BY NATASHA LAGRONE
I will never forget being on set Thursday, March 12, at Sony Picture Studios in Los Angeles. It was a very gloomy and rainy day. As an actor, I was preparing as I normally would by meeting with the wardrobe, hair, and makeup teams to collaborate on my final look for filming. That morning, I had to be at the studio early, and I did not have the time or energy to prepare breakfast. So, your girl was hungry!
With an earnest appetite, I traveled to a nearby stage on the lot, ready to grab a delicious omelette made-to-order. To my surprise, I found the cooks urgently throwing away pans of egg yolks, bell peppers, ham, sausage, onion, tomatoes, you name it! I asked the staff why the food was being thrown out, and the cook said, “Because of the coronavirus, they shut us down!” I found out later that the show, which was hosting the omelette truck, stopped its production prematurely that day due to COVID-19.
Later, while on set, I received notice that the theatre company where I worked cancelled our upcoming production meetings and that Disneyland closed their doors. When Hollywood decided to shut down, I knew things were getting serious.
In the days to follow, my roommates and I could not find toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, or Lysol wipes at any stores in Los Angeles. Eventually, on Saturday morning, the local stores were restocked, but it was so bizarre to see these items disappear over a 24-hour period. After many phone conversations with my mom about the scarcity of toilet paper in Los Angeles, I received a text from her that read, “Hey kiddo, remember you’re welcome home anytime...” What started for me as a chuckle at the gentle way my mom tried to get her eldest daughter of five girls to come home, soon became a serious consideration.
With the theatre and television industries shutting down, I was out of work and I had nothing else tying me to the city of Los Angeles. Flights to Detroit were as low as $17. The question then became “Is it wise to travel during a pandemic to my beloved hometown, Flint, Michigan, while there is an ongoing water crisis?”
It was only mid-March and quarantined life was getting real. After chatting with a good friend, I decided to go home to be quarantined with family while I still had the freedom to travel, considering domestic flights could be restricted at any time. I knew that schools and childcare facilities were closing their doors, which meant my sisters and their children would be impacted, because they are essential workers in the healthcare field. I wanted to be able to assist my family with childcare due to the immediate closures.
After I informed my family of my decision to come home, my mom found a flight for $25.49 to the neighboring big city of Detroit, Michigan, and I was booked to travel that same day. I began packing items as if I was preparing to go and sterilize a hospital room: I had gloves, masks, concentrated Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer in high supply.
Within my first week of being home, news broke that my former pastor, Kevelin B. Jones, Sr. of Bountiful Love Ministries COGIC in Flint passed away from COVID-19. On the same day, Elder Freddie Lee Brown Jr. passed away due to COVID-19 and Elder Brown’s son, Freddie III, who was 20-years-old and slated to attend Michigan State University in the fall, died just three days later of the coronavirus. These ministers served together during the years my family attended the church.
I will never forget hearing the emotional voice of Sandy Brown, widow of Elder Brown, speaking on our local news about the loss of her husband and only child. She shared that, in most cases, when someone loses a loved one, people can come to sit with you and hug you during your time of grieving. However, she had to remain in physical isolation, because she had been exposed to two people who died of the virus. Each funeral service was streamed online, and I was able to watch them with others who could not attend due to the restrictions on large gatherings.
A little over a week later, my former classmate and Flint native, Christopher Burtely, lost his father due to COVID-19. His father, Nathel Burtely, was the well respected, first Black superintendent of the Flint Community School District.
Reaching out to friends to express condolences has become a weekly norm for me. There was a time, I would hesitate to express my condolences, because I always wanted to have the right words to share. However, this pandemic has taught me to act immediately on expressing my heart with those experiencing loss in hopes of lending timely support.
My daily prayers are with my Flint family and community. We live in a predominately African-American city facing an ongoing water-crisis and dramatic disparities when it comes to the facilitation of COVID-19 testing. Individuals who wanted to be tested early for the coronavirus had been turned away by doctors, because they said these patients did not meet CDC requirements for testing. Many of these patients later tested positive for COVID-19 and by that point were at critical stages. The delay in diagnosis can literally mean life or death, which I’ve witnessed first-hand.
What’s in your cup? I’d love to hear how you’re filling up during this unique time. Take a sip of #TeaWithTasha weekly on Instagram @Natashagrone.