Ayanna T. Eggleston
Family Center for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs – Lansing, Michigan
In March, Michigan quarantined. We all went into our homes to sit down and await further instructions on what life would be for Michigan’s families. In Lansing, I watched as white Americans stormed the Capital, guns in hand demanding their rights. I sat astonished at the boldness in brandishing weapons on state property without consequence and very little critique. I felt sadness as my 23-year-old son expressed, “We could never do that, we would be shot dead”. His acknowledgment of knowing we were different frazzled me. I listened as people fought being made to stay inside, punished as they said, for “those people who were dying in other parts of Michigan”. As people publicly make accusations of ‘those people not caring for their health’ as reasons they were dying. Meanwhile, I made phone calls, checking on family because most of my family lived ‘where those people who were dying in other parts of Michigan’ lived.
I prayed for those who grieved the loss of family who lived in ‘those other parts of Michigan’. I watched as this virus ravished my community. I prayed for family and friends who contracted the virus and had to fight. A fight much different than those fighting to come outside. The fight to deal with disparities that have plagued my community for years, disparities now brought to the forefront for the world to see! Is this not a public health crisis?
During quarantine, I watched as a white woman weaponized a bird watcher’s color against him. While people stood still enough to think through the ramifications of these actions. I fully understood the implication of ‘I’m going to tell them a black man is threatening me’. The stress of everyday living while black. It was one of several incidents where people who look like me are threatened for existing, followed for existing, questioned for existing…killed for existing. Is this not a public health crisis?
During quarantine, George Floyd is murdered on a street in the middle of the day, by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. Kneeling as casual as if it was just a normal Monday. “I can’t breathe”, a repeated sentiment heard throughout my community, painful as stitches being ripped out of an unhealed gaping wound. I awaited the stories that would surface that would somehow validate the killing. I have normalized the post-traumatic stress of watching killing after killing to the point that my first initial reaction was numbness. Is this not a public health crisis?
During quarantine, all my identities collided. I am a black woman, a mom of an adult son with mental health challenges, a family leader, a Christian, and an American.
As a black woman, Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot while asleep by police, was another realization that this is not just an endangered black male issue. Although I do recognize that for black men, the danger of living in black skin is heightened, I am not exempt from that danger.
As a black mom, my son’s untreated mental health challenges increased tremendously during this quarantine. Being on lockdown with him was very exhausting and at times volatile. I, however, felt trapped between calling for helping and risking the possibility of hearing him scream, ‘I can’t breathe’ or allowing him to destroy my property and me being confined to my room. I chose confinement. Although unsure of my safety, I feared for his safety more. In reference to treatment for his mental health, treatment has been shown to have disparities within itself.
As a black family leader, I watched several families of all races face uncertainty. I spoke to a mother with a child with Sickle Cell and was disheartened. I wasn’t disheartened due to the diagnosis. I work with families with a wide array of diagnoses. I was disheartened because although this is a diagnosis found predominately in the black community, this is not a rare diagnosis, yet resource-wise it presented the same way as when I am looking for resources for parents who have children with a rare diagnosis. It made me think of all the disparities I have seen in so many areas of care for black children throughout my lifetime.
As a black Christian, my spiritual support system increased as those of other races, a support system who, in previous times had been quiet, were enlightened to the state of emergency within my community. The public health crisis surrounding the black community had risen to a point that denial would be immoral…yet, still some deny.
As a black American, I wonder, will I ever be American enough to feel safe, to feel cared for? Will there be a time when people see their biases, the injustices, the systemic barriers of racism within systems? Will there ever be a time when my beautiful brownness is not weaponized? Will I ever be able to storm a building to demand my liberties? Will there ever be a time when I know confidently that I will be provided equal guarantees to access quality care or just to make it home from a traffic stop? Equal access to normal human stress without the addition of the burden of proof that my life is worth valuing?
Racism affects every aspect of my life. Every aspect of my identity. It is stressful to think through every scenario to ensure that you are perceived as not a threat, smart enough, eloquent enough, educated enough, perceptive enough, resourceful enough …enough, enough. It is a tensed muscle that can never be relaxed. It is generational exhaustion passed from one generation to the next.
They say that stress kills. If that is the case, we die slowly, daily…Is that not a public health crisis?
2020 exposed a public health crisis much bigger than COVID19. It also brought glimmers of hope and opportunities for change. 2020 highlighted that disparities and racism don’t end for the black community when we enter our homes and shut our doors.