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Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes
May 29 · 4 min read

JUST A REMINDER: We’re Still in a Pandemic

A reflection on the Minneapolis protests: A love letter to my people

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Photo Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

It’s 3:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep not because my people are protesting…I can’t sleep because my people are protesting in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s 2020 and here we are. African Americans have been three times more impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Over the past three months we have been social distancing, staying six feet away from one another, working from home (for those who can), worshipping from our homes and more. We’ve been following what the scientists, public health professionals, governmental officials, and medical doctors have told us to do. We have been sheltering in place. We’ve held funerals and weddings over zoom. We’ve had graduation parties and church services over facebook live. We’ve been sheltering in place. For three months, we’ve been working hard to keep our people safe. For three months we have tried to attend to the needs of those who are immunocompromised, our elderly, our essential workers, and our most vulnerable. We’ve been diligently doing our part.

But then the hashtags resumed. #AhmaudArbery #BreonnaTaylor #NinaPop and #GeorgeFloyd. In the span of one month in the midst of our sheltering in place, black folks were killed while jogging, killed while sleeping in their homes, killed while walking in plain daylight. Killed while black.

Typically I am the first person to protest. Typically I can’t wait to lock arms with my community and speak truth to power. But my heart is heavy this week. My heart is heavy because this pandemic is still very much a threat. This pandemic is still killing us.

When you protest, you link arms (which can’t be done 6 feet apart). When you protest, you yell, chant & scream (which can’t be done extensively with a mask on). When you protest you sing, (which can’t be done without spreading air droplets). When we protest, we undue the careful attention we’ve given to this pandemic for the past few months.

My greatest fear is that black folks will choose to protest in person this weekend and two weeks later we will see more Black Death than we’ve seen in over a century because of COVID-19. This is why I can’t sleep. I cannot bear the idea of a percentage of the black race being wiped out because we showed up in massive numbers to protest Black Death. Why are Black people always asked to risk Black Death to protest Black Death? Why are we always in a position proximate to so much death? I’m tired. We’re tired. Yet, we must remain vigilant. We have to use the tools we know (the act of protesting) along with the tools we don’t yet know (how to do it in the midst of a pandemic).

I recognize that some of us will choose to protest anyhow. We will choose to put our bodies on the line for the sake of justice. I applaud you for your sacrifice. But I must insist on training. We’ve got to train our protestors.

People may be used to protesting but none of us have ever protested during a global pandemic.

I need us to warn one another about the risks we are incurring by protesting. This pandemic is not over. Just like the heroes of the civil rights movement trained people on nonviolent action, just like The Black Panthers trained people on their 10 point plan, we’ve got to train our people in this moment how to protest in the midst of a global pandemic. We must warn people that they’re sacrificing their lives. We must remind them that this pandemic is still as deadly as it was before the protests began.

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Photo Credit: CDC

I don’t pretend to have the answers. But because I love my people I must remind us. These are different times. We cannot afford to lose a percentage of the black race due to death by COVID-19. Yet the sobering truth is that the social conditions we experience when we protest are not conducive to the conditions necessary to stay alive during this pandemic. Social distancing and protesting cannot coexist. It is impossible.

While I don’t want us to protest in massive numbers during this pandemic, I do need us to keep affecting change. I do need us to speak truth to power. I do need us to overturn systems. I do need us to change legislation. I do need us to make our power known. But I also need us alive. I’m wondering what new tools might emerge in this moment. My prayer is that we find new ways to hold these white supremacist systems accountable while still persevering black lives in the midst of a pandemic. I love us. I want us to survive. I need us to survive. Every day some white supremacist system tries to kill us. Sometimes they succeed. Yet other times we survive. In the words of Lucille Clifton:

“Won’t you celebrate with me

what I have shaped into

a kind of life? I had no model.

Born in Babylon

Both nonwhite and woman

What did I see to be except myself?

I made it up

Here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand;

come celebrate with me

that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.”

Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

Written by

New Yorker. Pastor. Former Publicist. Doctoral Student. Lover of live music & good travel. Head over heels for my husband. Hamptonian. NYUer. Yalie. Womanist.

Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

Written by

New Yorker. Pastor. Former Publicist. Doctoral Student. Lover of live music & good travel. Head over heels for my husband. Hamptonian. NYUer. Yalie. Womanist.

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