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Detroit Region Grapples With Deaths Of Over 1,000 People From COVID-19

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Scroll through the obituary pages of Detroit's newspapers, and you start to get a sense of how the coronavirus has ripped through the city. In Wayne County, which is home to Detroit, a thousand people have died from COVID-19. Only a few states have higher death counts. Many people in Detroit personally know someone who has died. Ken Coleman, a reporter for the Michigan Advance, knows nine people, and he's been writing about what it feels like to live in a community where the coronavirus has saturated every part of life. Welcome.

KEN COLEMAN: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Can you just give us a sense of how staggering the number of deaths has been in Detroit?

COLEMAN: The numbers are staggering. African Americans make up about 14% of the state's population, and we're about 35% of the deaths. You know, I don't know anybody who doesn't know somebody who has either contracted COVID-19 or who, unfortunately, has died from it.

CHANG: And what is that like to see so much death right there in your own community, people you know?

COLEMAN: It's - you go through all the emotions. Over the last four or five weeks, there've been times I've been numb, not able to even react to the news that I'm getting from somebody. Sometimes numb - sometimes it's depression. Sometimes - I've cried like a baby more times over the last month than I care to share.

CHANG: You personally knew nine people. I'm curious. Can you tell me about one or two of them? What were they like?

COLEMAN: One, Marlowe Stoudamire, who was really a strong community leader here in Detroit, had helped to lead a two-year effort to remember the 1967 civil unrest. And Marlowe hadn't even been born at the time, but he knew it was important for the city to understand what happened and build bridges and find ways to make sure that it never happened again. I thought that was extraordinary for a young man, an African American man of 43 years old. And to hear that he had passed, that was pretty - that was a shocker. It was a punch in the gut.

CHANG: I understand that your father-in-law passed away late last month. It was not related to the coronavirus.

COLEMAN: He did, but it happens in this period, right? And so even having to say goodbye to him in the formal way was the eeriest thing that I ever have witnessed - being in a funeral home and having a limited number of people who could say goodbye to him. We literally had to stagger the times in which people could come say goodbye to him, almost like it was scheduling an appointment.

You generally hug, and you generally hold people, and you you look them in the eye. That was not possible. We were sitting two and three pews away from each other with masks and gloves on. We call them home-going services. I've never been to a home-going service that was carried out that way. And so the crisis affected how we were able to see him for the last time.

CHANG: I also notice that you write you have seen glimmers of hope. Can you tell me about what that has looked like?

COLEMAN: I'd been inspired by food service workers at the Detroit public schools that are providing meals for children two times a week. These are men and women who have gone beyond the call of duty, if you will, to make sure that young people are having lunch and school materials to work while the face-to-face education process isn't being carried out. It's one of those great stories that I've seen.

CHANG: I've been noticing that you have been trying to go through the motions of normal life. Like, I saw you posted a selfie with your wife and son just mailing in your 2020 census form. What has it been like just trying to find some normalcy right now?

COLEMAN: You know, people who are a lot more eloquent than me talk about how beautiful things can rise even out of crises. And certainly, for us, it has been an opportunity to connect with each other in ways that we don't always do. And now brings into focus how important family and community are, and that's really what it's about, right?

CHANG: Absolutely. Well, Ken Coleman, I wish you all the best, and I hope you and your family stay safe.

COLEMAN: I appreciate that. Thank you so much, and to you and yours and the rest of your listening audience.

CHANG: Ken Coleman is a reporter for the Michigan Advance. His piece is called "The COVID-19 Crisis Has Rocked Detroit And My Life. But It's Also Inspired Me." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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