The coronavirus has—and will continue to—affect people from all walks of life, at every age, background and socioeconomic status. As COVID-19 spreads across the country, we at The Root are committed to chronicling its impact on the black community. We will continue to write stories of noted individuals who’ve lost their lives to this deadly virus. But we also wanted to remember and honor the artists, teachers, activists, thinkers, innovators, leaders and other unsung heroes who’ve also been taken too soon by this deadly disease. We will update this list regularly as this pandemic continues to touch our community.
Updated: 3/30/20, 12:10 pm: Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., is mourning the sudden loss of the beloved head coach of its boys basketball team, Terrance Burke. The 54-year-old counselor died on March 27 from complications of COVID-19, reports The Washington Post.
It’s unclear how or when Burke transmitted the virus, according to NBC Sports. Maryland decided to close all school campuses in the state two weeks ago. Burke’s death, which was announced by Prince George’s County Public Schools on Saturday, came as a “shock” to his friends family members, the Post reports.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Burke was strong and healthy despite having asthma, his son Synde Burke told the Post.
“He worked out every day,” he said.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Burke was admired by students and colleagues alike for his warmth, humor, sense of style (his daughter said Burke was known to rock a Gucci belt at basketball games), and his Brooklyn accent. By many accounts, he was the kind of coach you’d watch on the most heartwarming of high school dramas: a man who “valued hustle over talent,” writes the Post.
At least two of his children, Sydne and Arnetha, followed in his footsteps and became teachers. One former player, Hasani Hill, told the Post a story that seemed indicative of the type of educator—and the type of person—Burke was. Initially cut from the Northwestern High basketball team, Hill still showed up to the team practice to watch the squad play. Burke told the then-sophomore if he could outperform the players at practice, Hill could have a spot on the team. But that wasn’t all Burke offered Hill: he would continue to support the young man, who used to get in trouble before joining the basketball team. He served as a mentor to the teen, and if Hill couldn’t afford to buy his own basketball shoes, Burke would give him a pair from his own closet.
“I was nobody important,” Hill told the Post, “and he still looked out for me.”
Dez-Ann Romain, principal of the Brooklyn Democracy Academy (BDA), was known for her resilience and energy.
For four years, the 36-year-old led the Brownsville-based BDA, a public high school specifically for students who needed to transfer out of traditional high schools. Colleagues told the New York Times Romain was “vibrant,” bright and diligent: she made a habit of keeping fresh flowers in her office and was the type of educator who knew each of her student’s backstories, motivations, and family members.
“She was one of the most innovative school leaders I’ve ever worked with,” said Courtney Winkfield, a senior strategy and policy adviser at New York’s Department of Education. “Her students just adored her.”
On March 23, Romain became the first known New York City public school staff member to die from complications from COVID-19.
Romain last reported to BDA on March 12, right before the school implemented daily deep-cleaning and disinfection. Within days, she began to feel ill. On March 18, she was hospitalized for pneumonia, school officials told the Times.
Five days later, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent a letter to the academy community notifying them of their principal’s death and offering condolences. Carranza called her passing “painful for all of us.”
Romain had big plans for the academy, harnessing resources to push the school and its students forward: during her tenure, she partnered with sports companies to secure athletic equipment for her students. She also wanted to open a hydroponic gardening lab at the school, which would eventually be turned into a farmers market for the school’s Brownsville neighbors. Before she died, Romain had obtained funding to launch the lab.
“She looked at every single kid as her personal mission,” said Winkfield. She “just loved being a principal.”
Marlowe Stoudamire was the type of man who seemed to have his hands in everything. A “beloved” champion of Detroit, Stoudamire was a driving force behind projects like the Detroit Historical Society’s award-winning “Detroit ‘67” exhibit, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of black Detroit’s uprising against the city’s police department. The 43-year-old consultant and entrepreneur also recently helped secure $1 million from the Detroit Red Wings and the NHL to fund hockey programs for the city’s youth.
On March 24, the Detroit Free Press reported that the community leader had died of COVID-19. Stoudamire had no known health issues, nor had he recently traveled, reports The Detroit News. His death marks the first publicly identified coronavirus-related death in Michigan.
A former project director of international business strategy at Henry Ford Health System, Stoudamire spent decades bringing different parts of the city together to advance Detroit’s profile, share its story, and make it a more vibrant place for its residents. He was praised as a “connector” and a “transformational figure” by former colleagues.
Among his projects was Roster Detroit, intended to combat the narrative that Detroit was losing its most talented residents. Stoudamire would highlight local entrepreneurs, artists, and business leaders, as well as cheer on the accomplishments of native Detroiters.
Friend Ken Harris, resident and CEO of the National Business League, Inc., told the Detroit Free Press Stoudamire’s trajectory was “limitless.”
“To see someone that you love so close to you be taken away from us by this particular virus is nothing we all expect, but at the same time it sends a strong message that the community has to take this pandemic seriously,” Harris said.
“He was one of those shining examples of what you can do when you’re committed to making Detroit a better place,” former state Sen. Ian Conyers told the paper, adding, “Marlowe made Detroit a better place. He was doing it.”