AP Photo: Bebeto Matthews
Ground zero for COVID-19 is Chicago’s Cook County Jail. Hundreds of detainees and at least 200 correctional officers are currently infected. Prisoners, guards and other first responders in Chicago are without personal protection equipment (PPE)– gloves, masks and the like — making the situation even more deadly. People are dying, even though a Black owned company in Illinois literally has millions of masks available. The city, county and state refuse to talk to the owner, according to sources. In fact, the Governor of Illinois is spending $1.7 million on two flights from China in order to purchase masks there. Apparently, the government would rather allow prisoners, guards, first responders and hospital workers to die, rather than do business with a Black owned company.
Dr. Willie Wilson is the founder of Omar Medical Supplies. Since 1997, the company has distributed medical supplies like plastic gloves and the like, with distribution facilities around the country. Each week the company brings in millions of KN95 masks. Given that its corporate offices are in Illinois, the outbreak at Cook County Jail, the roughly 25,000 COVID-19 cases in the state and the severe lack of PPE available to local hospitals, one would think Wilson’s phone is ringing off the hook. Wilson’s phone is ringing a lot, just not from the state, city or county, according to Vetress Boyce. Boyce is the CEO of Boyce Enterprise and a consultant who works for Dr. Wilson. Boyce contends that Dr. Wilson has repeatedly called the mayor and the governor but cannot receive a call back. For Boyce, the final straw was when Governor J.B. Pritzker spent $1.7 million in taxpayer money on two flights from China to bring back PPE.
The challenge– if not refusal — to do business with Black owned companies is not new. Illinois has a program to increase spending with “minority” owned businesses, the “Business Enterprise Program.” Still, white women actually receive roughly twice the amount of dollars that Black men and women get combined, from that program. Sadly, Illinois is not unique: the same drama plays out at the federal and even local levels, across the country. Death and disaster, however, should motivate people in very different ways. People are dying and yet Omar Medical Supplies can’t get a call back. People are dying and with each day that goes by, first responders are at risk. Still, no call back. This crisis is bleeding state budgets and yet, the governor is spending millions in taxpayer dollars to bring in planes from China, rather than receive a shipment from down the street. Questions must be raised.
Omar Medical Supplies is donating 100,000 masks to Cook County Jail, according to Boyce. The company has also donated to local hospitals. Dr. Wilson is doing what he can to save lives but he’d also like to do what every other entrepreneur wants to do: sell to the government. To be sure, many more questions must be raised. If the government has a need severe enough to charter planes from China, why wouldn’t they purchase from a local company? Surely there must be some mitigating factor as to why Dr. Wilson isn’t receiving a call. Still, given the racist history of this country, logic and reason should never be assumed.