By Mary Campbell
Although his job has always been important to him, he never felt essential. Before the pandemic, he would have told you, “Nobody wants my job. Its hard work. I work with garbage.” But he learned during this time of social distancing, when many employees are adjusting to working from home, he still had to commute to work each day because he is an “essential worker”. So essential that they asked him to sleep at the hospital. So essential that he was asked to work overtime.
No, he is not a doctor or a nurse. He is that Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin, who you see cleaning the rooms and emptying the garbage. He is not on the “front lines”, but he is still sensitive to the patients’ needs and affected by their suffering.
I guess there were not enough masks and supplies to go around. When they distributed them to the doctors and nurses – that Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin, did not get any. He went to the neighborhood fire department and police department to ask for masks so he could go to work.
But I guess the police officers do not remember the Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin, who simply wanted a mask so he could go to work. They see the masked Black male, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin, walking through the projects in the middle of the night. That is a disturbing sight for the police officers who have asked him on multiple occasions, “Hey you, what are you doing outside? Let me see your ID”. He showed his photo ID from the hospital and the police officer told him, “Go home.”
Home is a great place to be after traveling on the New York City Subway, after a long day at work, and witnessing angry passengers looking for any excuse to get into a fight. More people than ever are asking for money – but instead of simply begging for it, they are threatening with their requests. I have not seen for myself, no, I have the benefit of working from home. But that is what I heard from that Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin.
Has anyone spoken to that Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin lately? He has a somber look on his face, has lost his appetite, and has stopped caring about his appearance. These are all signs of depression – if you are paying attention. Was anyone paying attention when he mentioned his close friends who died during this pandemic? Did anyone hear him mourning the losses of his deceased relatives, who have been dead for several years? Was anyone paying attention when he remembered we are approaching the time of the year that he almost died, 2 years ago, in a New York City hospital? When he was sick and needed emergency treatment, the emergency workers were hesitant to bring him to the hospital because they thought he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, despite the fact they were told he never used drugs and alcohol. When they got him to the hospital, the doctors discovered he had a massive stroke and was bleeding around the brain. The doctor asked, “Do you know how he wants to die?”
Why is it so hard to keep a Black man alive? Who is checking on the “essential workers” to make sure they are okay? Please do not forget that Black man, 5’11” tall, medium brown skin. He is physically and emotionally drained, with signs of depression. Long before New York decided to call him “essential”, he has been an essential part of a family that needs him healthy, safe, and sane.
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Workers’ World Today is a free publication that empowers all workers, regardless of social or political affiliations. Distributed throughout New York City, our paper has a mission to educate workers and provide them with relevant information pertinent to the workforce such as workers’ compensation, discrimination on the job, workers’ rights, and more.