The past 2 days, I have been co-organizing one of the most significant workshops on pandemics. There were 12 panelists, 4 anchor speakers, all charged to answer one question: how might we prepare the future for pandemics. We spoke about the need to focus on culture, group identity, health behaviors, equity, information, misinformation and communication and last but not least, sustainability or how to keep the memories of pandemics overtime. Since the pandemic began last year, I knew I was hungry for a space. Not envying the work of frontline workers, I felt like the voices of other equally significant workers were absent.
Of course the medical field sprung right into action and rightfully so. They have been heavily funded over the years, such that preparations were all they know whether with pandemics or even epidemics. Yet even still, I felt that the voices of others were not being heard. Voices that could have had dialogues, or even polylogues around mask wearing for example. Voices that would have taught what washing hands entails, not just for even adults, nit only for children, but for all of us to live through the pandemic. Voices of diverse people, people who identify with other groups in the US, for example, like the Nigerian American associations that are often common. Voices of everyday citizen with clear and understandable language that wasn’t focused on effect sizes or even the difference between effectiveness versus efficacy. Above all, I knew that voices of the storytellers were no where to be found. From February 26-March 26, we recorded the first 1,000 deaths due to Covid in the US. I remember the front of the Washington Post Newspaper with the thumbnail pictures of the dead. I remember being afraid, wondering whether this thing would even reach my home. These memories haunted me, kept me up at night, kept me glued to the TV, to the news of the dead, to the news of the living, especially those defied all odds just to live. It would take an entire year before I would feel like I have found my space with pandemics. Not because I didn’t start and stop, not one or 2 research ideas, many that never came to fruition, but because I didn’t think anyone cared.
The past 2 days have made me realize that the time for the storytellers of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has arrived. Like Achebe shared in the Anthills of the Savannah, there are those who go have been called to lead with the pandemic. We thank them for their leadership. Many more were called to serve. They did so fearlessly, without even regard to their own lives. Then there are those who are called to wait. I am one of them. I have been waiting for the right moment so we take over from the leaders and the servants. Achebe would note that the leaders are important, the servants too. But it is those who wait, that are most crucial as they stories they are bound to tell about this pandemic would be our escort to future pandemic without which we are blind. They past 2 days of meeting helped to make sense of my role. And it’s quite simple, one that I hope you will join me as I keep telling stories from the COVID19 pandemic.
So I close with this quote by James Baldwin, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.’ The forgotten pandemic of 1918, the one with glaring omission of how black families survived or didn’t, the one with shockingly limited accounts of black nurses and the many ways they adapted to save lives of black people, the one out of touch, destitute, wicked, blind to the lived experiences of black people, has etched priorities that I can’t wait to begin. We cannot forget all that has happened during the coronavirus pandemic. So I take it very seriously when another death is added to the toll, when and how schools reopen, how we make sense of the fact that the virus is in the air like one of our presenters Kimberly Prather kept reminding us today. I take it seriously that my own mentor passed away as a result of the pandemic. The past 2 days has etched priorities that underscores the seriousness of this pandemic so we don’t get another amnesia, another forgotten pandemic. I am prepared to do the work necessary and I hope you keep storytellers in mind. Nothing will be changed with future pandemics, if we don’t begin to document the stories from this pandemic.