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Melody McCurtis is the deputy director of priorities and organizer at Metcalfe Park Community Bridges. Since the start of the pandemic, McCurtis has been working to provide mutual aid to her community.
I was terrified to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Although scared, I got the vaccine because my state tried too hard to not vaccinate me and people who look like me.
The pandemic has been catastrophic not only to me personally, but to my community. Since March 2020, I have directly supplied mutual aid to my neighbors, despite all of the health risks for myself, my family and my community.
In March 2020, I lived in a multigenerational household. My mother has an enlarged heart and other health risks that COVID-19 could have had a field day with. My household also included my two children, ages 9 and 5, and my 14-year-old brother.
I and other members of my community showed up to deliver food directly to our neighbors’ homes, also distributing PPE, hygienic goods, resources and registering our folks to vote. We had no other choice but to go door to door, because no one else was coming and making sure Metcalfe Park residents had what they needed to survive during a pandemic.
In 2020, Metcalfe Park had a population of almost 8,000 — 98% of whom are Black folks — and I encountered most in some capacity. By the grace of my ancestors, I never contracted COVID-19.
When we showed up to the doors in March, many in our community had no real knowledge about COVID-19 because all the information was online. Community members and Metcalfe Park Community Bridges had to create and distribute that resource. Everything shut down on Metcalfe Park, and we were left to fend for ourselves.
Yet again, a Black community had to come up with ways to keep ourselves safe.
2020 didn’t give us a new normal — it showed us the conditions that Black folks in Milwaukee have had to survive through forever. It highlighted how we are not valued, not seen as humans and that we simply do not matter.
So, it’s not surprising that even though BIPOC, or Black, Indigenous, People of color, folks were contracting and dying from COVID, they were not prioritized in a real way when the vaccine arrived. For me, it would have made more sense as a statewide strategy to begin with the first batch of the vaccine going to seniors, BIPOC and homeless populations. Period.
If we know that Black folks in Milwaukee are the most incarcerated, have the lowest wealth and wages, live in predatory housing and have no real access to health care and fresh food, why did it take so long for us to be prioritized?
It is true that the government has exploited Black folks when it comes to health and their access to medical care. Yes, Black folks are skeptical, and yes, some don’t want the vaccine. Yes, some of us are terrified, and yes, some of us want to wait to see if people start mutating, turning green or have a tracking device inserted.
I know these reasons might sound comical, but it is our reality, and yes, we have the right to feel like this. Our history is ours, and it gives our state no right to use our history as a tactic to not do what’s necessary. Historically, because of atrocities like the Tuskegee experiment and others, we have no reason to just accept what’s given to us by these institutions.
Our history and current conditions of health and health care access should mandate our state to go above and beyond and be radical. We want a process that is rooted in seeing and treating us as human beings, centered in our dignity.
Personally, I am scared of the vaccine; I, too, didn’t want to get the vaccine. I share those same feelings of skepticism that my community has. The bottom line is that I ultimately got the vaccine because I would rather die trying to live if that means it makes my community and family safer. Everything in this world is directly or indirectly designed to kill me as a Black person.
Despite my concern, I’m officially half vaccinated. I got to my vaccination site 45 minutes early and was greeted by Black folks who were validating parking and directing traffic.
I then went through two waiting stations where I was sitting in joy because I saw so many of my Black elders coming to get this vaccine. The news has been portraying a different story, so it brought me joy that they were rolling in.
At the second station, the white director asked the white woman in front of me whether she was there to get the first or second shot. She answered and she moved to the next station.
I approached him and he asked, “Are you an educator?” I said no. He said, “Are you a daycare worker?” I said no. I told him that I had an appointment and was cleared to go through this round. I asked, “Do you want to see my confirmation?” He began to get red, pull his hair and I said, “Do I need to call the state?” After that he said, “No, go ahead to the next station.”
The next station I went to I had a similar encounter with a white woman.
The bottom line is that I was not leaving — they were not going to turn me around. The whole process took about two hours, even with me coming early. I only encountered one BIPOC person who was a nurse, and otherwise, white people were in charge of my care, experience and health.
I was not in the comfort of my community on the North Side.
It’s 2021. My ancestors mattered and what they endured is still rooted in everything that happens today when we think about health and health access for Black folks. I matter, my community matters, All Black Lives Matter.
When will we be valued? When will the failed attempts and excuses stop? When will we matter when decisions are being made?
I am committed to the liberation of all Black folks, especially here in Milwaukee; this city and this state need to be committed, too.