photo: Shane Rounce/Unsplash
I’m Qina (pronounced Yee-na) Liu and I’m taking over this edition of the URL Media newsletter. I wanted to share a positive note and hope this one uplifts you. Feel free to share this newsletter with friends or to sign up for URL Media’s free email newsletter for more regular updates.
Humanity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China can quickly cross international borders. A death in Minneapolis can spark a wave of protests around the world. A shipping container stuck in the Suez Canal can wreak havoc for global supply chains, leading to boba shortages that threaten Asian bubble tea shops already struggling with the economic impact of pandemic lockdowns. And uneven vaccine distribution has global implications, giving a virus more opportunity to infect, mutate and resurface.
Case in point, we turn to history — back back back to one of humanity’s earliest epidemics and the first successful vaccine. Yes, we’re talking about smallpox.
Smallpox’s rise is well documented and attributed to trade, travel and globalization. (Hi, Christopher Columbus.) The deadly disease killed millions — from peasants to monarchs — even after Dr. Edward Jenner developed a vaccine in the late 18th century. It would take almost two centuries since the vaccine’s earliest inception (in 1796) for the disease to be declared fully eradicated from the world (in 1980).
Global vaccination took an enormous global effort, championed by the World Health Organization, but while North America and Europe were able to vaccinate against the disease by the early 1950s, smallpox outbreaks surged in South America, Asia and Africa throughout the 1970s. The disparities were disturbing. While Americans had vaccine passports, people were dying another continent away.
If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because history may be repeating itself. As Americans share COVID-19 vaccine selfies online, Indians are sharing desperate pleas for hospital beds and oxygen. Meanwhile, societies are coining terms like “vaccine apartheid.”
“People are dying on the sidewalks and on the streets. It’s awful,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told WURD Radio.
But until everyone is vaccinated, the novel coronavirus will always be a threat.
“If we want to put this pandemic behind us, we can’t let the virus run wild in other parts of the world,” Dr. Jha said in another interview with the New York Times.
This leads to the theme this week: Stronger together.
URL Media was founded on these principles. By building a decentralized multi-platform network of high-performing Black and Brown media organizations, we can share support and resources, enhancing reach and sustainability.
“When we were talking about URL before it was URL, it felt like we were facing a big problem that required a big solution, but we didn’t want to sacrifice what each of us as individual entities represent to our communities,” said S. Mitra Kalita, co-founder of URL Media and founder of Epicenter-NYC, during the 22nd International Symposium on Online Journalism last Friday. “So URL Media was born out of an effort in some ways to band together the small to achieve scale that might have a chance not just against the behemoths of the internet …. but also with an eye toward sustainability toward each of our individual ventures.”
In other words, we’re stronger together.
In New York City, Asian Americans banded together and stepped up raising funds, buying and providing meals and distributing grants “to address what they say was suffering within their communities that governments and the public at large mostly ignored,” reported Documented NY’s Lam Thuy Vo.
These sentiments were echoed by Yi “Andy” Chen, a Democrat running in Queens Council District 25. “We as an immigrant family over here, we have to do something to help ourself, to help all immigrant families, especially my district, District 25,” said Chen in an appearance on TBN24, the Bangla 24x7 live television channel serving a Bangledeshi diaspora. “We the most diverse community in the whole country. We spoken over 194 languages and dialects just in my district. My district is like a United Nation over here. ”
So how do you serve such a diverse region? The Haitian Times’ Sam Bojarski highlighted how New York City’s Civic Engagement Commission is trying to bridge language gaps and to encourage more voters to become more civically engaged in upcoming elections. The city is looking for Haitain Creole translators to step up to help the more than 24,000 New York City-based Haitian Creole speakers with limited English-language skills.
Epicenter-NYC, thanks to a grant from the Center of Cooperative Media, is covering the New York City elections for communities of color. A recent two-part series delves into criminal justice and police reform. Readers, however, are instrumental to our coverage. Help us serve you by letting us know how you feel about police funding, marijuana decriminalization, low-level crime prosecution and more.
Documented NY is telling stories of community, partnering with Waterwell to release the documentary, “Yo sé qué es pandemia,” which translates to “I know what pandemic means.” The film, which premieres via Zoom at 2 p.m. E.T. on May 12, is a snapshot of how New York’s Latin American immigrant communities are surviving a global pandemic.
WURD Radio in Philadelphia is stepping up by providing community, inviting Richard Washington and the Bringing Everybody Together Youth Group to talk about their reactions to the Derek Chauvin verdict, trauma of seeing Black children being shot by police officers and where they turn to find safe spaces. Sometimes it just helps to talk.
Other times, we need to listen. Stories like this one from Scalawag’s Alexis Wray highlight what media can learn from listening as Scalawag documents how Historically Black Colleges and Universities slowed the spread of COVID-19 infections on campuses. Wray shares what predominately white institutions can learn.
Meanwhile Epicenter-NYC and ScrollStack partnered to talk about how vaccine distribution should be a global effort. "If you don't think about India and Brazil and Peru, it will come back and bite everyone from the behind because it will be more variants coming around,” said Brazil-based journalist Andre Fran. “We have to think of it as a humanitarian effort at this point." Bookmark Scroll.in for the latest updates from India including Manu Kaushik’s deep-dive into India’s oxygen shortage and Vijayta Lalwani’s heartbreaking reporting on “a great tragedy that is unfolding.” Epicenter-NYC wrote about actionable resources for how you can step up to address vaccine apartheid.
Lastly, we end with words from Latina podcaster Silvia Viñas, who was profiled in palabra. this week: “We consider ourselves bridge creators. For example, we create a bridge between the U.S. and Latin America every time our audience listens to our episodes. In the U.S., many of our listeners miss the region, and listening to our episodes makes them feel closer to their countries. You know, when you're in the U.S., you have friends from a lot of places in Latin America. So it's like you get to know your friend's countries better as well. The region is so varied and rich, but we have a lot of things in common, and that's what makes a good story. A situation that, even though if it happened in Colombia, someone from Argentina or from Mexico is going to feel like they can connect to the person that's telling the story.”
Each of us is a bridge, not an island. And through connection, we can solve any crisis. We’re stronger together.
Have a joyful weekend. And Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. You’re amazing.
photo: Vitaliy Lyubezhanin/Unsplash
The URLs on URL
URL Media co-founders Kalita and Sara Lomax-Reese were interviewed for a feature in Editor & Publisher. Read about URL Media’s origin story.
You can catch URL Media on The Laura Flanders Show on select PBS stations. Click here to check your local TV listing. Here’s how you can watch our first “meet the BIPOC press” roundtable.
URL Media presented at the 22nd International Symposium on Online Journalism last Friday. Watch as URL co-founders Kalita and Lomax-Reese and partners Cierra Hinton of Scalawag, Nancy San Martin of palabra. and Macollvie. J. Neel of The Haitian Times talk about how the outlet works to uplift, love and respect the communities they represent and cover.
And lastly, Epicenter-NYC was spotlighted in MIT Technology Review for its efforts vaccinating New York City, and also on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC Thursday. In the previous week on the show, Scroll reporter Rohan Venkat was featured for his site’s chronicling India’s Covid crisis.