The COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd has caused a lot of trauma for the Benton Harbor population.
“We have been in survival mode for the past three months with COVID-19, then you add on top that the murder of George Floyd. We’re already on edge, already disproportionately impacted by this virus, and all of that together is the storm of something that becomes undeniable,” said Tasha Turner, program director for Trauma Informed Initiatives at Spectrum Health Lakeland.
Turner was part of a virtual Community Grand Rounds panel discussion Thursday night about how COVID-19 and the racial injustice protests stemming from the death of George Floyd have impacted Benton Harbor. The whole discussion can be watched at www.facebook.com/communitygrandrounds.
One of the topics the panel discussed was people of color going through such a tough time with COVID-19 and not being able to be with friends and family.
Maurice McAffee, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, said it’s been hard to explain to people, for example, that they can only have 10 people at their loved one’s funeral.
“When you come from the African American community, a first cousin is a brother,” he said. “Saying to a first cousin you can’t come to a funeral is like telling a brother or sister they’re not invited.”
Turner, who is African American and Latina, said that people of color are very communal people.
“We do everything in community. One of the ways we overcome adversity is through community. We break bread together as part of that healing,” she said. “That’s not to say other cultures don’t, but just to understand how deep that is for us, when it’s taken away, you have to understand you’re now being asked to not participate in part of your culture. Something that makes you, you, and it’s almost intolerable.”
McAffee said death is handled very intimately too, and not having the intimacy with one’s pastor, has caused a mental burden on many.
“And on top of that you start to see the anger coming in because you don’t get to process the normal width of grief,” he said.
Turner and McAffee talked about how people who are traumatized, like by having to stay home for three months or by losing loved ones to a pandemic, don’t always react to situations like they should.
“We have to understand when people might have caution fatigue, and speak to them from our hearts,” Turner said.
Turner, a licensed professional counselor, said mental health has had a stigma in the black community, but it is being discussed so much more now, in part because of the pandemic. Community Grand Rounds is even hosting a series of events talking about the topic over the next month.
Turner said in all the bad, it’s about finding the good. She said she sometimes finds herself sitting outside and noticing her own breath.
“And being thankful in this moment that I have breath. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five minutes and what happened 10 minutes doesn’t matter. It’s about this moment and staying grounded in the present,” Turner said. “That small moment can be huge.”
Kyna King, family programs supervisor at the Berrien County Health Department, was part of the conversation as well.
She called COVID-19 a pandemic on top of a pandemic – racism.
“We lived this every single day before COVID-19 and during COVID-19. This is the reality of our lives,” King said. “We have to start looking at the systems, the policies and practices that continue to allow behaviors like (police brutality) to exist.”
Turner said society got to a point where people were trying to deny that racism exists.
“But really it just went more covert and is imbedded into our systems,” she said. “Now black people are fed up and they’re tired of dying.”
Diane Young, the Business Resource Network success coach at Michigan Works, said during the panel that marches and protests won’t matter if people don’t vote – that’s where laws, and the system, can be changed.
King ended the discussion with a quote from James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”