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As reports of COVID-19 cases disproportionately affecting the Black community and racist rhetoric on Asian Americans surge, Naquel Perry Jr. said he wanted to shine a light on the situation. “We have a leader who’s in office right now. And he made some very wrong statements to the public, calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ or making horrible jokes on the coronavirus,” said the 16-year-old Albemarle High School junior, adding all these things that are being said are not always true. Slated to be hosted via Zoom starting at 2 p.m. May 23, “Seeing COVID-19 through an anti-racist lens” was organized by the Student Equity Advisory Team (SEAT), a committee that is part of the Albemarle County Public Schools’ anti-racism policy. It will feature Dr. Cameron Webb, University of Virginia Health’s director of health policy and equity; Lawrence Pilkey, of Sentara Martha’s Jefferson Hospital’s intensive care unit and the state’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Janice Underwood. Perry, who was chosen by the teacher advisor to be on the SEAT committee, will serve as the host of the town hall and hopes the panel will give people his age a better understanding of the pandemic. Aside from social distancing and hand-washing, he said he hopes that the speakers can give additional tips on how people can protect themselves from the virus. “I hope we can bring more awareness to topics involving race,” he said. The SEAT committee is  made up of a total of 10 students from all four of the county’s high schools. It’s under policy communication, which, in part, aims at establishing a committee of students to promote equity and diversity to serve as leaders and spokespeople within their school and the division. The teen conference is the first project of seven others that the SEAT committee has been tasked to complete, said Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment. Among other assignments, the student committee will receive training on the division apps that allows people to report any incident of bullying or harassment anonymously. Hairston said the SEAT committee has chosen to focus on COVID-19 because the disproportionate virus infection rate ― given the social factors around some of the minorities ― can be connected to historical forms of racism related to health and employment issues. They wanted to use this platform to target people to talk about systems of structural racism as relates to health during the pandemic, he said. The town hall is an opportunity for students to have an idea of what racism can look like in different forms, including racism in the education system and in the justice system, Hairston said. In this case, it’s health-related racism, he said. “From my perspective, this particular town hall meeting is important for students to [hear these issues] explained by students,” he said. “It’s led by students and designed for students to buy into the work of understanding how make systematic change to become anti-racist.”  

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.