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Episode Transcript: Black Carolinians tell their pandemic stories

Leoneda Inge
This is Tested from WUNC, a look at how we're responding to the day's challenges in North Carolina and the South. I'm Leoneda Inge.

If there is one thing that has become clearly evident during this coronavirus pandemic, Black and Brown people have been hit especially hard. According to organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation, we have suffered a disproportionately higher rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths and still had to go to work through it all. I'm proud to say I was there to document the highs and the lows over the past two years.

Speaker 1:
Um, there was some hesitation but I think it easily kind of just went away when I understood that it was just going to be something I had to do in order to get back to some type of normalcy.

Speaker 2:
We've done plays on HIV AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and now we're dealing with this tough topic of COVID.

Speaker 3:
So I think she want to get in there and gut and renovate mine’s to get more money. But the way she’s doing it, to tell me just to get out and throw me to the curb is not right! It’s not right.

[Sound of group singing "We Shall Not Be Moved"]

Leoneda Inge:
Tested has been busy collecting the voices of the under-represented. Now there’s a new project underway to help us out. It’s called – “Black Carolinians Speak: Portraits of a Pandemic.” You see, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and The State Archives of North Carolina are collecting Black voices, art, letters – anything that captures the experiences of Black Carolinians during this time in history.

So, call your neighbors, family and friends – reach out to bus drivers, barbers and farmers to tell their story.

One person I would like to see in the state archives is former Congresswoman Eva Clayton. She was the first African American in North Carolina to serve in Congress since Reconstruction. Today she lives in Warren County, which has been her home for more than 50 years.

Eva Clayton:
My current title, I’m a proud grandmother and a mother. But I have had several opportunities in my life. I have been a congresswoman. I have been that chair of the county commissioners. And after I left congress I had the opportunity to go to Rome, Italy and I had an ambassador status.

Leoneda Inge
Clayton served as Assistant Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, F-A-O. Today, at 87-years-old, she still speaks out in support of rural development, food and agriculture and health care – especially during this pandemic.

Eva Clayton:
I think the pandemic has given us as a community, maybe me as an individual, time to be more reflective. The pandemic sometimes gives me isolation from people, I’m a people person. But it has also opened my eyes and hopefully the community’s eyes as some of the lack of health care. The lack of access in rural areas. The pandemic has affected all of us all over the world, but in rural areas more because you didn’t have access to hospitals. Had to move around. It’s like putting trouble on top of trouble, you know. It’s like having a poor foundation and a tornado comes down, you know all the houses were built on a sham, right. So it reinforces your requirement to have better structures, right. So I think the pandemic in some ways, been an eye opener. It certainly has been painful.

Leoneda Inge:
Yes, there has been a lot of pain during these past two years. But there has also been fight and love. And those stories are being collected.

Angela Thorpe:
When in 100 years, people are trying to explore, what was it like for Black people in North Carolina during this time, they have a place to go and an abundance of records and materials to pull from.

Leoneda Inge:
Angela Thorpe is director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Angela Thorpe:
Leoneda, I'm a historian, right. And so, when I am doing research in the archives, I want to understand what Black people's lives were like, at any given point, or time. And that is why we are doing this work. This time has been so fraught, nobody could have imagined a pandemic, nobody could have imagined living through a racial uprising during a pandemic. Nobody could have imagined all of the dominoes that fell during the pandemic, especially for Black people, the ways in which their day to day lives and Black communities have been affected and shaped and turned upside down since the beginning of 2020.

Leoneda Inge:
Tell me about the people you want to participate because sometimes not everyone feels their voice is worthy. You know, like, for example, you know, I spent some time speaking with former Congresswoman Eva Clayton, I was like, man, I think her voice should be in this archive. But you know, I also want my hairdressers voice in this archive. So tell me about some of the voices you hope, participate in this. And maybe some people who've already turned their items in

Angela Thorpe:
Leoneda, we want everybody to participate in this. You know, we're really interested in hearing from health care workers, frontline workers... Were you driving a bus during the pandemic? Were you working in a grocery store? Were you a waiter or a waitress? What was that like for you? I am really interested in hearing about how our young people's lives were changed in shape. Again, during the pandemic, what was it like having to do virtual school? How did you process through what you were seeing in the news and the media? Again, what were you posting on social media? These are some of the stories that we're hoping to pick up from from people who really span a range of experiences.

We are taught to interrogate the archives, right? And oftentimes, we're frustrated by what's not there, what voices aren't there, voices aren't represented. And so this is me, asking you to make sure that your voices are represented. This is an opportunity for us to be on the record, like we've never been on the record before.

Leoneda Inge
Angela Thorpe is Director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. You can learn how to make your submission to “Black Carolinians Speak” by going to a-a-h-c-dot-n-c-dot-gov

Leoneda Inge:
And then there’s your local pharmacy, which has been credited with bridging the COVID information gap and giving vaccinations. Now that’s a voice I think should be in the state archives.

Maneuvering where to get tested, vaccinated and boosted hasn’t been easy for many people of color. It usually takes savvy tech skills or in some cases, you have to personally know somebody who can help.

Dr. Darius Russell:
I am Dr. Darius Russell. I am the Pharmacy Manager and Owner of Russell’s Pharmacy and Shoppe.

Leoneda Inge:
Hopefully you have a lot of friends in the neighborhood and people that come by on a regular basis. How do you keep a smile under that mask to make sure everyone is taken care of?

Dr. Darius Russell:
Well, I think think it encourages me and encourages us to see people. We try to build family here. We have a little lounge area, a couch, we’ve got the Jazz music going on in the background. We have coffee, tea and cocoa that’s complimentary. We try to do a lot of different things to build family, and so we’re hoping that, through that that people feel like they can come here, know us, and love us as we love them.

Leoneda Inge:
Russell is 48-years-old. He opened the pharmacy in 2018. It almost didn’t survive as a small business during the early months of the pandemic. But he says “it takes a village” and his village came through. Russell says they have been able to “jab” tens of thousands of arms with flu and COVID vaccine because of community support.
That’s it for this episode of Tested. Charlie Shelton-Ormond and Anisa Khalifa are the producers. Dave DeWitt, is the editor. I’m Leoneda Inge. Thanks for listening.