Heart-Wrenching PSA Shows the Impact of Covid-19 on Black Americans

Burrell's latest spot for its 'Black Is Human' campaign

jason hargrove
A PSA featuring Jason Hargrove's self-shot video has become part of Burrell's coronavirus outreach effort. Burrell Communications Group
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Jason Hargrove could be your dad. He could be your husband. He could be anyone’s bus driver; because, in fact, he was one for the city of Detroit. But the difference between the married father of six and so many other regular working-class Americans is this: Last month Jason was alive, and now he’s dead.

A powerful new PSA featuring Hargrove will run beginning this weekend on African-American cable networks and digital media outlets. An in-house spot from Chicago’s longstanding multicultural marketing firm Burrell, it’s part of a larger campaign to help get Covid-19 resources in front of the black community. The spot, titled “For Jason,” will be distributed across TV One, Black News Channel, Revolt TV, iOne, Rolling Out and Bounce TV—all of which are running the PSA pro bono.

The PSA pulls from a video Hargrove himself posted to his Facebook page on March 21, and combines his words with stark statistics on how coronavirus is disproportionately impacting the black community. Speaking into his phone camera at the time, a fuming Hargrove shared his frustrations over passengers and others not taking the pandemic seriously.

“We’re out here as public workers, doing our job, trying to make an honest living to take care of our families,” said Hargrove in the video that quickly went viral. “But for you to get on the bus, and stand on the bus, and cough several times without covering up your mouth, and you know that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that lets me know that some folks don’t care.”

Eleven days later, Hargrove was dead. And according to a harrowing, painful story shared with Time magazine by his widow, Desha Johnson-Hargrove, his death might have been prevented had doctors taken his condition seriously over three separate visits to the emergency room.

Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than their white neighbors, according to data released Friday by American Public Media’s APM Research Lab. Across the U.S., African Americans are dying at rates that represent more than twice their share of the population.

The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the black community compelled Burrell into action.

“We’re an African-American agency, and we represent that community,” said Lewis Williams, evp and chief creative officer at Burrell. “Marketing is selling burgers and cars and everything else. But when we see an issue in the community, we also need to use our talents to do something about it.”

Highlighting racial disparity through marketing

Five years ago, Burrell launched a PSA campaign titled “Black Is Human.” In a series of videos, young black children talk about what they’d like to be if they grow up, a sobering reference to the fact that homicide is the leading cause of death among black boys.

Hargrove’s story fit the “Black Is Human” platform well. His death might have been prevented were doctors more likely to take complaints from African-American patients more seriously. (Studies have shown that implicit bias has led to black patients receiving inferior medical care.) And he represents the 39% of black Americans who hold jobs that qualify as essential during the pandemic, according to a McKinsey report, making them vulnerable to viral exposure at work.

“We are twice as likely to die from Covid-19,” Williams said. “Why is that? It’s because of our preexisting conditions. Why is that? It’s because of a high unemployment rate, a lack of access to healthcare, all of those things. And I can’t work from home if I work for the sanitation department. I can’t work from home if I drive the No. 3 bus. I can’t work from home if I work at the grocery store.”

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was widely criticized after saying that black and Latino people should “avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs” to fight the pandemic. But before making that misstep, Adams had explained to BET that the disparate impact of the virus on the black community was due to socioeconomic issues. “The things we’re telling people to do to protect themselves—social distancing, staying home from work—are not options for people who are part of the gig economy or who were relying on a job which may or may not have health insurance to keep them safe,” Adams said.

Burrell’s PSA leads viewers to its “Black Is Human” website, where additional resources and statistics about coronavirus are available. Williams said he believed “For Jason” is the first commercial to use the face and voice of a real-life Covid-19 victim.

“That’s why this voice is so powerful. Not just for the African-American community, but for everybody,” Williams said. “It’s for all the essential workers, people that are really the backbone who can never work from home. There are millions of Americans like that.”

In addition to the PSA, Burrell is donating groceries to 64 households through its longtime community partner, The Primo Center. The agency estimated that 191 children will receive healthy food and safety items through the initiative.

“We are proud to support those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and hope that other industry leaders will join us in our mission to provide much-needed resources to vulnerable communities,” said Fay Ferguson, co-CEO of Burrell.

@MaryEmilyOHara maryemily.ohara@adweek.com Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.