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June 4, 2020

When You See Me

I am lucky in many ways to have the support of great family and friends, and to have meaningful work I enjoy with Humanity United. Having said that, the crises in which we find ourselves caused me to write down my personal story and share it with close colleagues. I now share it with others with the hope this perspective contributes to creating a better life ahead for everyone.

I used today to clear my mind and heart as we all grapple with the racial and systemic disparities of Black people. After a bout with COVID-19 in April, self-isolating for two weeks, and having to rely on those around me to take care of my two boys until I could do so, I felt alone, helpless, defeated, and dumbfounded as I tried yet failed to understand what was happening to me.

My health care providers told me that what I was experiencing did not meet the criteria for testing (at the time) but that I should self-isolate for two weeks to ensure that the virus had passed through my system. But there was pain all over my body—from the crown of my head to the bottom of my feet. Was this normal? I was told that for body pains, it is typical to take a pain reliever (Tylenol or Advil) and to rest. After waking up and falling asleep again, which I did involuntarily for 13 days out of the 14-day incubation period, I started to feel “better.” I didn’t feel as crappy as I did on day three, but then I relapsed on days five, eight, and 10 with few answers from my doctors. I felt as though I was a part of a test group of animals to see what was going to work and what didn’t work. Unfortunately, health care is transactional in the U.S., so if you’re able to engage with your doctor for longer than the 10-minute window allotted to you, you should count yourself lucky. The disparities that exist when it comes to the quality and lack of health care for African-Americans isn’t based on new data—which is unsurprising given that we must put our faith in a health care system which uses the scientific data of those who look nothing like us. So, yet again, we are the anomaly.

So, when my doctor tells me that I “should” be okay in two weeks and gives me instructions to call if my symptoms progress or worsen, it feels like a death sentence.

After all this, I still didn’t feel like myself! I kept asking myself, why couldn’t I get out of bed? Why was I so tired when I’d done nothing but sleep and occasionally eat during the entire isolation phase? The headaches that progressed into migraines and hung around for days were a constant reminder that something wasn’t right!

Two more COVID tests (one standard, one rapid) confirmed that the virus was gone…but I was not the same.

When would this pass? Did I need another round of antibiotics, and was this normal? These were all of the questions I asked. Elusive responses were given to satisfy my curiosity.

After five weeks (I was prepared for only two) and a couple of rounds of antibiotics, I felt better. Much better. My senses of taste and smell still haven’t fully returned. However, my energy level has improved and the migraines and constant fatigue have subsided. I feel like I’m back and then…

Reality hits, and my people are being chased, shot, falsely reported, and asphyxiated. AGAIN! Right on the heels of a national pandemic that is killing us at a disproportionate rate, we still face people who don’t look like us but have the power to kill us. Kill Us. Every time this happens, it’s personal. As a Black woman rearing two Black boys to be responsible adults, the realization that their lives and the collective lives of all who grapple with the same problem hit a lot harder this time. Usually, work distracts me for 8-9 hours of the day, or other things keep me busy. But this time, as we are stuck where we are and are trying to figure out how to exist and create a sense of normalcy for our family and ourselves, we are stuck in what feels like a nightmare. The horrific stories of the racism and injustice of our elders are replaying in living color and in HD, thanks to technology. And sometimes it feels like there’s nothing we can do about it. Racism is deeply embedded in the systems created to keep the proverbial knee of colonizers placed on our necks and us in our place until we can’t breathe and tap out (die). As far as we thought we’d come as a people, we are still being strangled and killed by our oppressors, which confirms the harsh reality that we are still less than.

This is why we’re mad. This is why drastic measures are being taken on the streets around the world. Everyone has a tipping point, and we have reached ours. Do we have your attention? We’ve fought to be seen for generations, tempered our language to be heard, and over-performed at our jobs to earn wages/promotions equivalent to those of our white counterparts, yet we still fall short time and time again. Already behind the social and economic curves, we do what we’ve always done: sacrifice to support those we’re responsible for, our children (black kids are being reared in single-parent households at disproportionately high rates) and our parents (many of whom worked/work from paycheck to paycheck); and trying to serve as a resource to change the lives of the countless others who lack the education and skillset needed to apply for assistance that isn’t readily available.

We. Are. Tired.

How is it that the appeals of Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and others are still valid today? How is this possible? It isn’t only possible. It’s on all media outlets on repeat to remind you that as far as we (Black people) think we’ve come, we still have a LONG way to go!

Until the collective “we” realize that our (Black) issues are also your issues, we will not create the ripple of change we seek. I may not be alive to see it in my lifetime, but when you see me, acknowledge the thousands of people I represent.

The murder of George Floyd just lays bare what Black people have already known; the system is broken. It’s always been broken. But, I believe that it can be fixed. With Black people and people of color leading the way and allies by our side, I believe it is possible and there are amazing people showing us the way right now.

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