I used to think that fighting was a waste. Beneath me. Over time life would reveal that not only are some fights necessary, but the majority of great victories for mankind were a result of courageous, committed fighters who remained loyal to the cause; a loyalty that would cost many their freedom and others’ their lives.
I was raised in a house that celebrated the fighters: Martin and Malcolm, JFK, Angela Davis, and Mandela. The celebration would continue in the classroom by teaching my students about Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, Cesar Chavez, and countless others. My message has always been the same: Stand for what is right… stand up for others.
I never thought of myself as a fighter. There are those who go looking for a fight and there are fights that come looking for you. Until the last few years, the classroom has served as my space to inspire change and justice in the world. It would be January of this year that dropped the first hint of change in the air. I felt it… something wasn’t right. The events in Wuhan, China were captivating. I watched. Listened. Questioned. By the end of the month, I would order one box of ten N95 masks.
The next month and half was like watching an inevitable train crash in slow motion. I waited for the engineer to switch rails… seek a better route. He didn’t. No one did. I grew impatient. Anxious. It felt personal.
On March 24th, at 11:00 pm, my brother, Kious Kelly, a faithful and beloved nurse in New York City died after contracting COVID 19 at work.
As I said, I’ve never been much of a physical fighter. The temporary fulfillment I imagine experiencing after hauling off and taking someone down is quickly contained by the immediate guilt and disappointment I would feel for failing to remain composed.
“Kious was murdered,” were the words posted by a fellow-nurse on social media that halted time. Her words numbed my pain. “The hospital failed to protect him,” his co-worker posted. Kious was murdered; the words lingered and performed a well-coordinated dance before my eyes. That was my invitation into the ring… and my acceptance was promptly returned.
In the days ahead, images of fellow nurses in trash bags plastered local and national headlines, emails from nurses begging for PPE (personal protective equipment) flooded my inbox, and screenshots of hospital horrors backed up my incoming text messages. Reports of masks being used as long as 10 days that were intended for single use, disposable-single-use gowns offered only once a day to healthcare workers, and sick healthcare workers required to return to work continued to pour in for weeks. Perhaps the most cowardly of acts: termination threats from hospital administrators for those who spoke to the media regarding their lack of PPE.
No, this was not a fight I chose. It chose me. Not because I am a healthcare worker. Not because it would bring my brother back. Not because I had anything to personally gain. Rather, precisely because I have nothing to gain. The historical greats sacrificed and fought for others. So often I think about the Reverend Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign; King was not poor… but others were. King’s words have molded my very existence, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
We all knew the Corona Virus was coming and had ample time to plan. Every citizen. Every Governor. Every hospital Administrator. Every Politician. And most assuredly, our President had a window of time to lead America in pro-active preparation efforts. Ill-preparedness and greed killed my brother and close to 80,000 Americans and counting.
#PPENOW was my response on March 26th and the focus of a handful of subsequent interviews. My plea for PPE was loud and clear. Two months… two months later PPE remains an issue as it is left to the whims of privatized hospital leadership. Little media coverage is offered regarding the on-going lack of sufficient PPE as the White House and various states prepare to reopen. The desire of many to return to some semblance of normalcy quietly suggests that we move forward and simply forget our grave mistakes.
Kious Kelly Protection for Healthcare Workers Act was presented to the public in late March. The goal is simple: mandate all hospitals (public and private) to provide the appropriate CDC approved Personal Protective Equipment to all healthcare workers and abide by the intended usage. Never again should hospitals be permitted to hoard or ration PPE. Management must provide the equipment required or the hospital is to be deemed a hazard to the public and not viable to serve.
While some of my fellow Michiganders (a small number) stormed the capitol toting guns, Confederate Flags, and nooses (shockingly, in the name of God), I choose to fight for the protection of my brothers and sisters who serve in the hospitals and nursing homes. I will protest the failure in leadership by calling for responsible change. I will advocate for their rights and the honor of those who serve our country in our hour of need. I will fight for the voiceless who demonstrate their loyalty by showing-up to work, day after day regardless of unimaginable circumstances.
At this moment in time, we are each writing our own history. We get to choose what story we will tell our children and grandchildren. What is your COVID-19 story?
Many have used this time to motivate, heal, encourage, and literally cheer for others. We have daily reminders of the mysterious beauty and love in the human soul to offer hope. Signs have been made, songs have been sung, and masks have been created. Art and creativity is at its peak as the human spirit responds to the cry for good.
As I said, some fights are chosen and some seek you out. I’m all in and prepared to fight to the final round. My journey may lead me all the way to Washington planted on the White House lawn. So be it. Know this: I won’t need a mic. I won’t need a crowd. And I most certainly won’t need a gun.
I will fight for the Kious Kelly Protection for Healthcare Workers Act… and I intend to win.