The ‘days of our lives’ (don’t worry some of us “millennials” know all about this…..shoutout to our grandparents!) during this pandemic have been quite the mix of emotions. Many of us were planning celebrations, travel, new purchases, summer outfits for brunch, etc., but it was all interrupted when we all were asked to “stay at home” or “shelter in place.” Some of us were relieved to finally be able to slow down our busy lives, but it hasn’t been like that for everyone. As if our lives weren’t already impacted enough by disparities, adding a pandemic that is spreading across the globe, definitely has some of us not knowing if we’re coming or going!
It was important to check in with some of our My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) chapter leaders to gauge the impact of the pandemic on their experiences as HBCU students. I hosted a virtual discussion with the President and Vice President of the Howard University MSK chapter – Eliana Mills and Nyasia Davis, President of Morgan State University MSK chapter – Reality Anderson, and President of Spelman College MSK chapter – Antonia Izuogu. For the icebreaker, I asked them to share one word that describes their current mood. I heard anxious, relaxed, content, and unmotivated. These words describe how many of us have been impacted by the pandemic as the days go on, despite if the cup is half empty or half full. Many of us know by now that when asking someone how are they feeling, you’ll typically get the real answer after the second time. So as a part of our check-in, I asked the group how they were really feeling. The consensus was trying to remain motivated and productive while home and in close proximity to their couches and beds.
I’m sure by now most of us have seen posts circulating on social media that say things like: “If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, business, etc., then you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” I asked the group to weigh in on this and Nyasia “lowkey hates that post” and Reality “feels attacked!” I saw a tweet some time ago that also sums up my sentiment. Everyone will use this time according to how they see fit. There’s no one way to deal with a global pandemic.
After some laughs about these crazy expectations, we discussed how the pandemic has impacted their spring semester. Fortunately, none of the ladies has contracted the COVID-19, and neither had anyone in their immediate family households. However, we all know someone who knows someone, who has either contracted the COVID-19 or lost a loved one as a result of it. We now know the numbers and how this virus has disproportionately impacted communities of color, so the degree of separation lessens by the day. Here’s a bit about each of the MSK leaders as part of this discussion.
Antonia Izuogu – Spelman College
Antonia lives in campus housing but in the midst of her spring break, she was asked to come back to campus to pack up her room. Within half a day she packed up her room and went back to North Carolina with her family. Her mom is a teacher so Antonia wakes up to little kids early in the morning when she’s trying to sleep in. Since her dad is an essential worker and she has asthma, they’re being cautious and taking measures as a family to stay safe.
Eliana Mills – Howard University
Eliana is a commuter student who travels about 30 miles from Baltimore to DC for classes on campus. The upside to having in person classes cancelled, she’s now saving gas money. However, she does prefer being on campus in class versus online especially because she takes advantage of office hours for her more rigorous courses such as chemistry. She is planning to attend medical school and this summer was supposed to be her time to do an internship but those programs have been cancelled. Her mom owns a hair salon and her business has suffered greatly because she’s not able to file for unemployment and can only service essential workers one at a time.
Nyasia Davis – Howard University
Nyasia lives off campus but has now relocated from DC to Atlanta with her parents. She shared that at first virtual learning for her was challenging because of the capabilities of her professors who were not tech-savvy. Nyasia was also at the forefront of a student protest on her campus in response to the university’s lack of transparency about student housing.
Reality Anderson – Morgan State University
Reality lives in off campus housing as a Residence Assistant. Although she is originally from Chicago, she is staying in Baltimore during this pandemic. She too was impacted by virtual learning since her major requires more hands on learning. As a student leader of the royal court, her reign as Miss Junior was cut short. However, Reality jumped into action to lead a virtual campaign for the Ms. Morgan State University title in which she was successful!
The impact on universities and students during this time was significant, especially HBCUs. In the midst of the unknown, all the students wanted was transparency and adequate assistance. These student leaders believed that their universities did a great job in responding to this crisis. The universities have begun communicating with students about the CARES Act and how it will support college students during this time.
With all that is going on, I asked the students what things they’ve been doing to stay mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually grounded. Naturally social media usage has increased, and I’m sure all of our screen time reports reflect this. The use of streaming apps such as Hulu and Netflix has increased too. Antonia has been reading devotionals and listening to sermons in the morning, buying candles and trying new scents, and going on family walks. Eliana has been working to focus more on her mental and spiritual health by doing spiritual cleansings once a week. Nyasia has been meditating, doing yoga, burning incense, going for walks and reading. Reality has been building relationships with her co-workers while trying to be more productive. They also shared some ways to stay connected with family and friends by having group FaceTime calls, joining apps such as HouseParty, and sharing entertaining videos from TikTok.
It is evident that even during a global pandemic, raising awareness and advocating for the health and wellness of the nation’s Black women and girls is imperative. These young advocates are still having conversations and discussing the importance of taking care of your health. We began the conversation at Spelman College late last year about addressing menstrual product insecurities and dispelling the stigma that is associated with menstruation. Last month, BWHI participated in a drive-up giveaway event in Atlanta distributing menstrual cups. The Howard University MSK chapter made a video on their social media page discussing the impact of COVID-19 in the Black community. Also, the Morgan State University MSK chapter hosted a virtual event, MSK Goes Denim on April 29th to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault.
We ended our lively discussion with affirmations. I asked each of the students to share a positive statement that reflects what has been keeping them grounded during this time. As we shared these encouraging statements with each other, we also knew they would be encouraging to other women during this time. Here are our affirmations.
Zsanai – “It’s okay not to do anything”
Antonia – “Give yourself time”
Reality – “You are enough”
Nyasia – “Relax, everything has happened for a reason, just continue to stay motivated, and continue to be productive in things that will pay off in the future”
Eliana – “Take a step back and unravel everything and allow yourself to reflect, focus on self.”
In the words of the great Maya Angelou, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”