Michael Curry: Waging a duel-front war on the pandemic and racism

The last several months have been dominated by two seismic issues convulsing the nation — the global coronavirus pandemic and a burgeoning movement for racial justice. For Michael Curry, that’s meant working double-time as the twin crises strike at the heart of the work he’s been doing in Boston for years.

The son of a Roxbury single mother who migrated to Boston from the Jim Crow South, Curry is deputy CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and the past president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, who has had prominent roles nationally in the iconic civil rights organization.

After digging in to the history of racial discrimination in his studies and serving as president of the black student union at Macalester College in Minnesota, Curry said he made a commitment to pursue racial justice work. “So that brought me home,” he said on a new “Health or Consequences” episode of The Codcast with John McDonough of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Dr. Paul Hattis of Tufts University School of Medicine.

It eventually took Curry to the presidency of the Boston branch of the NAACP, where he led a rejuvenation of the chapter and became a leading voice of the city’s black community.

Of the outpouring of activism and protest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, he said, as someone who has been working on civil rights issues since college,”I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

Curry said he worries that the energy that’s been unleashed could wane, as the country finally seems on the brink of confronting the centuries-long path of destruction racism has cut through the lives of African Americans. He’s concerned that we’ve become inured to those injuries and have “normalized” everything from housing discrimination to routine abuse of black Americans by police.

Wearing his health care hat, Curry has also been in the thick of efforts to stabilize the 52 health centers the Mass. League represents, clinics that are the backbone of primary care for thousands of low-income residents, including many black and Latino families, across the state.

Revenue at the health centers fell dramatically when routine care visits were cancelled, but Curry said emergency state and federal aid has helped shore up their finances. Curry said he and other health care leaders have had lots of “sleepless nights.” Most community health centers are now back at 70 to 80 percent of their pre-pandemic visit volume, he said, but the possibility of a second coronavirus wave is worrisome.

The dual focus of Curry’s work is, in many ways, really part of one broader effort, as health centers address profound health disparities that are the result of systemic racism.

He said a major part of the racial reckoning underway has been getting whites to see more clearly the racism that blacks have experienced as their everyday life. “I always challenge my white friends and colleagues, that if you look around at the C-suites and you see white men, if you look at every mayor in the history of the city of Boston, being a white male, and think that is just normal, then that’s racism, because what it means is you left talent on the table,” he said.

Curry said he remains hopeful that the country is not just experiencing a passing moment, but a sustained movement.

“I’m not condoning violence, but I do know that violence is as American as Apple pie, from the American Revolution and a righteous mob and folks saying no taxation without representation. Imagine being murdered by police. Imagine generations of knowing you’ve been denied housing, or there’ve been covenants built into these sales of homes,” he said. “I’m hopeful that people’s righteous indignation will take them into the streets, will make them go to the polls angry, that it will make them show up in ways that we’ve not showed up in, quite frankly, ever.”



With the Senate poised to resume debate on a police reform bill today, the state’s minority law enforcement officers’ association has stepped up to oppose the most contentious provision of the legislation — curtailing the “qualified immunity” officers enjoy from civil litigation. (Boston Herald)


A Springfield firefighter is the latest public employee being investigated for an “insensitive” social media post related to protesters, but city officials are not providing details. (MassLive)

Springfield state legislators call for civilian oversight and ask for more information about the Springfield Police Department after a federal review finds the police regularly used excessive force. (MassLive)

Columnist Adrian Walker rips the Walsh administration for continuing to defend in court Boston’s “racist” promotional exam for police officers. (Boston Globe)


Western Massachusetts lawmakers ask why the state isn’t offering free COVID-19 testing anywhere in Hampden County. (MassLive)

Greater New Bedford Community Health Center was flooded with calls after free COVID-19 testing was announced, including for people who plan to travel. (Standard-Times)


Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly every region of the country. (Washington Post)

In a stunning use of war room oppo tactics, the Trump administration is now working to tarnish Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, as his warnings about the still surging coronavirus increasingly collide with Trump’s talking points about restarting the economy. (New York Times)


Joe Kennedy and supporter Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins get a pummeling in The Nation, which asks why Kennedy “hired a cop to advise him on race and justice.”


Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Lori Trahan, and union leaders call on Brooks Brothers to cough up severance pay for the more than 400 workers now out of work at its Haverhill manufacturing facility after the company declared bankruptcy. (Boston Herald)

While some communities are making it easier for bars to get licenses to serve food — and therefore be allowed to reopen — this Lawrence bar is struggling to get permission. (Eagle-Tribune)

Massachusetts companies describe how they will fight racism in their day-to-day business. (WBUR)


Pediatrician groups are walking back support for in-person school. (NPR)

Weymouth’s school district will receive money from the state to help launch its universal full-day kindergarten program this fall. (Patriot Ledger)

Debate is emerging over the state’s 3-foot social distancing guideline for schools, which some say is too lax but others defend as necessary to get kids back into classrooms. (Boston Globe)

Andover High School students are turning to social media to describe instances of discrimination and racism by other students and staff. (Eagle-Tribune)


Operators of walking tours want to be allowed to increase their capacity from 10 people now that the state has moved into Phase 3 of reopening. (The Salem News)

Some museums — like Clark Art in Williamstown — are starting to reopen. (The Berkshire Eagle) But a number of other Western Massachusetts museums say they plan to wait until the fall. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum focused on English colonial life, plans to change its name to include the Native Americans who lived in the region for thousands of years. (Cape Cod Times)


Environmental groups are happy that Gov. Charlie Baker is lifting his temporary moratorium on communities’ plastic bag bans. (The Berkshire Eagle)

In an unusual role reversal, environmental advocates are criticizing state incentives for solar energy, saying they have encouraged construction of solar farms on undeveloped land. (Boston Globe)


Very few Central Massachusetts police departments are using body cameras, largely because of cost. In Worcester, police unions and city councilors both want that city’s police department to have them. (Telegram & Gazette)


Hedge fund Chatham Asset Management plans to buy newspaper publisher McClatchy out of bankruptcy. (Associated Press)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a growth opportunity for anti-vaccination sites, and Facebook groups. (Nieman Lab)