Now she regularly calls out the systemic discrimination she believes is at the root of the vast racial disparities in coronavirus infections in southeastern Michigan: "When we spy it out, then we've got to not be afraid to call it out."
There's something else Allen-Richardson would like to call out: President Trump.
Trump is scheduled on Thursday to visit a Ford plant that is producing ventilators just outside of this community. Allen-Richardson said she was not invited to the event, but she holds Trump accountable for the severity of the pandemic, particularly in communities like hers.
If she could have a word with the president, “I would let him know that his dishonesty cost lives,” Allen-Richardson said, criticizing Trump for downplaying the virus’s threat.
In the hardest-hit Zip code in Ypsilanti, nearly one in 100 residents has tested positive or is presumed positive for the novel coronavirus. Yet the area didn't get a coronavirus testing site until early May, after local leaders fought to call attention to the deepening crisis there.
The testing site was set up in a school that has been shuttered for two months, about six miles northwest of the Rawsonville Ford plant that will host Trump. While its schoolyard remains barren and its hallways empty, there is now a white canopy stretched across the U-shaped driveway, with a car that passes through occasionally.
As Trump has urged communities to reopen and cheered on protesters who have defied stay-at-home orders, communities such as Ypsilanti are struggling to contain the virus. In Washtenaw County — where Ypsilanti is located next door to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan — there have been 1,261 confirmed coronavirus cases and 90 deaths. Black residents make up 12 percent of the county population, but 34 percent of the confirmed cases.
The state is dealing with cataclysms on multiple fronts. Wednesday, it passed a grim milestone, tallying more than 5,000 coronavirus deaths. The shutdowns left one in four workers in Michigan out of a job in March, though some have returned as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has lifted restrictions on construction and manufacturing. The day before the president threatened to pull the state’s funding, floodwaters breached dams in Midland, Mich., sending a deluge that Whitmer warned could leave the community under nine feet of water.
Though protesters who oppose the state’s lockdown rules continue rallying in Lansing — on Wednesday cutting hair on the capitol lawn to protest the restrictions on barbershops — few here are eager to reopen until the virus is contained. Instead, leaders are beginning to look inward, examining the cruel realities and the fault lines that have led to the lopsided death toll.
Ypsilanti Mayor Beth Bashert has been frank: “environmental, systemic and economic racism.”
Bashert, who was furloughed from her day job at a Toyota dealership during the coronavirus shutdown, has organized town halls on the subject, looking for ways to tackle the chasm between the city’s black and white communities. While the president has turned his focus to protesters and Whitmer, who drew his ire when she raised concerns about the speed of the federal response, local leaders have been continuing to urge people to stay home.
On the eve of his visit to the plant, which has converted its production lines to start making ventilators, Trump again took aim at Michigan, incorrectly saying on Twitter that the state had sent “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election.” The president has lately been waging a campaign to discredit voting by mail, which some states have promoted as a way for voters to cast their ballots without endangering their health by gathering at polling places.
“This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State,” he continued. “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
He later deleted the tweet and posted one that correctly reflected that the state had sent out applications for absentee ballots — and not ballots themselves — but left the threatening language untouched.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson replied on Twitter: “Still wrong. Every Michigan registered voter has a right to vote by mail. I have the authority & responsibility to make sure that they know how to exercise this right.”
Trump won Michigan in 2016 by a little more than 10,000 votes, a victory that was critical to delivering him to the Oval Office. But in 2018, voters ushered in Whitmer, the first Democrat to hold the governor’s office in eight years, and elected two centrist Democrats to House seats that had been held by Republicans.
Ypsilanti has long leaned left, voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
African Americans migrated to Ypsilanti for factory work, but were restricted to one part of town, a neighborhood that dead-ended so white residents could avoid it, according to local officials. It had poorer housing stock, and African Americans struggled to get financing that would allow them to build capital. Later, many black residents and businesses were displaced in the name of urban renewal.
About 60 percent of confirmed cases in Washtenaw County come from two Zip codes — 48198 and 48197 — a chunk of the county that includes Ypsilanti and neighboring communities, even though they make up less than 30 percent of the population.
Bashert, the mayor, said she learned of the uneven impact while looking at a county report in her dining room, which now serves as her office. She said she believes a variety of factors contribute to the higher infection rate in the black community: among them, higher poverty rates, less access to health care and a greater likelihood of working in essential jobs where they are more likely to be exposed.
State Rep. Ronnie Peterson, a Democrat who was raised in Ypsilanti and now represents it, said he has long recognized the need for a more comprehensive strategy to address health issues in the black community. When he was a county commissioner, he spearheaded an effort to create a public health board. In the end, though, he said his county was ill equipped to handle the crisis.
“It showed a lack of health care overall that’s being provided for a large population of our people,” Peterson said. “There is a lot of disparity in the delivery of health services.”