Bill, Chelsea Clinton talk health, economic growth at Morehouse forum

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, made a virtual visit to Morehouse College Thursday in which they discussed economic empowerment opportunities and ways to improve health conditions in African American communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The online appearance by the Clintons was part of a nearly two-hour long forum by the Clinton Global Initiative University and the Atlanta college, which is dedicated to educating Black men. It was the initiative’s first endeavor with one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities. Initiative officials pointed to Morehouse’s work in civil rights and its business program among the reasons it wanted to partner with the college.

The former president talked about how the pandemic has heightened economic and health disparities in Black communities. He moderated a panel discussion in which speakers noted reports that 40% of Black-owned businesses may close during the pandemic. Government data and other research shows COVID-19 infection and death rates are higher among African Americans.

“America can’t succeed unless all our people have the opportunity to succeed,” the former president said. “That means we have to finally build a truly inclusive economy.”

The economic panel discussion included ideas such as increasing broadband access, using social media and other technological tools to create business opportunities, accessing business loans from banks located in African American communities and using the 15% Pledge movement to make retailers commit a minimum of at least that percentage of shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

“We’ve got to access all these sources,” Clinton said in reference to loans.

Verizon, which participated in the forum, announced a partnership Tuesday with the Clinton foundation to encourage students and recent graduates to create technology-based solutions to social and environmental issues.

Chelsea Clinton led a discussion that focused on health disparities that was critical of the Trump administration’s disputes with its public health agencies over the pandemic response. They also talked of efforts to help workers who are at greater risk of being infected with COVID-19. One panelist, Harvard Medical School student council president LaShyra Nolen called COVID-19 “the great exacerbator" for how the disease has created greater challenges, such as accessing health care, in many communities of color.

“It kind of exposed all of these areas that we weren’t putting our attention into,” Nolen said.

A third session explored Morehouse’s efforts in helping students explore entrepreneurship ideas and youth leadership.