Queen Latifah understands firsthand the fear and anxiety that comes with learning a loved one has the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The award-winning actress’s cousin and his wife — who work in a supermarket and post office — tested positive for the virus, along with their son.
“As frontline workers, they were right in the crosshairs of the virus,” Latifah, 50, tells PEOPLE. “I’m really thankful they were able to fight it off, but this thing is serious and it’s hitting Black and Latino communities at a higher rate than white people.”
Watching friends and family suffer from the virus spurred Latifah to action: She’s teaming up with the American Lung Association to host its first-ever livestream benefit #Act4Impact on September 26, which will raise money for the organization’s COVID-19 Action Initiative.
The initiative aims to highlight the alarming, disproportionate effects of the pandemic on Black and Latino communities throughout the United States and to work on solutions to close the gap: distributing free cloth masks, advocating for accessible, affordable coronavirus and flu vaccines and investing in respiratory research and other programs.
While everyone is at some risk for getting the coronavirus, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the stark lack of resources and healthcare in minority communities, where infection rates have skyrocketed. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), Black and Latino people are nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized due to coronavirus as white patients.
Public health experts have pointed to underlying health conditions, limited access to healthcare, jobs that cannot be done remotely, crowded households and the stress of dealing with racism that make Black and Latino Americans more vulnerable to the virus.
“If there's anything we've seen this year, it’s that there's some big differences in how people of color are treated in our country, whether it's from healthcare, to policing, to this pandemic,” Latifah says. “This fundraiser is an opportunity for regular, everyday people to get good information, get a break from the craziness of it all, but also hear from some of your favorite people.”
Latifah recruited some of her famous friends to participate in next week’s event, including Jimmy Fallon, Laura Dern, Whoopi Goldberg, Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade.
One of Latifah’s first calls was to her Just Wright co-star Common. “We’ve done movies together and we’ve kissed a couple times, so it was easy to get him!” she jokes. “Luckily he’s dating my girl Tiffany Haddish, so I said, ‘Tiff, tell your boyfriend I need him!’”
Though Latifah says it was not hard to put together the event’s star-studded roster — celebrities were eager to donate time and money to help underserved communities impacted by the pandemic.
“We all have family, not everyone in our family is a celebrity or has the luxury of living somewhere with the best healthcare,” she says. “A lot of these stars are people of color, and they see how people of color have been affected or know someone who has had the virus.”
Latifah adds that she’s been relishing quality time with her family in Wayne, N.J., after a months-long lockdown in Los Angeles. Filming for several of Latifah’s projects got shut down due to the pandemic, but she’s gearing up to shoot new episodes of her CBS show, The Equalizer.
Long hours on set have been replaced by walking, boxing outdoors, listening to house music and reading a lot of books (she recommends Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind and The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison).
Hosting the #Act4Impact fundraiser is another fulfilling quarantine project, she says. “We’ve been sticking out necks out for each other all year, it’s empowering and great to watch,” she says. “This is another chance for us to come together and do something to make a difference.”
Viewers can tune into the American Lung Association’s #Act4Impact fundraiser via Facebook Live on Saturday, September 26 beginning at 7 p.m. EST. All funds from the event will go directly to its COVID-19 Action Initiative.
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