As Black women, we engage the gift of community and the collective power of our voices to tell our stories – our way – and incur change. In our current campaign, Her Testimony, Black women are the ones shaping the narrative around our experiences in the coronavirus pandemic. One of the ways that we are documenting how this pandemic specifically affects Black women is through our survey. We are collecting input so Black women’s experiences and insights can be best positioned to serve our community, loved ones, and families. If you identify as a Black woman, are 18+, and live in North Carolina, we would love to gain your insight. You can access the Her Testimony Survey here. Don’t live in NC? Help us spread the word to Black women you may know in NC.
Brianna Kennedy lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three year old son. An educator at heart, she currently works in the education policy field where she engages leaders across the state in mobilizing resources and access for the public education system in North Carolina. She is also a passionate community advocate on issues impacting the lives of Black women through her organization, Black Women of Durham. This conversation took place in late April and has been edited for length and clarity.
This is Brianna’s testimony.
Reflecting on what this experience has been like so far, what are a few words or images that come to mind?
If I were to use two words, I would say this experience has been difficult, yet I remain hopeful throughout. What’s funny is before all of this started, I actually left the classroom so I could work at an education nonprofit because I needed to step away from that direct service aspect of being a teacher. Even when I started at my new position, I’ve been really pushing, “can we work from home?” So I’ve been wanting to work from home, but I never thought I would be working from home during a pandemic.
I don’t think I can have a remote position permanently, but it’s definitely something I would look forward to. But it’s been difficult because our son. We made the decision to keep him out of the daycare for the foreseeable future and that means that two full time working adults have to bring their schedules together to create a plan that he will get some type of nurturing outside of just putting him in front of the tv.
That’s the hopeful part because my husband and I are in a fortunate position now. If I was a teacher and this happened, I don’t know how we would be able to navigate the scheduling needs we would have and the demands of our three year old. So yes, it’s been difficult, yet it has brought a lot of hope for what’s to come.
I’m curious, what is some of the hope that you are holding on to?
I think that part comes from the way that me and my husband have been able to communicate during this time. For a lot of couples, having to be in the house or in someone else’s space, literally for 24 hours, that’s a lot. And if you include a toddler that is very demanding, it could have been way worse. But it reminded me that this is the partner that God placed in my life for many reasons and this is the child that we are growing and raising together.
Even if the world abroad is losing their minds, I have some peace and safety that I can actually come home to and that I can be surrounded by. That for me is the hopeful piece.
I also draw from my girlfriends. I realize that I like talking on the phone more than I thought I did. So now I am able to have random conversations in the middle of the day with my homegirl, my grandmom, my mom, my sister because we all are at home, working some, chilling most of the time and it’s allowing me to reconnect and put in place things that I hope to continue if we ever get “back to normal” because I appreciate those conversations.
None of this is normal. And after this is all over, whenever or if ever it is over, I think people will realize that what we were thinking was normal, wasn’t ever working. I’ve never been through this. I’m a first timer at this and we are just going to play this day by day. And that’s all that anybody should expect. If you try to give more, great. And if you don’t, that doesn’t make you a terrible human. It just makes you human.
How has this experience affected your daily life?
My son’s biological clock is still on schedule so when he’s up by 7 am, everybody in the house is up and awake. My husband and I decided that since he’s home with us, instead of trying to work around our schedules, we would actually take the concerted effort to make our own schedules and communicate that with our directors and bosses at work. So we’ll have half day chunks where we are Zion’s teacher versus a coworker or colleague. The schedule that we have now works for the both of us and for Zion because he doesn’t have to bounce back and forth between his two parents.
What has been a low point for you?
Thinking about my son, I think one low point is him not being able to interact with people his age and his size. It’s super important, especially for his development to have that peer to peer. One day, we actually went on a walk in our neighborhood and there were some kids playing and initially, I was like, we have to stay 6ft apart, but how do I tell that to a three year old? We haven’t told him about all of the intricacies about coronavirus. We’ve just been telling him we have to wash our hands and we’re not going into the grocery story. After that initial moment of shock, I thought, you know I’m going to take this risk. I’m going to pray that nothing happens. And we will take some really nice baths. I was able to let him play for five minutes with the kids and he could not resist. And I thought, oh my God, I have not seen him this happy in so long because he is seeing kids. I think that was the lowest point, because I depend on my childcare facility a lot because they help me navigate being a parent to a person at his particular age, so without it I know that he has been missing his friends and missing the structure that they have there.
That situation with the neighbor’s kids reminded me, okay, I have to make sure he has stability and structure to his day, but it is also a lingering concern for when we decide to put him back in daycare. “Is he going to be behind other kids? Is he going to know his alphabet? Are all of the other kids going to have their friendship circles and my son will be the outcast?” I don’t know. That’s definitely a low point, but it’s something that I think about every now and again. Probably more often than necessary.
That makes sense. And it aligns with what a lot of parents are grappling with, especially parents of children around your son’s age. We are all missing our social lives and the kids as well. I tend to forget sometimes what that means as a child. On the flip side, what’s your high point, if at all in this moment?
Being able to not be in my actual office. I am in a very comfortable place called my home, and I’ve actually been more creative in my line of work. I don’t have to worry if my hair today is going to be the topic of conversation or, you know, the little micro-aggression things that Black women have to deal with in a white space. That’s been a high point.
What have you learned during this period about what you need, specifically for yourself, in this time?
I’m an extrovert by nature. Over the last couple of years I’ve turned more so into an introvert with extroverted tendencies. A three year old requires a lot of attention. My husband on the other hand is an introvert. If we don’t have conversations, he’s totally fine because that’s not his love language. For me, I’m like, let’s spark up a conversation and then sometimes I’m like, I got to get out of this house. So a part of the routine that we established is Saturday mornings when we’re done eating breakfast, I’m going to go someplace so I can be by myself.
That’s one thing that God revealed to me—that you actually need alone time.
Just because people know you as an extrovert and friendly, doesn’t mean you have to be performative in that.
What’s one thing that you learned about the needs of your community and you can define community as you seemed fit?
My community is Black women and one thing I realized is we need community and fellowship on a much more regular basis. Usually, when people talk about your basic needs, I think sometimes the need to fellowship and have someone to talk to is often overlooked.
But for anybody, regardless of your personality type and age, you need somebody that you can talk to and you need a tribe or a village that you can be a part of and are able to be your true and authentic self.
Something else that I realize my community needs, and that’s Black people in general, we got to come to terms with the way that we trust our political structure and our government. A lot of times we like to call things conspiracy theories but even if people weren’t conspiring for this to happen, there definitely was a lack of any sort of forethought. Thinking about this pandemic in general — we are the United States of America. There is no reason why we weren’t able to stop this spread earlier. And there is also no reason why people are able to go on national television to say — “if a couple hundred thousand people die, and that’s all, that’s a good thing.” That’s not okay. At all. You know of that hundred thousand, that’s mainly people of color. Mainly Black people. I think we just have to be critical consumers of information. We have to be that way for our children and something has to make us mad enough where we intentionally like — if we are not going to destroy the system we have to intentionally disrupt the system to the point where it can no longer function without us. I have no idea what that looks like. But it definitely has been on my heart.
It doesn’t make any sense that we are able to live in the land of milk and honey but literally people cannot buy milk.
Yeah, you would think this is the moment and breaking point. We are just trying to survive. It would be interesting to see how it all unfolds and our roles in it. I’m interested in knowing how you have been adapting around the mandated conditions?
For the safety of myself and for the hope of seeing my mother who has asthma and who has definitely come to the brink of death with said asthma, I don’t go out to these stores. I honestly can’t remember the last store I went inside. Everything that I do is either through the drive through. I went to Perkins Orchard. I don’t know if that counts because it is an outdoors fruit stand. That’s the store that I’ve gone into and I’ve only gone into twice. I actually explained to my mom to give her some comfort but I try to limit the stores that I go to. There is a restaurant that we like that started to sell its dairy and meat. That is the store that we go to for our salmon and chicken. Target is where we go for our snacks. That’s really it.
For you, where have you been finding joy?
I’ve been finding joy in my friend starting a bible study and going with her on a journey of actually getting it started has been fun and joyful. It’s a constant refresher and reminder of God’s promise to us. It’s just really cool. She’s been talking about doing it for over a year and now she’s finally doing it. It’s not just a book club. She is curating and creating a space for a specific group of women, some of whom I never met, some who I know through her, and now this is another part of my village. I’m definitely getting joy from that.
I’m also getting joy from my sister who is pregnant with my niece. For my mom, this will be her second grandchild. So just getting updates from her and her asking me about my pregnancy and how that looks for her pregnancy. It’s just fun.
What are your hopes for the future when we emerge from this crisis?
I hope that people, especially Black women, are able to come out of this with an understanding of what their worth is actually tied to and what it is not.
Some Black women think that their worth is tied to how much work they can produce or how many people they can take care of.
I just hope that they realize that none of that matters. And literally God said it. All of this stuff that you are doing for man, that’s not your ticket into heaven and that is not what is going to help advance my kingdom. I hope that people — Black women specifically – realize that you got to be comfortable in yourself and even if you do nothing else, it was enough.
For me and my job especially, I hope that in my position, I am able to be more courageous in the ideas that I present and actually begin to present them and take risks. At work, that was something that I told myself in the beginning of the year. Instead of a new year’s resolution, I did a word that I wanted to embody, and risk-taking was mine. I just want to continue to do that.