Six Months In

An Oral History of Pandemic Life Told by Black Essential Workers

From grocery store clerks to mental health counselors to mail carriers, Black essential workers describe living during the pandemic

This story is part of “Six Months In,” a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.

After working a long day, loading trucks at an HVAC company in East Point, Georgia, J. Waters quickly peruses her local grocery store’s shelves for food and cleaning supplies. In her area, the poverty rate is over 20%. Health conditions are highly prevalent. Hospitalizations are up. As Covid-19 consumes the public consciousness, so do the nearby killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.

The global pandemic is creating a devastating pattern of Covid-19 cases in communities of color. Once referred to as “the Great Equalizer,” data has shown that the virus’s reach is not isolated from social and economic inequalities. Across age groups, Black Americans are almost three times as likely to get sick, and twice as likely to die, from Covid-19 compared to white Americans. Against the backdrop of a national reckoning with police brutality, the systemic racism embedded within society has proven to be another pandemic within itself.

These racial health disparities are the result of structural injustices. Black Americans have high rates of underlying health conditions, including those like diabetes and heart disease, that are risk factors for severe cases of Covid-19. These disparities are inextricably linked to racist practices, like redlining, that have left Black people more prone to overcrowded living situations, air pollution, and food deserts. Black Americans are also less likely to have access to equitable health care or to have their health concerns taken seriously by providers. Black workers are far more likely to be in job industries deemed “essential” — forcing them to put their health, and that of their families, at risk to make a living.

According to data at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), 56% of Black workers going to work say that due to possible coronavirus exposure, they believe they are seriously risking their or another family member’s health. Black workers are also twice as likely to have seen possible retaliation against them for speaking up about coronavirus-related concerns. In places like East Point, an overrepresentation of essential workers is accompanied by high rates of Covid-19. The city is 78% African American — at least 44% of workers are essential. Milwaukee, Detroit, and New York City are seeing alarmingly high infection rates and deaths among Black populations. Detroit-based bus driver Jason Hargrove, who encountered a passenger coughing multiple times without covering her mouth, posted a video voicing his frustrations “to those who are watching, this — this is real. And y’all need to take this serious.” Just 11 days later, Hargrove died of Covid-19.

“Black workers are still on the front lines at a disproportionate rate, interacting with a large number of people,” says Judy Lubin, PhD, MPH, public health expert and president of the Center for Urban and Racial Equity. “This increases the likelihood that you may potentially contract Covid-19.”

While America reckons with police brutality and disproportionate Covid-19 rates, racial justice advocates are considering the ways in which Black Americans, especially those on the front lines, are being impacted not only physically, but mentally.

“This doesn’t only impact us on a physical level, but on a psychological level,” Lubin says. “The way in which [Black populations] are moving and navigating throughout this society that is creating stress on our bodies, we are embodying this racism.”

As people publicly voice their support for Black Lives Matter and for frontline workers, declaring them as heroes, the question of how the country will achieve this change remains. In order for Black lives to be genuinely treated like they matter, including the lives of America’s 12 million Black essential workers, their health must be prioritized. As they work on the front lines, they are grappling with the coronavirus, recent protests, and what life might look like afterward.

Based on interviews and testimonies recorded across the country, Black essential workers tell their stories. Some quotes have been condensed for clarity.

In the beginning

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

I kept telling all my friends [in the beginning], “Look, this is serious. You need to start preparing.” You could say that [working for] USPS played a role in that anxiety. I bought a whole bunch of water. Cleaning products. Long-lasting food like rice. I still wasn’t prepared for all of this.

S. Dawson, 31, Dollar General manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Me and my entire family are essential workers. My job is very community-based, especially for those who can’t afford to shop at other stores. It’s something I’ve always considered essential. We sell medicine, we sell food, we sell personal hygiene items. It’s been very busy. Four managers are responsible for 17 employees. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine my life becoming this way.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

I’m a community-based counselor and therapeutic mentor. I love my job. I work at a group home with adults to help them maintain independence. It’s a very demanding job, and I work 12–13 hours a day. Many of my clients are homeless and/or have physical and mental impairments. I immediately tried to gain some insight and understanding of Covid-19 so that I could help the demographic I work with. Being in a small city in the South, it didn’t seem like people were taking it as seriously. People were mostly comparing it to the flu. It got worse from there.

P. Sanks, 44, funeral director, Phoenix, Alabama:

I work at a Black-owned funeral home. From all the basic information we need like demographics, to making sure they feel supported throughout the proceedings, we make sure that all of the services are taken care of. I’ve wanted to help provide a little bit more support to those that are grieving than I’ve felt I have received in my life. Being that person now is difficult.

Cierra T., 34, Amazon warehouse worker, Cleveland, Ohio:

I chose to work at Amazon because there’s a lot of customer demand, and so I feel secure in my job. We’re busier than before. It keeps you walking, it keeps you running. My schedule varies, and I do various duties depending on the day. If there aren’t packages to handle, I’ll spend a lot of the day cleaning. You have to keep hydrated and stay positive, too, because positivity keeps you at peace.

Becoming essential

Khama Ennis, MD, 44, associate chief of emergency medicine, Northampton, Massachusetts:

I’ve always been at risk for coming into contact with infectious diseases and illnesses. But this was such an unknown, and the severity of illness was so terrible that it just put a very different level of fear in all of us. I feel like this was one of the first times, despite working in an environment that can be chaotic and dangerous in other ways, that I felt personally vulnerable in that way. Emergency medicine is a field where there is a high potential for burnout. There’s lots of stuff that you see that you can’t unsee, and a lot of difficult cases we all encounter. The unrelenting nature of it, and not knowing if you would have a mild or severe case, there was an expectation it was going to eventually happen to all of us.

C. Sweeney, 32, ER registered nurse, Hudson County, New Jersey:

I take an immunosuppressant for an autoimmune disease. When Covid went rampant and everyone in the emergency room had it, I had to take some time off. During that time, more than half of the people in my area had Covid. Everything was changing every two or so days. People were sitting in the ER for over eight hours. One of my patients came in for knee pain and had been in the waiting room for six hours. By the time he got to us, he had a fever. It got so bad that we put the hospital on diversion because we’d reached full capacity, but people were still coming in. A few weeks later, a nurse got it and passed away. It felt like the virus was getting closer and closer.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

We as postal workers are essential and put ourselves at risk every day. Let’s say someone has the coronavirus and they put the mail in the mailbox. Guess who’s got to touch it? The mail handler, the mail carrier, the people who put it on the truck. I start work at midnight and usually work until 8 a.m. It’s a physical job. It can be exhausting and have long hours, and we’re in pretty close quarters. We get packages that are wet, that are broken, people don’t pack them correctly or securely. We had gloves even before the pandemic, but getting other PPE has been another story. You could say that USPS is being proactive now. But it’s kind of too little too late.

Scarce protection

S. Dawson, 31, Dollar General manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

In the beginning, we got no PPE. We had to take gloves off the shelves. We recently got face shields. They send us masks every once in a while, and when they do send us gloves, they don’t fit. So we have to buy our own gloves, buy our own face masks, and we have to reuse them. It’s a risk because we’re working close together.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

We were told in my facility that supplies are limited and we have to make sure no one takes it, which I do understand. But when a supervisor asks me “Are you sure you need it?” and I have to ask for a mask twice after that, that is a big flag on the play.

Cierra T., 34, Amazon warehouse worker, Cleveland, Ohio:

At any given point, other warehouse associates are close by. Many people work at my facility, maybe 100 at a time. I can’t even keep count. When I was in the package system, there were people at every single station. Covid-19 is spreading very fast. It’s easy for people to get it if they don’t socially distance. Once things started getting bad, Amazon started to take more measures to socially distance. Now, for every two stations that are open, one is closed.

J. Waters, 30, truck loader at HVAC company, East Point, Georgia:

It took governors of different states, and the federal government, to write the CEO of the company about taking precautions. But before that, the company didn’t say anything or provide us with PPE. We haven’t been told anything about hazard pay.

D. Allen, 27, ICU registered nurse, Westchester, New York:

We thought we had adequate supplies because obviously, we didn’t know what was to come. But as the numbers started to climb up, we started running low on supplies. It got to the point where workers had to wear masks for more than one day. We had to come up with ways to store them, and people in the community also started stepping in to make them.

Love Anani, MD, 34, medical director of emergency department, Northcrest Medical Center, Tennessee:

In the past, pre-coronavirus, I would never, ever reuse an N95. Now, with our supply, we’ve been reusing N95s for multiple days and multiple cases. I don’t know if our country will ever get to a point where we can have a new N95 for every single patient like we had in the past because we just didn’t anticipate this.

B. Bridges, 27, Whole Foods supervisor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

As grocery store workers, we never stopped working. I didn’t feel they were doing enough. I noticed that some of the other grocery stores were doing things quicker. The face shields at the cash register, they didn’t have them until a month later. As a Black woman supervisor, I’ve gotten less respect when trying to enforce PPE.

Lockdown

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

With the lockdown, it got real scary. My 15-year-old daughter has a mild form of lupus because that runs in her family, so I wanted to make sure I did not expose her to anything. I stayed away. I need to protect them. I’m living with my mother right now. I haven’t seen my daughter or my son since the end of February. It is extremely difficult. It’s very depressing because my children are my faith, are my religion. I can only call, text, and video chat them.

D. Allen, 27, ICU registered nurse, Westchester, New York:

My identity as a Black person weighs on me more now. In the ICU we see a lot of Blacks, Hispanics, homeless. It’s a reminder that Covid-19 is working against minorities and poor people especially.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

Some of my clients really have a hard time processing what’s going on. Many have difficulty staying in the home for long periods of time. Many are in close quarters due to their housing situation, or really due to the housing crisis. A lot of them can’t operate electronics or don’t have access to telehealth. I still see many of my guys and gals face-to-face while socially distancing because seeing them is needed to maintain their health.

P. Sanks, 44, funeral director, Phoenix, Alabama:

Our very first Covid-19 case came from a young man that had just had a family vacation in Florida with his family of 14. They all had to be quarantined. Seven of them tested positive with Covid-19 and he was the one that passed away. In that instance, we had to communicate with that family and make all decisions via phone, email, or fax. They could not see their loved one prior to him being buried so we had to kind of just take pictures and send it to them. It was very emotional because there was no closure there.

Khama Ennis, MD, 44, associate chief of emergency medicine, Northampton, Massachusetts:

Over the last couple of months, I had an aunt and uncle living in New York who both contracted Covid-19. Another uncle died. We certainly had our cases here and still do, but it hasn’t been as devastating on a personal level here as it was in some of the bigger cities and in the Black population. Being a Black physician in a career that is predominantly white, and working in an area that is predominantly white, comes with a significant amount of pressure. I have to carry that with me every day. There’s a cumulative impact of walking into a space and needing a mirror to see somebody like you. I know I’m well-trained and earned my space, but I also walk around with a different lens of the world than the vast majority of people I work with. I feel like there’s some awakening to that now. The department and hospital I work in is largely supportive, but there is a pressure to be the representative in some way.

C. Sweeney, 32, ER registered nurse, Hudson County, New Jersey:

Because my dad is a renal patient, I took him to his dialysis appointments even though I was on leave because of my condition. We both ended up contracting Covid-19. I had a few symptoms, but it impacted my dad more. He was in the hospital for about a week, and then had a stroke. He recently went to rehab.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

There are various postal groups I’m a part of where people are like, “Yeah, there’s been a confirmed case here, and there’s been a confirmed case there.” And they’re not telling us about it. They’re not keeping us abreast of, “Hey, somebody, you know, came down with this virus and we need to take proper precautions to stay safe.” The only way I found out that I was able to take two weeks off was because my shop’s steward came to me. My supervisor didn’t even mention it. I had to jump through hoops to get it approved.

Being Black on the job

Love Anani, MD, 34, medical director of emergency department, Northcrest Medical Center, Tennessee:

The tough part of the job isn’t really the job, because it’s always been the same for me — save lives. That’s the part I love. During this time, I’ve seen someone come in too late for a heart attack, but get their heart restarted and get to the hospital for further treatments. I’ve seen people come in for injuries and recover. I’ve seen people diagnosed with the coronavirus fine and stable, and the next time I saw them, short of breath — they remembered me and what I told them, and they came back and got the appropriate treatment. I’ve placed a breathing tube into someone’s body and saw them 40 days later walk out of the hospital. Giving people the supportive care they need, knowing that the intervention we provided gave them the bridge to give their body the 40 days that they needed to recover, is amazing. The tough part for me is juggling the multifaceted portion of being at the job. The virus has become political, social unrest is definitely palpable. I think a lot of physicians of color have developed an amazing external shield, an external way to hide their feelings sometimes. I don’t think we developed it during medical school — I think we probably mostly developed it during life.

D. Allen, 27, ICU registered nurse, Westchester, New York:

It put an extra stress on everyone. Every day, we saw a lot of people dying. You would see people come in for a simple stomach bug, and you come back that night and the person is on the ventilator, fighting for their life. I’d come home and just constantly be crying because I thought about how that could have been anyone. They brought in grief counselors to help us deal with what’s going on. I feel like I have a better handle on it now, but it’s still scary not knowing what will come. After working in ICU for over five years, I never expected it to hit me this hard.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

Getting to work has been more stressful than before. I’ll put it like this: I live in a white town. I live in Union, New Jersey. At 8 o’clock at night, Union makes sure there are patrol cars on the borders of the town, and I live close to the border. They make it clear that you can’t come into the neighborhood. During the curfew, I got pulled over three times while on my way to work. Mind you, I got pulled over around the corner from my house. Two of these times, it was the same cop. If you see my ID, I live right there. In order to pull somebody over, you’ve got to run their plates and see their race, and you see the owner of the car and you see their address. But it’s been done three times? It’s something that I can’t physically record the exact number of times it’s happened to others. But it isn’t protection at this point.

P. Sanks, 44, funeral director, Phoenix, Alabama:

The amount of deaths we handle each week has doubled and tripled since the pandemic started. Most of them are Black and Hispanic. Recently, a couple lost their one-month-old baby boy. The pandemic made it hard for them to grieve and mourn properly. We also have a high number of shipments coming from hot spots, and the caskets can’t get reopened once they get here so the families can’t see them. We can’t have funerals, we can only have graveside services with a limited number of people. You have a grandmother who’s 99 and has passed away from Covid-19 and had 27 grandchildren. It’s really hard to say, well you know, only 10 of you guys can attend the service.

Cierra T., 34, Amazon warehouse worker, Cleveland, Ohio:

There have been a lot of protests. A lot of people don’t think Amazon is taking the right precautions, like cleaning the facilities or being completely transparent about who gets sick. Being at work puts me at risk every day. Now, I’m hoping for a miracle.

S. Dawson, 31, Dollar General manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

I’m transgender, and a lot different than other people at my job. I carry that every day, you know, hoping that people don’t find out. I want to be who I am, but the community is transphobic. That’s been difficult. Not being accepted has caused me to become depressed and stressed out. I wouldn’t say it’s people being intentionally transphobic, but it more so comes from a place of ignorance. The other day, a co-worker mentioned a customer who was trans and said that they were disgusted by them. I completely froze because being at a job and being outed as trans has happened before. I had to leave my last job after being sexually harassed. I’m just starting to hear more and more mean things against gay and trans people by customers and employees, and I’m just feeling like I can’t handle it anymore. It has put me in a really weird spot, putting my job before my identity and safety.

B. Bridges, 27, Whole Foods supervisor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Even outside of Covid, it’s impossible to be Black without issues. But Covid made it worse. Crime has gone up and a lot of people are hurting. One thing is, there weren’t testing centers around Philly as quickly as there should have been. It’s a predominantly Black city, and very low-income, and I believe that has something to do with it.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

In part, it’s affecting Black people more because we don’t trust the government. We don’t have a reason to trust them. It’s not out of ignorance. It’s out of history. We don’t trust our government because of what they’ve been doing for 400 years. Think about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and the forced sterilization of Black women. We don’t trust the media either. After centuries of dishonesty, we don’t feel comfortable trusting our government until it happens. Someone told me recently, “Oh, the coronavirus isn’t real.” I know people who lost family members. It can’t get any more realer than this.

Reckoning with race amidst protest

Love Anani, MD, 34, medical director of emergency department, Northcrest Medical Center, Tennessee:

When George Floyd died, I posted about it, but I made it clear I wasn’t ready to talk about it. It’s a conversation piece I think a lot of people want to have. Most people want to have it without being disrespectful, some don’t. I can keep that from bleeding into work most of the time, but when it does, I have to either bite my tongue or shake my head to stay professional. That’s been a little more taxing than normal within the pandemic.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

I served in the military. This situation has emphasized that while I believe in my country, my country doesn’t believe in me. I love my country, but my country doesn’t love me.

Love Anani, MD, 34, medical director of emergency department, Northcrest Medical Center, Tennessee:

I think a lot of people find things hard to believe unless it’s a big, obvious example. There’s no bigger example than a non-Black person calling a Black person the N-word. That’s probably in the top three. That happened to me once in residency, when a patient said it to me, and it’s a little startling. The nurse was a little shaken up, but these types of people exist. Mostly everything else that has happened has unfortunately been a microaggression. Comments and questions like, “You speak well. Where are you from? What school did you go to?” And then I think, do you always ask your doctor what school they’d gone to? I’m also taking extra precautions to make myself seem like a doctor. I always make sure my badge is visible. Pre-coronavirus, I always wore my white coat. I think to myself, “Okay, you’re not going to mistake me for the delivery guy.” I make the same introduction every time. I pull my badge towards them as I introduce myself. People also don’t believe my name is Love, so that’s important, too.

J. Waters, 30, truck loader at HVAC company, East Point, Georgia:

I’m the only minority working here. Now since everything happened, it’s gotten more stressful. A lot of times I’m treated like I’m incompetent. There are lots of times where I feel like I’m a servant. I feel like for the work I do I don’t get paid enough. I’m overworked and very well underpaid. I’m trying to juggle everything with my children’s online learning. I’m considered essential, but not treated like it. Every day, I remind myself that my job is temporary. Every single day. If I didn’t have bills to pay, didn’t have children, I’d be working somewhere else. I always remind myself of Proverbs 22:2: “The rich and the poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.”

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

I try not to ruffle any feathers and I do my best to make everyone feel loved and accepted. As a Black person, for the most part, I don’t feel I’m treated differently at my job. But when something comes up, like a microaggression, I do feel the need to address it. I’ve always kept it in an education-type way, and not from an angry or accusatory way. When it’s from a racialized perspective, though, it’s important to make it aware.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

I work with a lot of Black people, so there’s a level of respect I feel I’ve received. That makes it a dope job on that front. While at other jobs, I’ve felt the need to justify myself by telling them I’m a veteran. In this facility, I’m respected because I’m a human being.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

As a mental health counselor, I worry about the safety of my clients. I believe we also have to look at the intersection of police brutality and mental health. Police completely mishandled the situation with Daniel Prude. It was clear that he was having a mental health crisis. I mean, he’s naked. There’s no way he has a weapon. He should have been detained appropriately and taken to a hospital. How does he come up dead? It’s ridiculous. Now it’s in the news that the police shot a white autistic 13-year-old boy, Linden Cameron, after they were called to deescalate the situation. One of the issues that we’re having is that police are being called to situations involving mental health patients or people who are experiencing mental breaks and they are handling the situation as if they are handling criminals. I also worry about my own safety as a Black counselor who also looks extremely young. I think about the situation in Florida where another Black mental health worker, Charles Kinsey, was shot when he was trying to deescalate a situation between the police and a client who had autism. Even though Kinsey was on the ground and had his hands up, he was shot. There was no accountability there, and that makes me fear something like that could happen to me, too.

S. Dawson, 31, Dollar General manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

It’s really, really, really hard to go to a job and know you have to put all of your problems to the side because you have to deal with other people. We’ve had a lot of violent incidents. It’s always been there, but the pandemic has definitely made it worse. The customers are more irritated now and less patient. People are panicking and acting more erratically than before, and we’ve been facing a lot of harassment. There’s been altercations inside and outside the store between customers and also with cashiers. Asking people to put on masks is dangerous in my neighborhood because many either don’t have them or don’t want to use them. There’s a lack of education. Many don’t want to socially distance, are having issues affording products in our store, or are homeless. I try to give out extra masks but being face-to-face with people makes it harder. I’ve had customers threaten my life at work at least three times since the pandemic started. I’ve been called vulgar names and spit on, but it feels wrong to defend myself because I am technically supposed to keep being professional. I get things can happen, but it’s scary that this is my job. A lot of us usually walk home together once our shifts are over, or try to leave when it’s still light out because a couple of us have been robbed walking away from the store. It’s gotten to the point where, for a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep working. If I can afford it, I take an Uber or Lyft. We’ve asked for security at the store and are still waiting to see if the company approves it.

E. Hewitt, 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

At certain times I feel like this job expects me to put it before my family, my kids, and my health. And I don’t say this to be negative or to be mean, but you have to inform people that you won’t do that. They’ve got to know that I’ll quit this job before I put my kids at risk, or anybody at risk. That’s the first thing. Let’s say I catch it and bring it home to my mother, or to another person I work with — it won’t be okay. I don’t need a job. I can always find a job, even if USPS shuts down, which I don’t think it will — we handle more volume than any other postal service. But people’s lives can’t be replaced.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

A lot of us are being impacted directly by the pandemic due to preexisting conditions or putting ourselves at risk on the job. Our mental health is at stake. It’s been treated inappropriately for so long, generation after generation. We have to work twice as hard as the next man. And that makes it so we also unravel twice as fast as the next man.

Khama Ennis, MD, 44, associate chief of emergency medicine, Northampton, Massachusetts:

The weight of George Floyd’s death, and having people not know how to respond and therefore not respond at all was painful. Our ER led a kneel-in in his honor as did many hospitals. We drafted a statement on behalf of the medical staff with regard to anti-racism in medicine, requesting that all of the department chiefs have active conversations with their teams about race and the treatment of patients. This needed to be an educational moment. Many people don’t know what a microaggression is, what the difference between racism and discrimination is. Having those conversations is paramount. There’s a need to be transparent in terms of data and implicit bias. It’s something that requires pushing people to a place of discomfort.

Love Anani, MD, 34, medical director of emergency department, Northcrest Medical Center, Tennessee:

After the first protests, I sent out an email to my staff and forwarded it to the higher-ups reminding people that biases exist, for everybody. I always remember women present differently with chest pains for heart attacks than men do — I don’t want my bias to allow a woman under my care to pass away. Just like there’s been multiple studies to show that African Americans were getting subpar pain medication doses in the ER because there used to be a bias that we handle pain better. From a physician standpoint, I think we all want to believe that we’re here to do no harm, but we still need to work on ways to limit our bias. It’s about accountability. Since this has happened, I’ve taken a lot of pride in working with people to try to eliminate some of those biases — putting out materials, working with doctors to improve diversity in medicine.

E. Hewitt , 48, USPS handler, Union, New Jersey:

Seeing the repeated instances of police violence on the news weighs on me. The situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with Jacob Blake made my heart sink. I saw the video. There’s no way you could say he was reaching for a weapon. It’s a blessing he’s still alive. When a Black person is murdered or injured by police it’s, “it’s probably a misunderstanding.” But I like to look at things logically. There’s just no justification for it. The misunderstanding is that they shot this man seven times. They didn’t put value on a life that is now changed forever.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

Many are outraged [about police shootings]. Unfortunately because of how often it happens, it’s almost at a point where people are kind of jaded. Black people are being traumatized over and over again because they’re forced to see these instances, in person or on videotape. It’s exhausting. Will anything change with the powers that be? Or will this continue to happen? Will protests continue to happen and continue to escalate? I’m not hearing from politicians or other people in power, in positions of authority. Every time I hear from one, they are coming to the defense of the police or the person who shot and killed at least two protestors in Wisconsin. So it makes me wonder who will come to my defense.

Looking toward the future

B. Bridges, 27, Whole Foods supervisor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

I’m a part-time yoga instructor and so health is extremely important to me. When Black people are being shot down in the streets, it’s hard to feel like anyone cares. Breonna Taylor died, but for what? Some people feel like, “No one else cares about me so why should I?” I want us to feel entitled to our safety and wellness. Getting support to stay healthy at work, getting help paying bills, and support for their small businesses makes a huge difference.

J. Waters, 30, truck loader at HVAC company, East Point, Georgia:

One of the biggest things that could have really changed the whole outcome of this situation is putting people before monetary value. At the beginning of the pandemic, Georgia Power, a big electric company here in metro Atlanta, said they weren’t going to cut off anyone’s utilities since March. That was only one step in the big picture. A lot of places are trying to open up again. Where I live, a lot of people are dying. If people who have power had just joined together and had heart, America might be in a very different place than it is today.

Cierra T., 34, Amazon warehouse worker, Cleveland, Ohio:

I desire people being able to look back when this is over and say they took a stand. We can start by trying to change the world, to try to make it a better place. How are we going to do that? I have no idea. But we have to try.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

This ordeal has taught me the importance of awareness and being there for people when they need it. That’s something I’ll forever appreciate. Because when you work in health care, you have to deal with its impact on your family and community. Our communities have been broken by systemic issues, but we’ve come this far and we’re here to rebuild our wellness.

S. Dawson, 31, Dollar General manager, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

A lot of it, for me, is about practicing self-care. Honestly, it’s hard for me to think about my needs a lot. Professionally, I’m consumed with a lot of my work. I don’t plan on staying here forever — in the meantime, though, I have to take care of myself. I try to go on long nature walks or take my mind off things with a movie or show. Doing little things helps.

Khama Ennis, MD, 44, associate chief of emergency medicine, Northampton, Massachusetts:

I don’t think that the coronavirus would be as bad if the epidemic of racism wasn’t as bad as it has been and is. I don’t believe we’re going to be truly successful in dealing with this crisis until we’ve done a better job of dealing with racism. It’s a structural, entirely social construct with a very real impact. The fact that the populations affected were largely people of color in urban centers, who have less of a voice, was part of why our national response was so incredibly weak. It has long been a factor when it comes to health disparities.

B. Moss, 39, mental health counselor, Lynchburg, Virginia:

It’s frustrating to see that the police continue to be funded as much as they are. Because they’re almost being militarized to deal with civilians. I think they do need to be defunded, and I think some of the funding that’s going into militarized weaponry and things of that nature should go to other areas like mental health and education. People fear [the police]. And that’s not a good thing. With more resources, I think that communities can be empowered to police themselves. There’s a level of investment that needs to take place, especially in the Black communities, in the poor communities, for them to have that support.

Cierra T., 34, Amazon warehouse worker, Cleveland, Ohio:

People are wearing BLM shirts and masks at the warehouse. I admire them for that. I felt that the George Floyd death was unnecessary. It was uncalled for. I try to put myself in his daughters’ shoes. What if that were my dad, and what if he went through that situation? I hope Amazon cares. They are looking at George Floyd’s life, gone in eight minutes and 46 seconds. That’s got to mean something.

C. Sweeney, 32, ER registered nurse, Hudson County, New Jersey:

At the end of the day, after having Covid, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be alive. I just want people to care. This is a very real thing. There’s no coming back from death — either from the coronavirus or police brutality. I shouldn’t have to prove my humanity as a Black woman no matter what job or place I’m in. I want people to be willing to open their eyes and see what we see.

Lindsey is a Philadelphia- and Brooklyn-based journalist who writes primarily about history and culture in America. You can find her work @kiah_irene.

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