News • October 25, 2021

Culture and Justice Lecture looks at the challenges the pandemic revealed

Culture and Justice Lecture looks at the challenges the pandemic revealed

Riverside, Calif. (Oct. 25, 2021) — Although the pandemic caused problems in society, it also demonstrated that some issues facing minority and disadvantaged communities are fixable, Damien O’Farrell told an audience at California Baptist University on Oct. 21.

“We make choices to change things or leave them the way they are,” O’Farrell said.

He spoke at the Culture and Justice Lecture Series sponsored by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at CBU. O’Farrell is the president and CEO of Parkview Legacy Foundation, which addresses social determinants of health in order to promote wellness in society. He was joined by Kim Saruwatari, director of the Riverside County Department of Public Health, and Corey Jackson, CEO of SBX Youth and Family Services, an organization that works to break the cycle of poverty and violence.

During the lecture, the three discussed the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted people, such as by shutting down schools, which took away education from children and childcare from many parents who were then unable to work.

“Our economy cannot function without a childcare system,” Jackson said.

Attempting to work and educate kids at home is not the only problem, O’Farrell said. Inflation and wages that are not keeping up are causing hard-working members of society to become poorer.

Additionally, rent and mortgage costs have gone up so high that many families in Riverside have had to choose what necessities to sacrifice, O’Farrell said.

O’Farrell shared several graphs during the lecture showing the differences between incomes and COVID-19 deaths in Black, Latino, white, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The graphs showed worse outcomes for the majority of the non-white population of Riverside.

“I knew about social determinants of health. I knew about disparities. But when you’re watching them being lived out in the middle of a crisis, and you‘re seeing people suffer, and there’s so little that you can do to help people, it’s really hard,” Saruwatari said.

Saruwatari said there was a big increase in people seeking mental health services and not enough providers.

"There's definitely difficulty coping,” Saruwatari said, adding that there has been an increase in substance abuse and other indicators of declining mental health.

Telehealth for counseling and other forms of mental health treatment was once thought to be impossible, but when the pandemic hit, professionals were proven wrong as they put systems into place to continue to serve their communities, Saruwatari said.

“Our civic infrastructure has a lot to work on,” O’Farrell said.

O’Farrell further discussed how the homeless were put in hotels, something else people claimed could not be done.

The speakers emphasized that the struggles society faces can be fixed if people work together to devise and implement solutions.

“We’re all good people here. We just need to find the courage to step up,” Jackson said.

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