by Jaydelle Herbert
photography by Jashelle Ranson
Although the pandemic did not initially start until mid-March, I mark my personal start of incredulity when Lakers legend and girl-dad Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were two of nine people who died in a plane accident on Jan. 26, 2020. My body instantly froze in tense restraint. My mind was in denial hoping that TMZ was wrong. Even as I read text messages from close friends who knew how much Kobe meant to me and saw the news on Twitter, I kept hoping that the news was a sick joke. I was far from wrong.
Then, after a long month of spring semester classes, I could not wait to finally have some fun in the sun during spring break 2020. The school week before break was almost over when an announcement was made that COVID-19 had made the semester come to a drastic stop.
What I thought would have been a normal spring break of going to the beach and spending time with friends turned into an unknown reality. The COVID-19 pandemic created havoc and panic for millions of people worldwide in mid-March 2020. While the pandemic changed how we learn and weighed heavily on mental health, it also created opportunities.
During the beginning of the pandemic, when toilet paper roll shelves were bare, back-to-back heartbreaks forced me to isolate myself more than quarantine mandates. I was getting to know someone with whom I thought I could potentially start a relationship. As time progressed, he started becoming more and more distant. He would not reply for days or even weeks. Every time I would confront him, he would give loose apologies. Then, he would disappear for another week. One day, he told me the reason why he disappeared was because he was grieving over his grandfather’s passing from COVID. I immediately regretted all the times I confronted him.
Soon, everything I thought I knew changed. I woke up one day with texts from a fake Instagram account. It was his girlfriend of eight months whom he kept hidden. She told me how she found me on social media, and how he lied about his dead grandfather. When I texted him about my interaction with his girlfriend, he flipped the entire situation on me and used me as a pawn to cover up his deception. After this event, I isolated myself from friends. They were concerned for my well-being because they knew how quickly I usually responded to texts and calls.
My COVID era events inspired me to write a fiction book based on my personal experiences about being mixed-race in America, and the mental health stigma individuals face. I am writing my book from a college point of view of a mixed-race woman and a biracial man—the main characters. I am also exploring the struggles of maintaining a friendship and relationship during this generation. I will be using my experiences and original poems to carry my book. My main objective is to bring awareness to mental health, toxic family dynamics and common problems mixed-race individuals face.
As I was preparing for finals week during the fall 2020 semester, my family faced a horrible situation. My dad wasn’t feeling well on a Sunday night. My mom had a look in her eye that told me she was concerned that he might be positive with COVID-19. But my nonchalant dad said he was fine as he fluctuated from heat flashes to cold shivers while he clenched onto his stomach, agonizing in pain. Then, the very next day, he was in a peppy mood and said all he needed to do was to feel the fresh air outside. A few days later, his symptoms continued to progress and decrease. One day, I came home to my mom’s panicky eyes and her loss for words. My dad had tested positive for COVID-19.
While I tried to wrap my head around how he would have to stay isolated in his room, a thought couldn’t leave my mind. What if my little brother, mom or I had COVID as well. I told my mom we immediately needed to get tested. I paid for the three of us to get rapid PCR tests. My little brother and I were negative. But my mom unfortunately caught the disease. My mom’s symptoms were lighter than my father’s. She experienced a throbbing headache and stomach pain. She seemed relatively fine, but I could tell she didn’t feel like herself when she was quiet and yet still returned family members’ phone calls. The insensitivity of family members made the experience more difficult to work through as they continued to call my ill father when he was barely talking to us. Also, when family members were underestimating how sick my dad was, it was an indescribable feeling.
Five days into my dad’s quarantine, my mom was sleeping downstairs in one living room as my little brother and I slept in a different living room. One day, my dad didn’t call my mom or try to Facetime my little brother. Since his room was above the kitchen, we usually heard him walk around in his room, but his room was silent. My mom called him, and she was left with empty rings. Finally, he answered. My mom entered his room to check his oxygen levels. Before I knew why, my mom was talking about taking him to the hospital. My father was resisting. Nevertheless, his body was quickly failing. When my little brother heard he was going to the hospital, he started crying hysterically. I tried to remain strong for the rest of my family. Finally, my mom sped through the streets to get my dad to the hospital. While they were sitting in chairs waiting to be seen, he started sweating profusely and felt like he couldn’t breathe. He kept asking the hospital staff for water and then was rushed to a hospital bed to be put on an oxygen tank.
I will forever remember my dad, in the hospital, describing how bad he felt as he talked slowly with an oxygen mask muffling his words. Meanwhile, nurses gave him shots in his stomach. He had an IV running through his veins. These are images that will never leave my brain. This occurred during my last two weeks of finals with some insensitive professors. I also had to help my little brother with his own school work. I ran on only an hour of sleep the five nights my dad was in the hospital. When he was released, my family members did not understand the severity of the situation. They were quick to express how happy they were that he was out of the hospital. My mom and I were hesitant to be joyful due to his fragile condition when he was quickly discharged. Although my family and I were officially COVID free two days before Christmas, holidays will never be the same. Christmas and New Year’s Eve were spent with my dad still in quarantine. It has been almost two years since my parents had COVID-19, but my dad still has health complications with his lungs.
Despite the pandemic challenges I faced, there were life-changing moments that wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic were not present. My senior project was about women within the football industry who have broken barriers in men’s football. Although I had a difficult time in a month organizing my project that held 10 more than an hour-long interviews, I was able to make an audio story that highlights the timespan, challenges and groundbreaking change each woman made in football culture. I also interviewed the first woman NFL coach, Jen Welter. I was nervous to interview a woman who held that status because she has the title no other woman holds, and I couldn’t believe she agreed to be interviewed. While I asked her questions, I could tell she was engaged, and she opened up to me. Welter told me that I should look into a mentorship program called GALvanize, which is NFL reporter Laura Okmin’s organization. I followed her advice, and now I have a relationship with Okmin where I can call her to receive life advice, career paths and being a woman in the sports industry. I’m also going to be her intern this upcoming spring for her GALvanize NFL boot camps.
While I was on the Campus Times newspaper spring semester 2021, I proposed a story that paved the way for the type of journalism I now want to pursue. Basketball player Denzel Stephens created a successful clothing brand with his older brother during the pandemic. He couldn’t finish his sophomore or junior years playing for the team, so he turned his energy to creating a clothing brand to help his community in Detroit and Los Angeles. He highlighted how his mom was a huge inspiration for his clothing brands: Ten Toes Apparel along with Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon Clothing. He also explained that Ten Toes Apparel is more than a brand to make revenue. “Ten Toes is what I and my brother’s values are built on: Support others, be humble, have perseverance, have integrity—all of the things a real person should embody, including giving back to your family and being there for your community, friends. That’s really how I and my brother are, our personalities, and who we are as people.”
Executing this story made me realize that I want to tell other athletes’ personal stories through video format and written form. I believe every athlete should be given a platform to be vulnerable. We should know who they are aside from the sports they play. We should break the stigma of just seeing them as athletes and instead see them as humans. And I want to be the journalist that athletes trust to tell their stories.
Another accomplishment that still brings me joy today was during the Communications Department award ceremony. Receiving multiple awards for my contributions to the department proves to me that all of my hard work is finally paying off. It’s hard for me to see getting “A’s” as an accomplishment since I expect myself to receive an A in every class I take. But to receive awards from the Department I have been a part of for four years, and to see the growth I have had as a journalist is crazy to think about. As a freshman, I had social anxiety where I couldn’t order my food or talk to anyone around campus. Journalism pushed me to step out of my comfort zone by forcing me to talk to individuals and to ask those tough questions.
The world works in weird ways. The pandemic halted millions of lives, created unhealthy mental health issues, and took away loved ones. But the pandemic also taught me to slow down to really value what life provides and also created opportunities of growth. ■