We Need To Know Your Stories

Dear Beloved Community -

In this time, the whole world is caught in a disorienting moment of quarantine lest we spread an invisible, life-threatening contagion we know little about.

In this time, when one of our Rutgers students tells me about being a frontline medical worker in Liberia when Ebola hit, he is helping us understand what he learned.

In this time, my family, my co-workers, my friends, my students all have loved ones on the frontlines of health care. 

Clement A. Price Institute Director, Jack Tchen
Clement A. Price Institute Director, Jack Tchen

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning illuminating the night sky, I gain a glimmer of what our Native American / Indigenous brothers and sisters lived through 400 hundred years ago when those colonial ships brought diseases that decimated the First Nations peoples here in far more devastating numbers  not the 2-5% who are dying now, but as many as 70%, wiping out all those around you.

In this time, when our everyday rhythms, work, lives, and loves have been fully disrupted, we thought it was a time to come back together in the spirit of what Dr. King prophesied as the beloved community.

In this time of the global pandemic, we at the Price Institute wanted to ask how you are doing? Even though we are all going through this, place still matters. 

It’s the people of color and immigrants who have to be on the frontlines of our new quarantine economy. The statistics tell us twice as many Black and Brown people have died, and those with certain pre-existing conditions. We need more research!

We do know place matters, the zip code and where you work affects you the most. Are you in a room of many, all squeezing to make the rent? Are you in a nursing home with not enough staff? Are you living in a car and don’t have a safe toilet to use? Do you work at the Newark Airport handling luggage? Are you stocking shelves at groceries? Are you making home deliveries? Are the work policies lousy and heartless?

We want to know your stories.

Like the firefighters and volunteers the moment after 9/11 who ran towards danger, now hospitals — especially the public hospitals — are where our rescuers go. The doctors, nurses, PAs, therapists, assistants, and especially those who keep those places clean and sanitized, those who drive the emergency vehicles and check people in, all those on the health frontlines are our protectors—suddenly we all understand these jobs are more than simply a paycheck or a career, they are a calling. Your children and your children’s children need to know what you do and what you believe and how you have managed.

Everyone clapping at 7 p.m. is an act of care and support.

But we also need to know your stories. We need a public archive of your feelings.

All of you, we are learning, are doing this work with reused and makeshift masks, without the PPE, without the ventilators, without the tests and all the proper supports the richest country in all of human history should be providing. Why?

We need to know your stories. We need to hold these stories for the future.

Unlike a war when we’ve been conscripted or we volunteer, this virus spread because it’s new and is everywhere. The untold climbing deaths and the untold climbing bedridden are also because of the gutting of the basic right of public safety and well-being. This is less a virus tragedy and more the utter greed and uncaring of those who make decisions based on “scarcity” fear politics.

How have your life plans changed? How are you now thinking differently about those prior plans? Can life go on as before?

We need to know your stories. This long moment cannot be simply forgotten.

Some of us, myself included, are privileged to work remotely. But we’re on different kinds of frontlines trying our best to respond to all those going through trauma, those desperately trying to make sense of what’s happened, those needing to continue school, those needing to connect, those needing to still feel the joy of music, the arts, home cooking, and that life is more than paid work. We choose not simply to escape but to double down and further engage, to stay true to what we believe.

We need to know your stories too.

Please write to us, send us a photo, a video, a sound recording – anything that’s easiest to share with us.

Over the decades we have compiled a mailing list of over six thousand who have attended various events, especially the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series. You are our “beloved community.” But being the new Director of the Clement A. Price Institute, I want to give added meaning to what being connected can mean.

When Dr. King breathed life into that phrase, he gifted all of us a new vision of the culture we must build ourselves. We know we can’t just wait for the right politician to be elected, or the right boss or the right leader to come along. We have to become the answers ourselves. We have to build right relationships in the here and now. And in this long, long global moment, that here and now is here now.

 

I find the words of writer activist Arundhati Roy very inspirational, but also true and useful.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

This pandemic is a portal.

 

We need to re-member, to bring together again, to assemble all these stories.

And with them, can we re-imagine another world?

 

Dr. King, exemplified and signified that future. Here is the King Center’s working formulation:


Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.

Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power.

Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.

Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

 

Please tell us your stories.

We need to know them.

We need to archive them.

We need to hold them in our hearts and memories.

What must we learn and change?

                          . . . as we walk through that portal lightly to create our beloved community.

 

In solidarity and gratitude –

Jack Tchen
Clement A. Price Institute Director
Rutgers – Newark

 

Share your stories with us on social media using #PriceCommunity or email us at priceinstitute@newark.rutgers.edu. Your stories may be featured on the Price Institute website and social media platforms.