Felice M. recognizes the struggles of the pandemic from multiple perspectives—she is the mother of two children at different life stages and the wife of a funeral home operator. As a full-time nonprofit and strategic communications consultant, Felice focuses on using her skills to help strengthen local systems of support. She advocates for conversation and action around racial justice.
While people talk about health and the economy as crises of the pandemic, education isn’t always brought up. Felice wants education pushed to the forefront, making it a “three-legged stool conversation.” Felice’s daughter just graduated high school; she was as a commencement speaker for the “drive-in movie style” ceremony. Her youngest—her son—is in the Saint Louis Special School District. Finishing the 2019-2020 school year virtually gave Felice a new appreciation for teachers. “My hat goes off to people who do that work every day,” she says. She is concerned about students in other school systems who may not have the same access to technology or knowledge of how to use it. The student may not have someone at home who understands the homework or who can motivate them to learn. She says, “the reality is there’s not equity out there as far as what each kiddo is getting [through virtual learning].”
Felice is motivated by data; she looks for solutions where success has been found. She feels this is a critical time for people who do systems work. “If we can point people to the right system, it’s critical that there are connectors.”
Felice has seen promising programs nationally that intertwine the social service and criminal justice systems. In late 2019, the pilot program Cops & Clinicians began in St. Louis. Felice explains, “A myriad of social service or mental health issues don’t get addressed if you just rapidly address it as a crime. ‘You screwed up; you get locked up. That’s that.” Felice feels like this program is an example of where people who say defund the police would want to reallocate money.
Homegoing during pandemic
Felice married into a funeral home family 25 years ago. When COVID first hit, funeral services were restricted to ten people, including staff. Friends and family could not see the deceased individual if the death was COVID-related. She recalls the anger and frustration, “You’re telling me I couldn’t see them in the hospital prior to their departure, and now you’re stopping me at the funeral home door to say I can’t come in.” It was painful to witness.
Families have adapted to the COVID-regulations by bringing in video cameras to record homegoing services, an African American tradition celebrating the deceased’s return to heaven, and by staggering the service in shifts. Some officiating pastors and priests have delivered eulogies three times, increasing service hours and staff costs.
Cremation services have increased for both financial reasons and concerns about unreported COVID infection. She says, “People want to do more graveside services because you’re outdoors and still practicing social distancing.”
She is thankful for her husband’s attention to cleanliness as a funeral home operator. Funeral staff must go in and out of the hospital morgue, and there’s the embalming process. The scientific discovery is immense. “When you cut open that body—and there’s still so many unanswered questions about COVID—it’s kind of like when HIV first happened,” she says. Scientists will work, as they have in previous pandemics, to discover treatments and reduce uncertainty.
More now than ever, Felice emphasizes that people need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. She says, “We are living through times that are so uncomfortable, it’s provoking people to change.” She continues, “there’s no getting around the fact people of color have been marginalized and that conversation needs to happen.” She hopes people will listen through the lens of humanity during the unrest after the wrongful death of George Floyd and others.
“You can listen now, or you can listen later,” she says, “We’re at that point where we’re listening on the back end, but we’ve got to get back to caring more about humanity than pushing our own agendas. That way, our actions will be accountable to having heard what needs are a priority in the communities where we serve and what strategies are most likely to be effective.”