Last week, we launched Her Testimony, a campaign capturing the experiences of Black women in North Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we offer the first story, which is a true testament of faith. This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity. To learn more about Her Testimony and participate in our survey, visit here. The survey can be completed by anyone who identifies as a Black woman residing in North Carolina who wants to share their experiences during COVID-19.
Doretha Singley is a mother, wife, and grandmother with over forty years of nursing experience, including twenty-three years as an Officer in the Army Nurse Corps. After she retired, she turned to teaching and is currently a clinical nursing instructor at Fayetteville State University where she teaches first year students the fundamentals of nursing. She is also pursuing her PhD with research specializing in breast cancer screenings and health disparities. She is originally from Baltimore, Maryland and has called North Carolina home for twenty years.
Here is Doretha’s testimony.
Reflecting on what this experience has been like so far, what are a few words or images that come to mind?
It’s been interesting. You use the term surreal but I don’t know if that’s a good term or not because it’s real and it’s not real. This really is happening, but I rely a lot on my faith. I trust God. I don’t trust God to the point that I don’t do what the law says. I have to abide by the law, which says the governor or the president says this is what you do. But we do need to trust God that He’s gonna see us through this. That’s the only thing that’s helping me right now because it feels unreal.
The fact that we’ve got to continue to wear masks for a period of time. I have students from all nationalities. And my Asian students, they would come to class with a mask on before this. And so I had a student–I think this must have been in January– I asked, “why are you wearing that mask?”
“I don’t feel good,” she said.
She already was doing what they’re telling us to do. If you don’t feel good, you wear that to protect yourself from others. People are still finding it difficult to understand that you’re not wearing a mask to avoid getting what others have. You’re wearing a mask to avoid giving what you have to them. It’ll work if everybody is wearing a mask because if they’ve got something, they’re keeping theirs to themselves, but if you are wearing your mask, you’re protecting them. If they don’t have their mask on, you’re gonna get a whiff of what they got. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
It’s a cultural mind shift and it’s adapting. In your day to day, how has this experience affected your daily life and how have you been adapting in your day to day?
Well, since I was a part-time instructor, it has changed my day just a little bit because a lot of my time is supposed to be focused on this dissertation and so I’ve had to force myself to focus. I have more time in the house, so I’ve had to, while trying to work with the students, create a workspace to make myself successful.
I’m not a very organized person, so I’ve had to struggle with being organized so I have a structured day. And I take care of the students, take care of myself as far as doing my writing, and then do the things I need to do for home, being a wife. Not really a mother now because everybody’s gone, but they left me their dog, so I have to walk him and take care of him. He follows me around. If I walk, he walks. If I stop, he has to put on breaks because he’s right behind me.
So it’s been different. And of course- church! There’s not been any church. There are [online] services all day on Sunday. So I have to tell myself, “ok now if you gon get any work done, you can’t stay listening to all these services.” For the past 20 years, I’ve been traveling from here to Raleigh so it’s nice for me to not have to do the traveling. But I do miss the fellowship.
That’s a lot to adapt to–for not being able to fellowship in person at church.
I think when it’s all said and done it might make the membership a little closer. I’m in a small church. I think people are gonna appreciate each other. My mother used to say, “you don’t miss your water until the well runs dry.” So you don’t miss the fellowship until you can’t get with them.
It’s gonna be different. I think we’re gonna have to make a lot of adjustments. As a grandparent, we have one grandson, and we can’t see him right now. We probably will be able to see him soon since he’s only two hours away, but we couldn’t make that trip because of the travel restrictions. But we can FaceTime! As much as I wasn’t into the Zoom and the technology of Facebook and everything, I’ve seen the positives, like the church services on Facebook. Social media, I guess we could say, has arrived to really have a meaningful place to help people with this pandemic.
What’s been a low point for you?
The lowest point is probably not being able to see my grandson, but I’ve tried to maintain a positive feel in all of this. I guess my other low point is not knowing the unknown. Where are we going from here? Are we really gonna have to wear masks everywhere for the next two years, at least? We should’ve been practicing hand washing and all of that anyway. That’s a good thing that’s gonna come out of this. The heightened hand washing. But you know, are we gonna have to go back to church and not sit close to somebody? Not hug anybody?
What has been a high point so far?
I think just being home. To me it’s been okay. I don’t have a problem with that. I think it might even help me to be more organized because I’m here. So now I have my little planner and I try the night before to line out every hour. It doesn’t always work, but I’m getting there. As they say, it’s a work in progress. So I think this time is gonna allow me to catapult into finishing my dissertation which has been a long time coming.
During this period, what have you been learning about the needs of yourself and the community?
Like I said, for myself it’s been mostly trying to get that organization down. It’s mostly the planning. You do need to plan for family time as well as the time for work and the time for school.
The needs of the community — I’ve always known about the needs of the community, but it’s become even more to the forefront for everybody. I’ve been impressed with the way the schools have stepped up to the plate in feeding the kids. I was very familiar with the lunchbox that they sent home with kids on the weekend because some of the kids might not have gotten any food between the time they left on Friday and the time they get back on Monday. So, I’m hoping that this will continue and carry on to be a positive thing. And here in North Carolina–up in the White House, I’m not sure–but here in North Carolina, I think Governor Cooper does have a lot of compassion. He does have to deal with the Republicans that’s a part of the state, but I’ve seen a lot of compassion. A lot of people are reaching out – even the people that had to shut down their restaurants. Instead of going home, “Oh me, poor me,” they took what they had in there and they fed the healthcare workers and they fed the families that were in need.
I’m hoping that it will encourage a lot of people once this turns around. I believe it will. Pick a platform and do something for the community. If that comes out of this, that would be a good thing because there’s too many that are in need.
What are your hopes for yourself and the community as we emerge from this crisis?
You know this might be a blessing in disguise for me because it means I need to focus on my dissertation. I’m hoping that I can push myself through all of this to finish and then I will plan to have a platform in wellness at the church, or back at my school.
They’re talking about the high morbidity and mortality in African Americans with this virus and one reason why it’s so high is because of the disparities that we have in our race. And that’s due to the comorbidities – hypertension, diabetes, obesity. But it’s also due to some biases in healthcare professionals. They don’t purposefully do it, but they probably don’t realize that they don’t treat us the same way or don’t have a conversation the same way. I think people are going to be more receptive to health programs because of the widespread consequences of this virus.
Where have you been finding joy in this time?
Mostly in the word and realizing that God is going to see us through this. I know and I firmly believe He will. But in the meantime, we have to listen to the rules that are in place to get there. That’s been my biggest joy because if I stop and look at what’s actually going on, it might be kind of depressing. But it’s not. It’s not, because I have my faith and I believe. I believe that God will bring us through this. He did not bring us this far to leave us. He’s there. All we got to do is reach out. I do believe, I do believe that He’ll carry us through this. We just have to get there.