadvantaged teens who may not have access to the devices they need for distance learning. We target communities with large black and Hispanic populations. We also work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to offer bespoke programs related to digital education.
BET.com: How will Unilever USA offer support for the food portion of the program?
Terry Thomas: We absolutely know that there is one in nine Americans who don't have enough to eat. In doing so, we are stepping up our efforts to ensure that families in need have access to food and essentials.
BET.com: I understand that Unilever has selected 10 churches (Houston, Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit, the Carolinas, and New York City) to help. Why were these specific areas selected?
Terry Thomas: Yes, they were in the greatest need due to the impact of the virus and their density on Hispanics and black families. These areas have some of the largest retail partners in the country that we could work with to make the greatest impact.
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BET: Phase two of the initiative ends in November. What's the plan beyond that?
Terry Thomas: We are completing our third phase and we expect United for America to be part of a long term commitment. We believe the impact of the pandemic on society will be long-term and we plan to be with it every step of the way.
For more information about Unilever USA and more details and events related to the United for America campaign, please visit weareunitedforamerica.com.
* This interview has been edited for clarity and length.