Illustration: Angelica Alzona (G/O Media)

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.

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Mary J. Wilson, 83 (Randallstown, Md.)

Updated 5/28/20, 1:18 p.m. ET: Mary J. Wilson was singular in her care for wild mammals.

The first black woman to hold the title of Senior Zookeeper at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore didn’t have advanced degrees in the field or a ton of experience when she first began work at the zoo, says Arthur Watson, the man who hired her in 1961. But she did have the most important qualifications in abundance: a “willingness to work hard and a love of animals.”

“In these days of specialized training, she probably wouldn’t get past the front door.”

Luckily for the zoo, she did.

Born and raised in West Baltimore, Md., Wilson was a lifelong animal lover whose enthusiasm rubbed off on others, writes the Baltimore Sun. She died from COVID-19 on May 21 at 83.

“Mary brought love, skill and passion to her work with the animals at the zoo. She was also like everyone’s mentor,” said Carol Barth, who worked with Wilson for nearly 20 years at the then-Baltimore Zoo. “She was a mother, friend and supervisor. What a great woman.”

Wilson’s daughter, Sharron Wilson Jackson, said she picked up her love of animals from her mom, noting that some of the most imposing animals on earth—gorillas and elephants—were her mom’s favorites. She was, however, “terrified of mice,” her former mentee Mike McClure told the paper.

“She had a special relationship with animals. She was very consistent and very clear,” he said. “She was very tall and could look eye-to-eye to Dolly the elephant. And she’d do what Mary told her to do because she treated her like an equal.”

“I was very lucky being able to work with Mary. It was an invaluable experience and she put me on the right track.”

Wilson spoke about her work almost nonchalantly, telling the Sunday Sun Magazine in 1966, “It’s like babysitting, only more so, and you can get just as attached to your work.”


Judy Wilson-Griffin, 63 (St. Louis, Mo.) 

Updated 5/19/20, 2:00 p.m. ET: If you’ve spent any time with nurses, you know many regard it as far more than a profession: for them, it’s a calling.

For Judy Wilson-Griffin, a perinatal clinical nurse specialist who dedicated much of her work to advocating for black birth parents and their babies, that calling was written in her blood.

As the Washington Post reports, Wilson-Griffin’s grandmother worked as a midwife, first in Alabama then St. Louis, where Wilson-Griffin would eventually extend her grandmother’s legacy, caring for black families during one of the most crucial parts of their lives.

Laura Kuensting, her committee chair for her doctor of nursing practice program at the University of Missouri, St. Louis College of Nursing, told the Post Wilson-Griffin was a “gentle driving force for change.”

“Her number one motivation was because she cared about the health of women, especially black women and their babies,” said Kuensting.

Wilson-Griffin first learned that black women and their infants experienced disproportionately high mortality rates while working as a nurse at BJC Hospital, where she worked from 1981 through 2007. There, she played a key role in creating Missouri’s first maternal transport teams for high-risk pregnant mothers. That experience would reveal to her the particular vulnerabilities black birth parents face.

A former U.S. Navy Reserve Nurse Corps member, Wilson-Griffin seemed to have an intuitive and innovative understanding of how to care for patients, according to colleagues who spoke to the Post. Her dedication to her patients was widely and rightfully recognized: the Post reports that her work was “recognized at all levels by friends, family and also the nursing community,” which gave her the March of Dimes Nurse of the Year award in Women’s Health and Obstetrics for Missouri last year.

At her nursing program, from which Wilson-Griffin was set to graduate in December, she was working on creating a maternal triage acuity index for pregnant women. The tool would help healthcare workers assess the severity of a pregnant woman’s condition or risks.

Wilson-Griffin contracted the coronavirus in March, while she was finalizing the project. Wilson-Griffin traveled to a professional nursing conference in Indianapolis in mid-March, despite her daughter’s protest.

By the following week, Wilson-Griffin, who had lupus, was hospitalized with pneumonia. Her condition quickly worsened, within days of being diagnosed with COVID-19, her organs and health functions shut down. Like so many during the pandemic, her family never got to say goodbye.

She was the first known person in St. Louis County to die from COVID-19, reports the Post.


Lloyd Cornelious Porter, 49 (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Updated 5/7/20, 12:50 p.m. ET: A Bakersfield, Calif. native, Lloyd Cornelious Porter graduated from Fresno State University in 1996 and subsequently took his talents to New York, where he’d become an actor and entrepreneur.

During his time living in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Porter began a black-owned bakery aptly called “Bread-Stuy,” which not only served delectable treats but served as a hub for the community. In a 2010 New York Times article, Bread-Stuy was likened to Sesame Street, and friends said Porter was a lot like fictional shopkeeper “Mr. Hooper,” with his sunny disposition and welcome words of wisdom.

“In this shop, love was poured into each cup served, smiles given with each pastry, hugs, laughs, jokes and fellowship lived every corner of the shop spilling onto the sidewalks,” a GoFundMe for Porter’s family says of Bread-Stuy. “It was on those sidewalks that we ate, drank, danced and celebrated life and community daily.”

After closing in 2011, Bread-Stuy was revamped as Bread Love. The shop, which was located on Stuyvesant Ave, closed in 2014 after a fire and reopened shortly after as a brick and mortar shop. During the period before the shop found its home, Porter and his team took their pastry and sandwich-making gifts to local pop-ups and food festivals.

In a post on his Facebook page, longtime friend Keith Arthur Bolden confirmed that Porter passed away on May 6 from complications from COVID-19. Porter was diabetic and had battled the coronavirus for a month. He suffered from breathing problems and was placed on a ventilator before succumbing to the illness.

Porter is survived by his wife Hillary, a daughter named Maclemore, and several loved ones. He is one of eight siblings, one of whom is jazz musician Gregory Porter, who shared during a chat with The Guardian last month that his sibling was battling a “very serious” case of COVID-19. While Gregory has yet to make a statement regarding his brother’s death, he shared a sweet message for his ailing loved one on May 5.

“I can hear my dear brother singing in unison with me...he loves to combine his voice with mine,” he wrote. “He’s not singing with me in this song that I dedicate to him but I can hear you Lloyd Cornelious Porter. I can hear you loud and clear.”


Rana Zoe Mungin, 30 (Brooklyn, NY)

Updated 4/28/20, 10:40 a.m. ET: Rana Zoe Mungin was a beloved social studies teacher at Ascend Academy in Brooklyn. She attended Wellesley College and earned her master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts. Mungin was passionate about writing, education and fighting for people who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—a plight she could identify with given her humble upbringing in East New York or what she describes as a “part of Brooklyn where white people still don’t wander.”

In an interview with Wellesley Underground, she described herself as “the weird kid who hurried home to watch the heavily edited anime available on Cartoon Network and then repurposed it into stories that looked like somewhere I belonged.”

She started writing in the fourth grade. While she started her journey as a writer with “blatant Sailor Moon rip-offs,” she would go on to do important work. In 2012, she penned an essay for Wellesley Underground in which she discussed class warfare and the experiences of college students who live below the poverty line, drawing on her own experiences as a first-generation college student.

“It wasn’t until I went to Wellesley that I was made aware of how much my family didn’t have,” Mungin said in an interview. “I grew up in the hood, but I grew up in a house. I always had food to eat, the lights were always on, I always had new clothes for the start of school; new sneakers three or four times a year. It may not sound like much, but I had friends who grew up in the projects, who were homeless, who came to school just to get breakfast and lunch because there wasn’t anything for them at home.”

Mungin died due to COVID-19 complications on April 27, Essence reports. She and her family had made headlines after the 30-year-old was repeatedly turned away from a hospital as she sought treatment for her symptoms. Even though she exhibited primary symptoms of COVID-19 infection, she was denied testing for it. Her story is widely recognized as an example of the failure of health professionals to listen to black women and take their medical needs seriously.

Her sister, Mia Mungin, announced her passing via Twitter Monday afternoon.

“It is with heavy heart that I have to inform you all that my sister Rana Zoe…has passed away today at 12:25pm due to COVID-19 complication. She fought a long fight but her body was [too] weak.”


Henry Grimes, 84 (New York City)

Updated 4/21/20, 9:44 a.m. ET: Early on in his career, bassist Henry Grimes was known for his talent, generosity and vision as a jazz musician. But the legendary artist’s most enduring quality may have been his resilience. Grimes disappeared from the music scene for decades before a new century brought new interest—and a new instrument—his way. As a jazz elder, Grimes was as curious, bright and busy as ever.

He died April 15 from complications due to the coronavirus, reports The New York Times.

Grimes rose to prominence in the mid-1950s and 1960s, an in-demand bassist who worked alongside other jazz greats like Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman and Sonny Rollins. He was also one of the lead figures of the free jazz movement, defined by its rejection of established jazz conventions. Grimes gifts for improvisation and collaboration made him highly sought after.

But a move to California turned Grimes’ luck. Moving to the West Coast in 1968, Grimes damaged his bass and had to sell his instrument. In order to make money, Grimes ended up taking on construction and custodial work. He slipped out of sight, living in a single-occupancy hotel in L.A.’s Skid Row at one point; some assumed he had died, reports WBGO.

But a dedicated social worker and jazz devotee, Marshall Marotte, tracked Grimes down in 2002. Upon discovering Grimes was alive—and in need of an instrument—bassist William Parker lent him one, paving the way for Grimes’ return to New York.

Grimes eased back into the music scene with vigor and purpose, playing hundreds of gigs and publishing a book of poems he’d written while in California. He “received a hero’s welcome” at the 2003 Vision Festival, notes the Times.

“I never gave up on music, not for a minute,” Grimes once said, according to WBGO. “You could say I was absent for a long time, but I always believed I would be back one day. I just couldn’t see the way to get there, but I knew it would happen.”


Giuseppi Logan, 84 (Queens, NY)

Like Grimes, Giuseppi Logan stood out, even among iconoclasts.

Born in 1935 in Philadelphia, Logan taught himself to play the piano before taking up reed instruments, becoming best known as an alto saxophonist. He came up with a mix of informal and formal musical training, attending the prestigious New England Conservatory as well as performing with modern jazz groups, reports the New York Times.

Logan reached the first peak of his career in the mid-1960s as a vanguard of the revolutionary free jazz movement. For Logan, this meant leading his own groups and playing a bewildering range of instruments, including the Pakistani shehnai and the bass clarinet. He released a single studio album, The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (1964), and a live recording, More, before falling out of the scene in the late ’60s.

Discussing his musical philosophy in a short documentary from around that time, Logan said: “You have to get closer to your creator. Because that instills in the individual a love for everything, an unbiased heart.”

Over the next four decades, Logan bounced between Virginia and New York. The time was marked by periods of homelessness and issues with mental health. He would play the saxophone for change in the East Village, playing jazz standards like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for listeners unaware of his genius.

A chance meeting with trumpeter Matt Lavelle in a Manhattan music store ushered his re-entry back into the music scene in the late aughts, and the pair released an album in 2010, “The Giuseppi Logan Quintet.” The mix of avant-garde compositions and jazz standards was well-received by critics.

Lavelle said he and Logan were working on another album, and that Logan was returning “to the freeform explorations of the 1960s,” WBGO writes.

Lavelle confirmed that Logan’s death at Lawrence Nursing Care Center in Queens on April 17 was due to the coronavirus.


Lila Fenwick, 87 (New York City)

Updated 4/15/20, 9:15 a.m. ET: The New York Times notes that when Lila Fenwick attended Harvard Law School in the 1950s, her identity as a black woman made her “doubly invisible.”

As the late author, Toni Morrison might ask, “invisible to whom?”

Fenwick was the first black woman to graduate from the revered law school, becoming a trailblazer at a time when such “firsts” were routinely ostracized, harassed or threatened with death.

She was born in Manhattan on May 24, 1932, the daughter of two Trinidadian immigrants, John and Hilda Fenwick. Lila was a bright, driven student: before attending Harvard Law, she graduated from Barnard College in 1953. Upon completing her law degree, she went on to the London School of Economics before becoming a human rights official at the United Nations. In her role, Fenwick became “a specialist on studies about gender, racial and religious discrimination; the protection of minorities and indigenous populations; and the right to emigrate from oppressive countries,” writes the Times.

Her commitment to humanitarian work didn’t stop at the U.N. Alongside two other black women pioneers, Dr. Doris Wethers and Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, Fenwick established the Foundation for Research and Education in Sickle Cell Disease.

Even after retiring early from her U.N. post (Fenwick opted to stay close to her family, rather than move to Geneva, Switzerland in 1974 with the rest of her division), she remained committed to learning.

In the 1990s, Fenwick audited a class at Columbia Law School taught by Patricia J. Williams, one of the first black women professors to teach law at the elite school.

“She was so elegant, a lady in the lovely, old fashioned, full sense of that word,” Professor Williams, who graduated from Harvard Law nearly 20 years after Fenwick, told the Times. “We talked about the loneliness, what it took to be in a world where you were always different, always the other and never assumed to be part of the power elite.”

Fenwick died at her Manhattan home on April 4, just a few weeks shy of her 88th birthday.


Dr. Harry Blake, 85 (Shreveport, La.)

Illustration for article titled COVID-19s Impact on the Black Community: Remembering Those Who Have Lost Their Lives [Updating]

Updated 4/10/20, 1 p.m ET: Dr. Harry Blake was a pastor, civil rights activist and beloved community leader in Shreveport, La.

He passed Wednesday evening at 82 from complications of COVID-19 according to KTBS. Blake worked with Martin Luther King Jr., helping plan and stage protests, for four years during the civil rights movement. During that time he endured beatings, arrests and threats to his life. But through it all, Blake remained a modest man. “I didn’t see that as history in the making, I just saw it as a job I had to do or mission I had to fulfill. I never took a photo with Dr. King, I never took one with him,” said Blake, KTBS notes.

The people of Shreveport knew him as the pastor of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church for over 52 years. He retired in 2018 but made a brief return as Interim pastor of St. Rest Baptist Church in Shreveport. 

“I think I’d like to be remembered as a man who really cared about people, and did all he could to make life better for people. And that’s the story of my life.” Blake told KTBS in a 2018 interview.


Janice Rodman, 52 (Brooklyn, NY) 

Updated 4/08/20, 10:50 a.m. ET: For more than 13 years, Janice Rodman sat at the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA’s front desk, greeting longtime neighbors as they brought in their children, as well as an influx of new residents. No matter who you were, she knew your name.

Rodman went by several names herself: “JP” or “Shining Star” to her family in North Carolina, where she was born—the latter her nickname because she was “always a bright light,” writes BuzzFeed News. At the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, where she lived most of her life, she was known to everyone as “Miss Janice.”

She died on March 31st, shortly after doctors discovered that the condition her family thought was bronchitis (Rodman suffered from the illness regularly) was actually the coronavirus.

“She didn’t know she was as sick as she was,” her daughter Jasmine Thornton told BuzzFeed. Receiving the call that her mother died just one day after she was taken to the hospital, “was the biggest punch in the stomach.”

That loss will be felt by all who knew her. At the Y, she was the person you went to if you needed an extra hand or a favor. On her block in Bed-Stuy, her home—a three-story brownstone where she lived with her daughter, sister, nieces, and, at one point, her parents—was a hub for barbecues and block parties.

Flip through old photos of Rodman from the 1990s, and you’d find a party girl, her daughter says—nails always done, listening to Naughty by Nature or singing along to Carl Thomas.

Her vivaciousness and warmth were most apparent in how she treated children, people who knew her at the YMCA noted. Whenever events were held at the facility, staffers knew to bring back any leftover balloons to Rodman, who would collect them and hand them out to the kids afterward.

“Those kids just light up when they come in the door and see her,” Sonia Atherly, executive director of Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA, told BuzzFeed. “I can’t imagine what is going to happen when eventually things get righted again.”

“When the kids come in the door, they’re going to ask for Miss Janice...I can’t imagine what we’re going to tell those kids.”


Mary Louise Brown Morgan, 78 (Gray, La.)

Mary Louise Brown Morgan, second from right, poses with relatives in the fall of 2019
Mary Louise Brown Morgan, second from right, poses with relatives in the fall of 2019
Photo: Steve Morgan ( via AP)

Chances are you know hands like Mary Louise Brown Morgan’s hands.

A proud grandmother, her hands knew dirt and digging: her garden was full of rosebushes and “just about every kind of fruit tea, from plums to satsuma oranges to kumquats,” the Associated Press reports. Hands that fed chickens in her yard, washing their eggs and giving them to the ones she loved. Hands that clasped in prayer every Sunday at Mr. Vernon Methodist Church in Gray, La., the town she spent most of her 78 years in. Morgan volunteered to keep the pews clean, to put up the Christmas tree when the weather cooled and the smell of pies started wafting from those south Louisiana kitchens.

In her kitchen, Morgan made a “mean gumbo and red beans,” her grandson, Steve Morgan, told the AP. Her halls were beautifully decorated with framed photos of her grandchildren and their spouses: “It seemed like every graduation I had, she was there,” he said.

Her hands kept the books for her late husband, who worked as a master plumber. Her hands also showed her ID at the airport as she carefully removed her shoes as she flew to New York to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her grandson and his medical school friends.

Steve Morgan says his grandmother passed quickly: first was the call, asking him to come visit because she wasn’t feeling well (that in itself was an alarm; Steve said his grandmother never asked for anything). In a hospital in Houma, La., Steve, now a physician, saw his grandmother get intubated. She had the coronavirus, which meant he wasn’t allowed to sit with her. Couldn’t hold her hands at the side of her bed. He had to watch her die from the other side of the glass.

Morgan died on March 27, the first person in her parish to pass from COVID-19. Her family held a funeral service for her last Thursday—a small gathering, not in the church where she bowed her head and spoke to God for years, but a place with enough space that those mourning her could stand at a distance. They wore masks. They raised their hands and waved at each other: A way to say hello, a way to say goodbye.


Otis Knapp Lee, 72 (Detroit, Mich.)

Updated 4/07/20, 10:14 a.m. ET: For years, Detroiters eager for a fast, hearty, and delicious meal would shuffle in line outside of Mr. Fofo’s deli in Midtown. Founded and run by Otis Knapp Lee, one of the city’s native sons, the restaurant specialized in soul food, but what really made it stand apart was Lee’s generosity. He offered up sandwiches with heaping portions of corned beef (the dish would become his specialty), and Lee gave away thousands of free turkeys each November.

On April 5, the beloved 72-year-old restaurateur died in Garden City Hospital, just 10 days after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, reports the Detroit Free Press.

“He was just fine, other than a little arthritis. He was never sickly, right up until this happened,” his son, Keith Lee, told the paper. “We thought he’d live to his 90s.”

Otis Lee—and the plates he served at Mr. Fofo’s for 34 years—were the definition of homegrown. Raised by his grandmother after his father killed his mother when he was just 6 years old, Lee learned to bake her sweet potato pies, a dessert that would become one of Mr. Fofo’s signature dishes. Lee opened the restaurant in Midtown when he was 25; its name was inspired by his son Keith’s nickname, but it was only a matter of time before customers began referring to Otis that way, too.

The Free Press reports that the deli gained popularity as soul food was “making a name in Detroit” among residents of all races: hungry patrons lined up for his mac ‘n’ cheese, sweet potato pies, and corned beef sandwiches. Eater notes that Mr. Fofo’s was one of the first black-owned businesses to specialize in the pantry staple.

Soul food is known for its ability to bring people together, and it was a hallmark of Lee’s approach as well. His son Keith noted that for 30 years, “we catered Judge Damon Keith’s big soul-food luncheon.”

“I’d see everybody there–the governor, the mayor, Anita Baker,” his son said.

Lee’s family is currently planning on an online memorial, due to the current ban on public memorials.

While Mr. Fofo’s closed in 2007, Lee’s legacy lives on with this family.

“His impact ... we feel it wholeheartedly in our family,” Keith Lee told the Free Press. “And on top of that, that restaurant was a school for me, my brothers, sisters, cousins, all of us.”


Patrick Jones, 49 (Oakdale, La.)

Illustration for article titled COVID-19s Impact on the Black Community: Remembering Those Who Have Lost Their Lives [Updating]
Photo: The Jones Family

Updated 4/06/20, 1:50 p.m. ET: Patrick Jones, 49, is the first federal inmate to die from COVID-19 according to NBC News. In 2007, he was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison for a non-violent drug offense when he was found to have 19 grams of crack and 21 grams of cocaine. Having spent the last 13 years in federal prison, he hadn’t seen his 16-year-old son since he was a young toddler and had spent the majority of his incarceration fighting for a reduced prison sentence. In a letter written to U.S District Judge Alan Albright he wrote, “I feel that my conviction and sentence was also a punishment that my child has had to endure also and there are no words for how remorseful I am.”

He hoped that the recently passed First Step Act, which aims to provide help to non-violent drug offenders, would’ve helped him secure his release and allow him to finally see his son again. Unfortunately, the judge denied his request on February 26. He was incarcerated at a low-security facility in Oakdale, La., which is facing one of the worst outbreaks of any federal facility.

Jones had a rough childhood and the severity of his sentence was predicated on the charges he accrued as a teenager as well as the proximity of his home to a local junior college. During his time in prison, he worked his way up to head baker and had hoped to pursue a career in baking upon release.

Jones’ sister, Deborah Canady, told NBC News “My brother made some bad decisions in life, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”


Wallace Roney, 59 (Paterson, NJ)

Updated 4/01/20, 1:56 pm ET: Labels like “prodigy” and “genius” are thrown around with increasing regularity, but Wallace Roney was the real deal.

The jazz trumpeter was handpicked by none other than Miles Davis to follow in his footsteps, making Roney the legendary musician’s “only true protégé,” writes the New York Times.

On Tuesday, the 59-year-old virtuoso died in Paterson, N.J., as his fiancée, Dawn Jones, cited complications from COVID-19 as the cause, NPR reports. Both she and Roney were admitted to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center last Wednesday.

Born on May 25, 1960, Roney taught himself the basics of playing the trumpet, the Times noted. By the time he was 12-years-old, Roney was the youngest member of a professional classical quintet, the Philadelphia Brass. He attended the famed Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. as a teenager, managing his course load as a student while taking trips to New York to perform.

Roney developed a high profile by his early 20s, winning national awards and recognition as a leader of the Young Lions movement, which comprised of young musicians “devoted to bringing jazz back in line with its midcentury sound,” writes the Times. It was around this time he caught Davis’ eye and the pair forged a decades-long bond over their mutual admiration for each other and their love for music.

By 27, he was heralded by novelist James McBride as “one of the best jazz trumpet players in the world.”

Over the course of his career, Roney would release nearly 20 albums as a bandleader, including Blue Dawn-Blue Notes, issued just last year. He won a Grammy in 1994, alongside other surviving members of the Miles Davis Quintet, for the album  A Tribute to Miles.

Davis’ family members, Erin Davis (his son), Cheryl Davis (his sister), and Vince Wilburn, Jr. (his nephew) paid tribute to Roney on the official Miles Davis Twitter account on Tuesday.

“We are devastated,” they wrote. “Wallace was a global life force in the jazz community.”

“He was loved and mentored by Miles. We will miss you Wally,” they continued. We love you.”


Terrance Burke, 54 (Hyattsville, Md.)

Updated 3/30/20, 12:10 pm ET: 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 contracted 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 and 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 added.

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 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, 36 (Brooklyn, NY)

Illustration for article titled COVID-19s Impact on the Black Community: Remembering Those Who Have Lost Their Lives [Updating]
Photo: Brooklyn Democracy Academy

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, 43 (Detroit)

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.”

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