This week we, unfortunately, reached another milestone in our battle with the coronavirus pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins University’s data, the global death toll from COVID-19 has now surpassed one million. In the United States alone, there have been more than 219,000 fatalities due to the virus. In addition to the loss of life, Americans have experienced record-breaking unemployment, and according to the Washington Post, the pandemic has triggered the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history.
Communities of color—many of which were already struggling pre pandemic—have been the hardest hit. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. And yet, as we all struggle to figure a new normal during these uncertain times, there are those individuals who are stepping up to help mitigate some of the coronavirus’ economic effects.
Terry Thomas, EVP for Unilever U.S., spoke to BET.com about the second phase of the company’s United for America campaign, which is now focused around rebuilding those communities which were most impacted by the pandemic.
BET.com: Can you please give us an overview of Unilever’s latest initiatives to support communities during the pandemic?
Terry Thomas: I’m super excited to talk to you about our United for America campaign, which is in its second phase. The first phase was centered around relief when COVID first started, and now we’re moving into our second phase, which is around rebuilding. To rebuild, we believe that it’s critical that we partner with some of our largest retailers, [Dollar General, Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons, HEB, and others] nationally to target vulnerable groups specifically. We’re targeting cash strapped families, women, and the Black and Hispanic communities in regions hardest hit by COVID-19. And to bring that to life, we’re focusing on rebuilding communities by tackling three major areas, the education gap, access to food and essential supplies, and the first one is around She-Cession.
BET.com: Can you tell us more about She-Cession?
Terry Thomas: We know that women have been disproportionately impacted during the pandemic. We know that women’s unemployment rates are higher than men’s. Women business owners are struggling, and the majority don’t have resources to really survive so we’re working with an organization called Luminary, a women-focused collaboration organization and community space. We will grant scholarships to 250 women-owned businesses across the US, and within those 250 women, we’re explicitly making sure that 50% of those fellowships are dedicated to businesses owned by women of color.
BET.com: How will the initiative address issues in education?
Terry Thomas: Unfortunately, the education gap is getting wider, especially for disadvantaged youths who may not have access to devices they need for remote learning. We’re targeting communities that have large Black and Hispanic populations. We’re also partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to offer customized programs around digital education.
BET.com: How will Unilever U.S. offer assistance for the portion of the program dedicated to food?
Terry Thomas: We absolutely know that there are one in nine Americans who don’t have enough food. So, with that, we’re increasing our efforts to ensure families in need have access to food and essentials.
BET.com: I understand that Unilever has picked 10 communities (Houston, Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit, the Carolinas, and New York City) to assist. Why were these specific areas chosen?
Terry Thomas: Yes, they had the greatest need driven by the virus’s impact and their density of Hispanics and Black families. Those areas have some of the largest retail partners in the nation that we could work with to have the most significant impact.
BET: Phase two of the initiative ends in November. What’s the plan beyond that point?
Terry Thomas: We’re finalizing our third phase, and we anticipate that United for America will be a part of a long term commitment. We believe that the pandemic’s impact on society is going to be long term, and we plan to be there every step of the way.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.