As Hurricane Katrina unearthed the vulnerabilities of New Orleans’ working poor, COVID-19 has similarly revealed the cracks within the United States’ system, especially at this time when our society expects more from those who often have the least resources and little or no safety net.
While many people in the United States have adopted behaviors to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the past seven months, our dependence on certain sectors of the workforce to keep ALL people in the United States well has become increasingly clear. The bare bones approach to everyday activities has made us come to realize how much we rely on grocery store workers, transportation providers, people who care for children and the elderly, medical and safety personnel and others, a majority of whom are African American and “their family’s primary income earners.”
Stress on these workers mounts daily—from the pressure of providing for the family, concerns of finding and affording safe child care when schools and daycare centers are closed and the chronic worry of remaining protected, while relying on public transportation to go to work often in settings with groups of people or the public at large. The stress is magnified as months of cautious behavior has caused us to limit our human interactions, and, therefore, has greatly reduced the number of opportunities to simply tell the story of what we are going through.
A new approach being taken by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine creates an outlet for these stories not only be told but to be captured so that the experiences may potentially benefit others.
As referenced in this page’s overview, Dr. McTigue, associate professor of medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine, explains, “Telling stories empowers people and helps them understand that their voices can be heard. My hope is that if we use community members’ stories as entries to conversations between them and researchers, it will help to establish a level of trust in a relationship that can move forward and be productive. Patients have such powerful lived experiences. Researchers have technical and literature-based experiences. When you put them together, there’s wonderful potential for learning new things. We’re hoping that storytelling can help form these relationships.”
To people making their way through these challenging days, I urge you to consider participating in Pitt’s Story Booth project. It will do you a world of good to just simply talk about these past months. Your sharing of what you are going through, how you are coping and what you are feeling might be the key to the development of more meaningful assistance for others in similar situations. At a time when people can most benefit from telling exactly what they are going through and feeling, having those stories heard by researchers might also benefit our entire community—a rare win-win opportunity during these very trying times.
Take charge and take care.
Yours in the Movement,
Esther L. Bush, President
Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh