Photo courtesy of CORE
The fight against Covid-19 is a long one and like health experts have been saying, it all comes down to testing — at least until a vaccine can be created. On the forefront of providing adequate testing to underserved and at-risk communities is CORE, a non-profit organization founded by actor Sean Penn and longtime humanitarian and activist Ann Lee.
CORE, which began as a response to the 2010 earthquake which devastated parts of Haiti, works with local leaders to create lasting impact in their respective communities. Their efforts have since expanded to other Caribbean nations as well as Gulf states during times of crisis, like when Hurricane Maria affected Puerto Rico or when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Whether it’s providing doctors or helping with infrastructure needs, the non-profit believes in being there for the long haul to ensure that marginalized communities can get what they need to rebuild.
We caught up with Lee while she’s in the middle of Navajo Nation setting up more testing sites to discuss how CORE has been able to respond to the current pandemic. Read on for our conversation.
Can you describe CORE and its mission?
We’re a humanitarian organization and we respond to emergencies around the world. Our logo (an infinity symbol) shows that disasters uncover long term problems that make certain communities (usually very poor, people of color) more vulnerable. Our role is not just come in and do short term programming to save lives. We also want to strengthen these communities so that they’re resilient against the next disaster that inevitably will happen.
At what point did you realize that you need to mobilize in response to the Covid-19 crisis and how did you do so?
The need was very evident given who was able to get tests. We knew there was a huge discrepancy so we asked ourselves, how can we increase the amount of testing in the city? We got lucky in partnering with some doctors and then getting linked up with Mayor Garcetti's Office. We took over some of their sites and worked with them to increase the amount of testing in Los Angeles.
We’ve since expanded up in the North with the help of Governor Newsom in addition to sites in Arizona, Navajo Nation, and Atlanta with plans for New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.
Why did you decide to partner up with MedMen?
Both of our institutions and organizations reflect a demographic that's ready for a new approach [to changing society.] We're of the same ilk.
A lack of swabs, reagents, and personal protective equipment is another concern. How do you solve that problem?
You have to be creative. One thing our organization is really good at is that we know how to make a stink, push some buttons, and also be sweet when we have to. Each place has been unique — in Atlanta we purchased the kits ourselves so we can get started immediately. We have flexible funding and a higher level of risk tolerance so we can move quicker to scale it up.
You’re working in communities that don’t necessarily trust outside influence. How do you get your message across and make the experience less intimidating?
It’s scary to see people in hazmat-like suits and we try to make the experience less so. We’ll play music and reassure them that they’re doing the right thing, it’s your civic duty to be tested and not spread the virus. We try to get the word out in multiple languages and we also never ask for any papers — it doesn’t matter your immigration status. It also helps that we’re working with local organizations that have trust among the communities as outsiders coming in.
As Asian Americans, we’ve seen a rash of violence. Have you experienced that and what advice do you have for those who feel helpless among this new wave of racism?
Anecdotally, I’ve heard awful stories and I’m very aware and concerned. It’s super scary, especially as I’m traveling through areas where we’re very much a minority. I’ve been lucky to not have any experiences but I’m very conscious of it.
We’re scapegoated right now and it’s quite frustrating. What’s great about CORE and trying to be more visible is to show that it’s not okay to unfairly target any one group. We’re all contributing and trying to get a grasp on this pandemic. We don’t have the time nor should we waste our energy to turn on each other.
That said, when it comes to these incidents, we need to get out there and advocate strongly. Every time we let these little incidents go, it allows for it to happen more. We need to flip the script to highlight the incredible contributions we’re doing during the crisis. It’s the climate of the times right now — we're so divided and we need to support each other.
How you can get involved in CORE’s Covid-19 efforts: Through the month of May, we’re donating a portion of purchases from our [statemade] line. You can shop it here. You can also volunteer or donate to CORE here.