Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, during the COVID-19 crisis.
America has never seen anything like this, at least not in our lifetimes. And for those of us who live in New York City, the national and global epicenter for the coronavirus, this brings back traumatic memories of September 11th, nearly 20 years ago.
But while 9/11 affected us all, it was limited to New York in terms of its immediate impact and damage. COVID-19, well, is here, there, everywhere. Yes, I am deeply saddened by the immense loss of life, in the United States, across the universe and, yes, I cry often, am depressed often, have nightmares often.
I am also deeply saddened for all those who have fallen ill. I fear for the safety of the frontline workers, including some in my own family. It hurts to see various responses to this historic pandemic, state to state, region to region, city to city; responses that in some places will save lives, and responses in others which will take lives. This is why photographer Kay Hickman and I decided to venture out onto the streets of our beloved New York City, at the height of the pandemic here, to capture people, places, things affected by the coronavirus.
We visited all five boroughs of New York City—The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—and we were very careful, and we were very nervous, scared, even. But we felt it important to document, for our times, and for the sake of history, what is happening, through the images and diverse voices of this community of over 8 million people.
And to offer some hope, amidst all the chaos and darkness—
SHERETHA “RIRI” ANDERSON
Head Cook, Next Level Burger
Mentally, I’m strong in this pandemic because I was already dealing with hardships in my life. Spiritually, my faith has been strong. Physically, it’s affecting me. I don’t want to live at a standstill. I need to move around and stay productive. I was raised that way.
I try to stay productive around my neighborhood and cook more but there is a limit to everything. My living situation isn’t the best but grateful for a roof over my head. I have a roommate and her six-year-old son. Everyone is healthy and we try to stay in our own space.
I work at a vegan restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn. Before this pandemic, I worked full-time and training to be an assistant manager, but my training has slowed down dramatically and now it will be a longer process to reach one of my goals. I work two days with short hours. Which equals short check and short funds. I haven’t gotten into a routine because I don’t want to get adjusted to this way of living. Financially, I’m alright. I have been saving since last year, so I had some savings when the pandemic hit New York. I worry about my downfall since I’m using my funds and don’t want to lose everything because of this pandemic.
I have three best friends and they are struggling to adjust to this change but trying to stay positive and we encourage each other. Tragedies have been occurring in my life for over ten years so, it didn’t affect me too hard and I’m able to comprehend it better. It’s horrible to hear so many people are losing their lives to this virus. I don’t know anyone affected by this virus. Thank the Lord, everyone I know is healthy and staying positive.
President Trump could have done many things when he heard about all the cases of coronavirus hitting New York. Open a stadium and assign medical staff to help with the crowded hospitals. We as a people were caught off guard and never thought New York would experience this.
Social distancing has not affected me because I enjoy being alone. My friends are going crazy in the house but trying to stay positive in this negative. I only have a phone so don’t have much access to technology but, been living this way for a long time so it hasn’t affected me.
I have moments of my faith being tested all the time so when the pandemic occurred, I was ready. My joy is my faith. All things happen through His word and it may seem odd, but the Lord has guided me from the beginning of the year and prepared me for this pandemic.
If you had faith before this pandemic happened, then you still have that faith after. Take this time to get closer with family, friends, and neighbors. This too shall pass.
DR. MARK NAISON
What keeps me going today, first of all, is my work. I am a college professor at Fordham University, who loves the theatre of the classroom and trying to switch to online learning has been a challenge.
But I have done so in a way that engages my students by writing up lectures prior to class sessions, posting relevant songs (my big course is called “From Rock and Roll to Hip Hop”), and then using Zoom for discussion or playing songs the students want to hear.
I am working much harder than I was before we went online but I feel pretty good about the result. I also am making short 10-20 humorous videos for my students of me rapping or dancing. USA Today actually wrote an article about my unusual online teaching methods.
In the last few days, as the circle of death has come closer and as the economic consequences of this pandemic have started to become more real to my students, friends and colleagues, I have gone through a variety of negative emotions ranging from rage, to fear, to despair.
But this morning, I woke up with a different mindset. Having contemplated every worst-case scenario, I am now ready, physically and psychologically, for whatever comes. Having done everything possible to make myself safe, having acquired a supply of food that can last a long time, and having set myself up to work from home indefinitely, I am determined not only to survive, but to help everyone who needs me.
My wife Liz is at home with me. She is running an elementary school of 1,400 students from a card table in our dining room, working 10-12 days. Our evenings are spent together in sit-down dinners and watching episodes of The Crown or The Loudest Voice. We appreciate this time together since we barely see each other during most weekdays as she works in Brooklyn and I work in the Bronx. The increased time together is one of the positive dimensions of this crisis.
Liz and I have had to make major adaptations in how we work as everything we did face to face has to be done remotely. However, we have not been affected financially by the crisis because we have secure jobs: a principal and a tenured college professor. The people who have been hit hardest financially have been some of our students. We set up a GoFundMe page for one of my students who had trouble paying for rent, food, and internet.
What motivates me is my loving family, including my new grandson, my students who are in shell shock and economic and psychological distress, and need me, and sheer stubbornness and experience. I lived through the Vietnam War, the burning of the Bronx, the crack epidemic, and 9/11, and know that I can survive anything that doesn’t kill me.
And at 73-years-old, I have lived a long and productive life so I can’t feel sorry for myself. I have no illusions about what we are facing. It will be very hard and painful for a very long time. But little by little, rage and fear are being replaced by determination. I have stared into the abyss and refuse to be broken or defeated.
Government Public Information Officer
Self-care has taken on a new meaning for us in this era of COVID-19. Without our usual daily distractions and in-person relationships, the person you see in the mirror every day becomes your new best—or worst—friend.
With gyms closed and outdoor exercise limited in New York City, the lack of working out and easy access to the refrigerator have done little to help our waistlines. But mentally and spiritually, I hope that we are all taking stock of what it means to not only have a sound body, but a sound mind as well.
Several of our friends and associates have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms. Fortunately, they have all recovered. Others have lost loved ones either directly or indirectly. The mother of one friend died after she was unable to get timely medical treatment during the emergency. He was unable to visit her in the hospital in her final days due to the extra precautions being taken to prevent transmission.
Another friend lost a relative and they were only able to have a graveside service—no wake and no funeral. For our friends and family who went into this crisis already living with depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges we have made it a point to check in with them regularly. A handful of our closest friends are either out of work, have salary reductions, or are on furlough with an uncertain future.
We are both “huggers” so not being able to reach out and connect physically with others has been a real challenge. One of us is an introvert and the other is an extrovert, so social distancing has affected us in different ways. What strikes us most is how everyone avoids one another and barely gives a glance as you walk down the street. This social distancing is critical, of course, but it can be unnerving to experience the almost zombie-like way we are walking through the world.
Even in our own building we have had to steer clear of neighbors and not share elevators and communal spaces. We are fortunate to have a car and an outdoor terrace, and they have provided us with a way to get fresh air and feel like we are in public without all the dangers.
There are many people going through social isolation on their own and we know how fortunate we are to be together. After 13 years as a couple, we can share the same spaces in a healthy, harmonious, and supportive way.
We view this pandemic as a reset button. Our nation and world have lost their way over the last several years, and perhaps this is the wakeup call we all needed. It is our hope that we survive this crisis with a new sense of humanity. That the absence of connection has made us more appreciative of our connections. That the lack of empathy we have shown to those who don’t look or live like we do makes us more empathetic.
We hope that this unforgiving virus makes us more forgiving to others. When we get through this—and we will—we need love, compassion, empathy, and vulnerability to spread around the world as quickly as this virus did.
Visual Artist & Paralegal
At the beginning, I felt very lonely and was depressed a little bit because I live by myself. I used to work from 9am to 9pm and go to gym after work. I always had someone around me. I try talking to someone via Zoom or other apps when I feel lonely.
After working at home, I go out to walk for 30 minutes in my neighborhood. I sometimes discover new places in my neighborhood, which is fun. Now, I know how to keep my mind stable.
I am employed by a company, so I need to log into my PC at 9am every morning. I work from 9am to 5pm. After 5pm, I go for a walk or a run. I cook and eat a healthy dinner. At night, I paint or draw, which is my passion. In some way, my lifestyle changed to a very healthy and well-regulated one. And I watch Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings around noon every day.
The company I work for keeps paying salaries to employees because we can work from home. But we are assuming the coronavirus will give us a big impact on our finances. We are all worried about lay-offs or cuts. Some of my friends got laid-off for 90 days. They are applying for unemployment insurance.
I am devastated by the number of deaths. When I heard the news of this virus in China, I thought it was just some strong flu. I feel pain every day when I hear the number of deaths. One of my colleagues was infected by the virus. She had high fever like 103°F for two weeks and she lives by herself.
So, I went to drop some foods and drinks in front of her door, to avoid a face-to-face meeting. She said “Fever went down in the morning, but it went up evening, no taste and smell. It was much harder than the regular flu.” She recovered.
Trump stays in the background. I do not care about what Trump says because what he says always changes. Because of Cuomo’s briefings, I have never felt hopeless. He always gives us the facts and hope. We just need to move forward for our new life.
We are New Yorkers. We are tough.
CATHERINE “CAT” CARNES
(Volunteering from Broken Bow, Oklahoma)
With the state of the world, and now, being a nurse and dealing with COVID-19 in our communities and at work is exhausting. Oklahoma is not in crisis mode yet. I kept watching the news day after day and watching the nurses literally cry out for help in New York City. So, I put in my resignation and came here to New York to help my fellow nurses, and all the patients that we can that are sick with this virus. I couldn’t not come.
The love of my family and friends and the thankful people in this town keeps me going every day. Brooklyn is an amazing community. I am so glad I am here to help them. I really don’t have a routine, I just try to pace myself, stay calm, and keep a steady flow. I also take time to decompress and check myself in order to stay in a good place.
I live at home with my daughter who is now 21. We lost my husband of 20 years in December to cancer, so it was a hard decision to leave her. My daughter supports my decision, and we talk every day to touch base. I have a large family and when crisis hits, we all come together.
I have been an RN for five years now and love what I do. Nursing is truly for those with heart. If people are in it for the money, they will burn out and quit and I have seen it happen. We have our good days and our bad days, but those good days make it worth every tear we shed. I am a travel RN and I love it. I get to meet new people and I stay close to home so that I can come home when I am not working.
My friend Emily and I separated when we got to New York. This is Emily’s first travel assignment. We graduated together from the Eastern Oklahoma State College Nursing Program and started working at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa soon after. We have always been close and when I felt the call to head to New York City, I called her and said, “Let’s go.”
So, she signed up and here we are. When we got here, we found that we had been placed in two different facilities, which we did not receive well. But we got this, and we are going to do what we can to help in the ways we can.
As for travel nurses, they have more opportunities to work now, but at the same time it’s incredibly dangerous on so many levels. I know that by the end of it many will have PTSD from what they have seen and gone through.
I have been a travel nurse for years so in these times it has not changed as to being able to work or not. Before I left Tulsa, they were cutting our hours every week. So, I was not doing well financially before I left, it was tight making it through.
Many of my friends and family have lost their jobs and are struggling with no relief in sight. People really need to just stay home so we can get a handle on this virus. I can’t stress that enough.
I know several nurses who have contracted COVID-19. It is a terrible virus. Some hospitals were not taking correct precautions in the beginning and as a result there were doctors and nurses contracting COVID-19. In Oklahoma, some people now have a fear of nurses.
Last week in Oklahoma City, a man shot at a nurse in her scrubs at a gas station and blew out her windshield. Who does that? It’s become complete insanity!
What motivates me is that my patients need me and that I am here for them 100%! Someone must be there, no matter how ugly the situation becomes. Nurses and other healthcare workers are now frontline workers. I am so thankful for everyone out there working to help! Every night at 7pm, everyone in Brooklyn cheers for all the medical workers and it is a beautiful thing!
Some of the staff members are taking family members’ phones to the patients so that they can say goodbye to their loved ones. How do you say goodbye to your mother, your father, your wife of husband or child through a phone, knowing they are so near? I know that they are grateful for even that while their hearts are breaking. Sometimes we find comfort in unexpected ways.
I know that the Hispanic, poor, and undocumented communities are being decimated at this time here, especially young Hispanic males. There are currently two 54-feet freezer trucks parked outside the hospital because of the overwhelming amount of cases.
When there are funerals, how do you hold your family close when you need to stay six feet back or possibly infect your abuela with COVID-19?
I have always been an optimist and I can find light in the darkest places. Even through hard times I can crack a smile and make others laugh … when all we want to do is cry. So that is what I will continue to do.
I can walk down the street and find beauty in a flower growing by the sidewalk, or in a child’s laugh. Life is a beautiful thing and there is beauty in the world all around us. We need to remember what we have and give thanks for all of it and all of those around us that we love.
Maybe we can get to know ourselves better in these trying times. Maybe we can grow together and learn from all this hardship and pain. I pray that we will come out stronger and more united.
I am feeling generally well. Physically I am doing fine. A bit out of shape since I have stopped working out for about a month now. Mentally I am feeling well, though a bit drained because of the constant blows this pandemic has dealt to us and continues to do so.
Spiritually I am feeling well also. I guess if I had to really define my general well-being, I would say I am hanging in there, and so far I am doing a good job of it.
I have always been good at facing many of the issues that the pandemic and quarantine makes us confront. I have always been an introvert and more of a homebody, so staying in does not feel like torture.
I also keep in mind that people I grew up with have done time in prison, have been deported etc., I gain strength from the people I know and love that have gone through much worse situations on an individual basis. At the same time I don’t undermine what we are collectively going through with the quarantine.
I live with my family. My partner and I live upstairs, and my parents and brothers live downstairs. My father and one of my brothers work for the New York Department of Sanitation. This means they go out for work every day and this brings stress to my mother, who constantly worries for them. Also, my uncle (my mother’s, sister’s husband) passed away this weekend. This has of course affected my mom’s spirits.
What motivates me generally, are my ancestors. This has always been the case. I am also motivated by people who have shown great resilience during these times, such as those that walked out of the Amazon warehouse, in protest of the unsafe working conditions.
I feel different at different times. Sometimes I think quickly of how many lives this pandemic will inevitably (at this point) touch. I think about the people who I know, and those I don’t know, that are most vulnerable. These thoughts definitely keep me up at night.
The North Shore of Staten Island is home to many people that come from the same town in Mexico as my mom. I know that so far there are about five people that have lost their lives. It is frustrating to know that many of these people got the virus because they continued to work, due to necessity.
I feel that President Trump has not handled the matter well at all. He did not take precautions as early as he should have. I wonder if the Western world started caring more about the virus only once it reached an alarming level in European countries. That applies specifically to President Trump. As well as the racist way he has referred to the virus, calling it the “Chinese Virus.”
At the same time I think that the pandemic has showcased how ill-equipped our socio-economic and political system are. Like Tupac said, “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” Or, in this case, we can’t treat people because our system is set up in a way that prioritizes capital over humanity and health. The U.S. owns more military weapons than any other country on earth, but we have more prison beds than hospital beds.
We do not have enough nurses. The budget does not allow for the hiring of all the nurses we need. Instead every couple of years we have more police in communities of color.
When this first began, my partner was talking with her family and they were expressing that they were out of work and that they had not bought essential materials on time such as hand sanitizer, masks, Lysol. Both her parents and one of her siblings has diabetes. At the moment she did not notice, but it did make me feel completely hopeless. It brought extreme worry to my mind.
I get hope from my family and from what the future could potentially hold. There are many lessons that I hope we get out of this. Our heroes are everyday working-class people, many times people of color. From the nurses on the frontlines to the grocery workers that are working below minimum wage to facilitate our everyday access to food and essential products. I just hope though, that these heroes are valued at all levels coming out of this.
Community Engagement Coordinator for Stapleton NYCHA Houses
Neighborhood Safety Initiative / Center for Court Innovation
Every day is different. There are days when I’m overwhelmed by the news—the rising number of people and families whose lives are uprooted and lost because of this pandemic. And you are going to be affected because it’s happening here right in front of us. And every day the number of deaths in New York City gets larger, it’s climbing rapidly in the U.S., and globally.
I continue to watch the news because it is difficult not to. And it’s everywhere. It’s on your TV, on your phone, and throughout social media accounts. And it’s there when you speak with friends, family, and coworkers because everyone knows someone who has been infected with COVID-19.
Honestly, it’s hard to live this way. But a routine helps. From 10am to 6pm I work from home, and 3 days a week I work on school assignments. It sounds like a lot but being busy helps me cope.
Throughout my day I connect online with friends, family and coworkers. Sometimes we talk about when this nightmare will end, and we all grieve together, but then we talk about our plans to hang out and what we look forward to once it’s safe to hug one another.
I live with my mother, her husband, my brother, and sister. Being quarantined together isn’t always easy. We are fortunate that only two people in our household are currently not working, because of the pandemic. Over two weeks ago, I along with my brother were tested for the coronavirus.
My brother is a medical assistant at a pediatrics office in Staten Island, and there was a confirmation that someone there tested positive. My brother did not feel any of the symptoms, and neither did I, but we decided to get tested. He needed to get tested before he could return to work, and I asked to be tested once I drove him to the only drive-through testing site in Staten Island.
It has been two weeks and we have not received our test results. However, we took precautions, my brother self-isolated in his room, and I made sure to always wear gloves and a face mask when I left my home. It was difficult to have my brother self-isolate and constantly worry if he was infected and if he could get us infected.
And not getting an answer on his test results made the situation worse. However, after my brother’s two weeks of self-isolation, and not experiencing any symptoms, we decided it was safe for him to come out of self-isolation.
I am a community engagement coordinator for Stapleton NYCHA Houses with the Neighborhood Safety Initiative under the Center for Court Innovation. And I’m also an undergrad student of CUNY College of Staten Island in the social work program. Before my job relied on me working on the ground, organizing with a team of Stapleton residents and community-based organizations as well as city agencies to address concerns by residents of Stapleton Houses.
One of our last outdoor events was on March 5th, where we had heated tents throughout Stapleton Houses, at each tent we had a community organization providing resources on youth programming, health and emotional well-being, and education and career opportunities. Throughout the event we engaged residents to choose one project from five projects identified by residents, that the Stapleton Resident Team would execute by June 2020.
Within the Neighborhood Safety Initiative there are 15 community engagement coordinators, organizing within 15 NYCHA developments citywide with stakeholder teams consisting of residents and community partners.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in line with the community organizing that the Neighborhood Safety Initiative accomplishes, we are mobilizing to provide support to 150 families a week within our 15 NYCHA sites citywide. Support looks like, delivering care packages to families who have expressed a need as a result of coronavirus, and connecting families to neighboring resources.
Daily the team of 15 engagement coordinators, our operations team, supervisors and our director meet to discuss how we will support residents throughout our 15 sites. Now we are using our social media platforms, to share resources, and video tutorials from topics on self-care, cooking, and how to use social media.
The coronavirus pandemic has made us think on how to community organize via social media. In the past we would hold events, where we addressed a resident identified issue within our communities. Now, we are looking to share verified neighboring and citywide resources in response to COVID-19 and are holding video meetings with our resident teams.
Honestly, motivation is difficult. There are days when I feel emotionally and physically exhausted, and I am not motivated to do anything. Having a routine helps center me, but there are times when having a routine is not enough. When I find myself in a spiral, I’ll allow myself to feel sad, scared, and angry. And then I’ll take a deep breath, hold it, count to 4, and then release. And I’ll repeat a mantra “this is temporary.”
Brand Partnerships Coordinator
Youth Justice Coordinator
We get increasingly nervous, and admittedly even frustrated as well. It is a time where we have been channeling great frustration. Lots of folks our age and younger are really struggling with physical distancing. There has been quite a bit of active rebellion against these stay-at-home protocols.
Our Great-Uncle Curtis passed away last week. Admittedly, we only met him a handful of times. But our family was definitely really struck by this loss. He was diagnosed with the virus and in isolation at the time of his death.
We think the hardest thing to come out of all this is knowing that people are passing away without their loved ones allowed to be by their side. Even afterward, in death, families are having a hard time grieving, where we can’t even visit our surviving loved ones and be there for each other. It’s been heartbreaking to reconcile that our Uncle will not be able to have a proper funeral.
The Trump presidency is exhausting, honestly. A fundamental marker of his legacy will always be how inconsistent and inconsiderate he was. We think at the beginning he, like many of us, went on about our lives minimizing the impact of a very real problem emerging on the other side of the world.
We’re the United States. We have money, we have advanced technology, and we have other, more important things to worry about. Until we didn’t.
Trump needs to practice listening more. He ran on the platform that he wasn’t a career politician, or expert at many of the areas he signed up to lead. Unfortunately, that continues to cost us. He’s bitter against New York, his home state, for not accepting his hateful rhetoric.
So what does he do? He undermines New York’s needs for supplies, emergency funding, and personnel. This has been an all-around disaster for us—economically, educationally, spiritually. New York City now holds the title as being the epicenter of this virus. Trump’s lack of compassion is the bane of our existence right now.
It’s increasingly tough. This is an unprecedented time. We think we are starting to directly understand what “cabin fever” is. We never realized how much physical connection was intertwined with being “social.” To share and exchange energy. That is both a positive and negative thing, but something people all around me fundamentally miss. We have been germaphobes since before the pandemic, so distancing in the name of protecting public health is something we take seriously and intend to stick it out.
However, it’s been a real trial for folks, particularly testing the limits of people’s patience. We worry about the safety and well-being of abused children and adults. There has been an unfortunate uptick in domestic violence reports. On the one hand, thank God there are resources in place at a considerable scale to support people. Yet, the fact still remains that there is never a perfect formula to resolve all that citizens of the world endure.
Fortunately, we are still employed in this time, which allows us to continue to access resources and technology platforms. We have never been on Zoom, Google Hangout, IG, Google Duo, Slack, our phones in general … so consistently.
It’s actually kind of burning us out faster in a strange way. Connecting with people has never been more important and being creative about it sometimes proves difficult when someone doesn’t have the technology. But we do what we can. One of the greatest things to come out of this era have been virtual game nights. Those have been the times lately we laugh the loudest!
We haven’t reached a point of feeling complete hopelessness, thankfully. What we have experienced though is increased anxiety. There’s a lot of “end of the world” talk resurfacing and it feels very real. Every generation has a laundry list of world events and stories that have generated that feeling.
We think what makes things more concerning is how we as a technologically advanced society still have so many solvable problems. The American government thought its wealth and its ego could breeze past this virus hardly unscathed. Instead, we’ve learned on a mass scale how capitalism generates inequity and our economy is dependent on the very countries often made out to seem inferior or “Third World” to us.
Finding joy in the little things is really important right now. We are being more appreciative of the sun—light energy is healing energy. Music is also a very important fabric of our being. The Instagram live parties (shoutout to D-Nice, especially!) have been so soul lifting!
Also, we cannot fail to mention that still having our jobs is a real blessing. It is hard to conceptualize the heartbreak of not being able to contribute to work we enjoy doing, even in the midst of this crisis. We have been cooking almost every day. It’s also been really, really inspiring to hear stories around the world of the positive impacts this has had on climate change. We know that this is a temporary time, but it’s powerful to read and hear of. A real stride for climate justice efforts.
Having faith in the Lord as Christians is something that offers us peace, regardless of what crisis it is. We keep going because we have to. God created us to make meaningful contributions during our time in this world, and we intend to utilize our gifts to plant as much good as we can.
We finally have a porch and a stoop. Growing up in Staten Island and living there up until this February, we always wanted a piece of stoop culture. We can’t wait to have some good friends over and have a kickback on the stoop and be within 6 inches of each other. Roast some food, roast each other. We can’t wait to see people on the block again, and to hear the sound of music rather than the sound of ambulance sirens.
Hart Island (where unclaimed victims of the pandemic are being buried)
They are bringing the bodies in every day. Every day they come with the truck. I’m good. It’s just ten—it’s ten of us working. We all union. There’s ten of us union guys. I mean, it didn’t bother me ‘cause I seen a lot being in these streets long enough, you know, so yeah. But some dudes walked off the job, like it was this morning.
We work every day of the week. Oh, they eight-hour shifts right now. We got a little area where we stay at, like so we don’t have to be exposed to the outside and stuff like when we’re waiting for the truck to come in.
A lot of people was thinking that the bodies are being mistreated and stuff like that. So I had to reassure people that it wasn’t happening like that. ‘Cause people thought the bodies was just coming in in body bags and just getting thrown in the hole, but it’s not like that. So they come in the coffins. Their names on it, the date of death and the boxes is marked. They coming off a truck but we’re not being told where it is they coming from. Yeah, they could be coming from anywhere. We don’t get to see that.
But see, a lot of people don’t know this, that it’s Hart Island and don’t recognize it because the people that know from like years ago, they would always consider it as Potter’s Field. I guess to blemish it out so nobody catch notice of what, you know, was going on because they was questioning the mayor and the mayor didn’t know what really to do at the time with the bodies and stuff like that.
But they figured out they don’t have nowhere to house them. They’ll bring ’em there and then if the family claims them—because there’s a lot of red tape with that also ‘cause you’ve got a family member that’s in the hospital, they’re not letting you go in there. Sometimes you might call the hospital and they tell you that individual’s not there, but they so backed up that a person could actually be in the hospital.
And they said that a lot of bodies were coming through but they don’t have enough manpower like to process the paperwork and stuff like that. It’s so backed up because the way people are dying. And you got boxes that’s coming through that’s just saying John Doe on ’em. You got homeless people they bringing in, too. You could probably have illegal immigrants also that’s coming through.
Like if you look in the newspaper and they have it on video from the New York Post, we can see basically how they bringing the bodies and how—’cause they show the video how the bodies is being placed in the grave and everything, so you can work off that also, you know what I’m saying?
Hart Island got bodies there from the Civil War. And even bodies of people that had AIDS. They have a whole section of people that had AIDS that they buried over there also. They got different areas where they’re burying the bodies at. I guess probably to like let’s say the families wanted to locate the bodies and they have a certain section where they could go, because every area is marked off.
But all I do is like when I’m in there, I just look for names to see if there’s anybody I know coming through there. ‘Cause I know a few people that passed away. Close to like 20 people I know already passed away from this. A lot of dead that’s coming in is Black and Latino males, as many as I seen so far. They’re saying the males is catching it more than the females, ‘cause you know the males are coming outside. The females are scared; they don’t really come outside like that.
And they wear masks and stuff like that. Well I seen one Asian come through yesterday.
I’ll say ‘bout the Jewish—I know about the Jewish people they gonna snatch up they people. They can’t bury the Jewish people with—especially they Hassidic—you can’t bury Jewish people like in something like that, you know? Because if you was gonna probably claim ’em because they actually knew ’em because of religious purposes they probably gonna bury them with they own. But from what I saw, I ain’t seen no Jewish. I seen a Polish. The Polish person or Russian persons they come there but majority is Black and Latino males.
Just because a person’s dead it don’t mean they don’t have family. They just they need to store people there because of the fact that the majority of the morgues is backed up, the hospitals are backed up with bodies. They got areas in the hospitals where they have refrigerated trucks where they have bodies in there waiting to move ’em out all away from the hospital because they have no room to put ’em.
The only thing I would do like when I come home, I would just take a drink and smoke a cigar. Like for some reason it doesn’t bother—it bothers me to a certain extent, but it don’t really bother ‘cause I know why they’re there and they’re not being basically being disrespected or nothing like that. We placing a body how they s’posed to be placed and that’s it.
Like everybody wants to know because everybody want to know what they doing with those bodies. They know everybody’s dying, so where’re the bodies going to? Because people was being told that the bodies are being cremated.
Production Designer for Film and Theatre
I am doing quite well mentally, spiritually, and physically. More than ever before, I’m able to keep my focus in the present moment. Reading or watching too much news or letting myself ruminate about the future sends me into a panic and then it’s super hard to reel myself back. I love solitude, so the alone time doesn’t bother me.
It is so clear that my job now is to be strong and to mine even more strength from places unknown, reduce stressors and keep an inner steady state. It’s hard to imagine it won’t always be like this but it’s true, we will get through this and we will keep bringing on this brave and kinder world.
It is true that the meek are inheriting—the introverted and closeted of us are speaking up and out. The last thing left in Pandora’s box was Hope and so no matter what rages in the world or in our minds, there is always Hope.
My meditation path has a tradition of meditation and chanting retreats and this COVID-19 time reminds me of our retreats. All outer practices have a chance to come home and roost. Sailors mending their nets and all that. If I can’t visit the meditation hall, I can allow the meditation hall to take up residence inside of me.
Going anywhere outside of my apartment is just super stressful, even just getting the mail. There are so many people who are still completely clueless about keeping themselves and others safe, so I am also doing my laundry in the bathtub.
I have a pre-existing condition and must be super careful. I’ve had a sore throat for two weeks, no fever and staying well with ginger, turmeric and garlic concoctions. I am eating better than I have in a very long time and am taking care of the piled-up home projects. My home and my heart feel lighter.
I don’t know how to say this well because so many are suffering now, but what keeps me going is my belief that somehow this tragedy is bringing about something glorious for us as a planet and people. We can see how the skies and rivers are clearing and experience the incredible surge of creativity in homes and online and the willingness to share life with one another.
What keeps me going is the 7pm nightly cheering for the healthcare and essential workers. My block is wonderfully loud and vocal—applause, thank yous, horns, drums, pots and pans—and you can hear it echoing from around the rest of the city. There are so many more birds and I’m spending more time than ever at my window, watching spring do its thing from nine floors up.
What keeps me going is how lucky I am to be able to stay home and I worry endlessly about everyone who can’t. Checking in and being in closer touch with friends, family and acquaintances, the people who work in my building. Anything I can say here has already been said more articulately, and to know that so many people are feeling what I am is reassuring and limit breaking. I feel braver.
What keeps me going is volunteering for AOC’s phone banks and making sure her constituents—who are in the hardest hit parts of the city–know about the food assistance and other resources available and to just chat. It’s small but lets me travel and connect with people outside of my little ninth-floor and helps quell the helpless feelings.
I work as a production designer in film and theatre. I had just begun design on a new project when my industry completely shut down—you could hear the echoing of heavy doors shutting, one after the other. There is still development going on and I’ve read two scripts in the past couple of weeks.
Everyone is asking: How do we go back into production again, safely? What will that look like? We are always crawling into small spaces to prep and shoot and up in each other’s faces … so what will this look like?
As a freelance artist and designer, I’m familiar with the uncertainty with my sources of income. Not that it ever gets easier but over time I’ve learned to reduce this stress by staying mentally flexible, enjoying the off-time and reminding myself that there will be a time soon enough when I am so over-busy that I will long for this off time.
For now, my paid work is on pause. I can float myself for a time and am in the middle of the unemployment benefits, grants and possibly the personal loan applications. I know it’s all going to take time so I’m grateful to be ok for now.
My bones know that it is my job to keep mining strength—mental, emotional and physical—and find ways to share and inspire that in others. Somehow amid this global terror, we must hold onto our spirit, hold onto that place of joy inside that is untouchable.
I keep thinking of this graffiti I saw after the Twin Towers fell that said: I WILL NOT BE TERRORIZED. I love this because it speaks of choice, of how to respond inside and of maintaining strength.
It is super easy to slip into despair and frozen terror. Family and friends are there to remind and help me back out of it. We are all reading the same terrifying news so there is no point in rehashing that … the feeds and news engines will do that for us. The question to focus on is how to maintain equilibrium amid this chaos and how can I be of service.
I feel shock and that bottomless, bottomless sadness. Sadness for the loss of love ones, for the hole I feel, for the rip in the fabric of the known world. Both my parents died recently. They were elderly but vital and were each taken out by a bacterial infection. So I’ve been kind of obsessed with death since and this time of COVID-19 brings it all back—living with death’s breath on your shoulder.
In his final months, my Dad was very curious about death and what he and others thought “about their impending demise,” as he put it. He would say: “None of us gets out of here alive.” It is so funny and so true. How can we live beautifully even while experiencing this? Because now especially it feels like death could come at any time, all my choices matter.
What do I choose for my last conversation … my last writing … my last drawing … my last post … my last thought to be? Where do I choose to hold my focus? Despair is not an option.
Everyone I know that has the virus has recovered or is recovering. Other friends have lost someone dear to them, so it is once removed for me. I wish I could be of help with my arms and legs. When I was a kid, I had this belief about myself that I could not get sick and would visit my friends when they were sick. Read to them. Give them orange juice.
I never did get sick and I still have this compulsion to go help. Move boxes. Convey supplies. I have a preexisting condition that puts me in the stay-home category. So, the only place left to go is inside and reach out by phone and online.
The president’s a f______ idiot. He’s a Hitler and a terrorist. It’s been a complete mishandling. I don’t have anything constructive to say about him.
We are all so afraid of one another. Some I see are just still completely unaware and not taking care. Either way it’s frightening. I love solitude and am grateful for the time to focus inside, but I wonder I will be able to move about in the world again.
It’s so easy to fall into despair and ruminate over the terror. I worry incessantly for my kids—afraid this will crush their spirits. I worry for the people who are working and make it possible for me to stay home. The inequality of it enrages me even as I benefit from it. This inner conflict feels almost impossible to navigate. And yet focusing on what I can do, on my strength and joy and looking for that in others somehow loosens this noose.
Connecting with friends—old and new—and connecting inside all bring great joy. I never really enjoyed cooking and now I only cook for myself. So, this brings joy.
What gives me hope is that we—the world—are truly in this together. I’ve always known that everyone in the world are parts of a whole, but we can really experience this concretely because of the virus. I’m no longer worried that I’m the only weirdo seeing and feeling these things. Nor do I care any longer even if I were!
Wherever we are in the world, we all gaze at the same photos of overwrought nurses and doctors, of mass graves. We hear the same news and terrifying numbers. When we lift our eyes from the horror, how do we lift each other up?
Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, public speaker, civil and human rights activist, filmmaker, and the author of 14 books, including his autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. His 15th book will be a biography of Tupac Shakur.
Kay Hickman is a New York based documentary photographer. With an inquisitive eye, she offers a unique and empathetic perspective into the everyday lives of the people she photographs. (www.kayhickman.com| IG: @khickmanphotography | T: kayHickman15)