The following stories were written by Morgan State University multimedia journalism students

The coronavirus brought on a year of death and illness, plus another trauma, an economic “she-session.” American women have been disproportionately hobbled in the workplace. Women held 55% of the jobs lost in the wake of COVID-19, reported The Hill last May, just two months into the pandemic. Meanwhile business-oriented Forbes, reported that women who work outside of their homes were 1.5 times more likely to report an additional three hours per day of domestic “chores,” essentially another part-time job. Forbes also reported 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce last September, coinciding with children returning to school and virtual learning. Working women were contributing $8 trillion to annual GDP, so the disruption is dramatic. Black women are carrying a disproportionate load of the she-session burden. Morgan State University multimedia journalism students interviewed a handful of working moms in order to give readers intimate reports from the front lines.
Here are their stories.

COVID-19 close call

By Katia Parks
Special to the AFRO

When the State of Maryland went into a state of emergency and prohibited gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19, parents were concerned about their children’s safety. Schools and day care centers were closed, leaving a lot of parents without childcare and other options.

For one Charles County, Md. resident who gave birth at the start of the pandemic, grappling with the “new normal” has been a harsh reality. (Courtesy photo)

Kesha Colbert of Charles County, Md. gave birth to her daughter in March 2019. After staying home to raise her daughter for seven months, she started working at D.C.-area Pacific Architects and Engineers in October. 2019. When news broke in late winter 2020 that COVID-19 cases were rising throughout the country, Colbert didn’t know what to do in terms of childcare. 

“I would drop my daughter off with family members that could watch her until my husband or myself were off work,” said Colbert, 30. “But with COVID-19, I had to be very selective and that caused problems.”

When Maryland went into a state of emergency and prohibited gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19, parents such as Colbert were concerned about their children’s safety. Schools and daycares were closed, leaving some parents without licensed child care. 

Colbert didn’t want to put her 1-year-old daughter at risk, but she and her husband needed to work. If the couple could not secure a babysitter, she would stay home with their daughter. For three months, she took off from work often. But going to work, even in a limited capacity, still posed a risk. 

Colbert said that two employees had COVID-19 and came to work.

“I remember when I received a message from my boss that a co-worker that worked at the desk across the aisle from me tested positive for COVID-19,” Colbert said. “I literally ran home, took a shower, disinfected my apartment, disinfected my car and went to get tested.” 

She tested negative for the virus. Colbert returned to work. However, Colbert believed that she was fighting to keep her job because she would have to call out of work so often. PAE decided to give her leave, but recanted the leave, said Colbert. 

Eventually, Colbert was unemployed. 

“How am I going to help my husband?” she said. “It was really hard to sit at home and clean and watch our daughter while he worked two jobs.”

Colbert began making body butters as a hobby and realized that she could make money from selling skincare products. Her small business called KC’s Selfcare is dedicated to women and men who are interested in skincare.

Said Colbert, “I will admit it is discouraging because it’s not a recurring check but it does make me happy when I receive orders and can get even a little money.” 

She-session players

By Cara Williams
AFRO Intern

Christina Napp, 35, owner and director of the Charm City Players Theatre, is a part of a group born from COVID-19.

Forty-eight hours from the opening night of Matilda, COVID-19 shut down Charm City Players, unknowingly throwing Napp into a group called the she-session.

She-session is the coronavirus-induced recession that has caused women’s unemployment rate to soar higher than men’s. 

Napp and the performers made it through tech week and were ready to work the remaining kinks out of the show when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shut down the state’s schools, restaurants and theaters. 

“Oh my God, we’re finally here, we’re finally here, let’s just work the kinks out,” Napp said.

Later in the year, Napp was fortunate enough to run her student summer camps. What added to the she-session was the return of over $120,000 in summer camp fees and anything else she earned —she had to pay camp counselors and rent for the facility.

Napp said before January 2020 she was teaching over 20 hours per week. She was also directing 30 plus hours per week, managing the theatre company, the box office and overseeing the arts and education programs she started in fall 2019 at four Baltimore County schools.

“We were going non-stop between three different schools for the spring of 2020 and were supposed to add a fourth for the fall, so were booming,” Napp said.

Napp applied for unemployment, and to add to her chaos, she was told she did not qualify because she was self-employed and her business was not sustainable. 

“I robbed Peter to pay Paul and applied to get funding from the government for my programs and all the while taking care of my son. I can’t get a break,” she said.

Napp said she finally received unemployment in May of 2020 after proving her business was sustainable and showing she had numerous programs in the Baltimore County school system. Napp also received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“I never thought I would be on SNAP,” she said, “but I must say it’s a good thing, now, I never say never,” 

Dealing with the financial strain of COVID-19, Napp also had to prepare herself and her 10-year-old son Parker for virtual school. She said staying in the regular school routine worked best for her, but getting Parker to do school work was challenging. 

Napp said it was a struggle to keep her son focused and remind him to keep his web camera on and stay on the computer.

Although this has been a long road for Napp, she has not let the pandemic dampen her love for the arts and educating young people.

She has four virtual camps in the works for the summer of 2021 in addition to in-person camps that will have between 10 to 12 children per camp. She also has a podcast titled “Theatre’s Best Friend.”

Napp has interviewed for a director of arts position at the Gordon Arts Center, a Jewish Community Center subsidiary. She feels confident she will be a part of the workforce again. 

“There is a sense of hope,” she said, “and this is a new year and just a big sigh of relief.” 

Stress, self-doubt, liberation

By Sydney Sears
Special to the AFRO

Kiesha Millerm of Atlanta-oriented Fulton County, Ga., described her pre-COVID-19 routine this way: 

Keisha Millerm continues balancing motherhood and her career during uncertain times. (Courtesy photo)

KM: Before COVID-19, I worked full-time and always felt like I was in a rat race. I have two young daughters that are three years apart. Both girls attend private schools. Therefore, I was driving to two different drop-off and pickup locations before and after school. The stress was definitely weighing on me. I considered going part-time several times but often reflected on what my peers would think. I am a manager responsible for a team of 12 direct reports. The question I would always ask myself is “would I be viewed as weak or unable to balance motherhood and work?” I have learned to slow down and not stress so much.

Was this change for the better? If so, how? 

KM: Yes, my 6-year-old was struggling with reading in Kindergarten. I was able to become more hands on with her homework and assist with reading programs. Also, I felt that my then 2-year-old needed more time at home with me. I am thankful to be able to work at home while raising my two daughters. However, it is difficult when I have meetings and my daughters constantly interrupt because they have basic needs that need to be attended to. This can cause some stress. Also, it might be difficult to give work 100%. I find myself signing on at night to complete work. Not to mention that I have a husband who travels for work quite often.

Does Millerm plan on going back to her normal routine post COVID-19 if possible? How so?

KM: No, I think I will find a position that allows me to continue to work from home should my position require me to go back to the office. I cannot go back to being stressed about drop offs/pickups, rushing to help with homework, cooking dinner and bedtime routine. 

What advice can Millerm give other mothers who had to go through this change as well? 

KM: I would say pray every morning before you start your day to whatever higher power you believe in. The power of prayer has given me the strength to get through this pandemic. Enjoy every moment you have with your children/spouse. We have been given an opportunity to slow down and reflect on what’s really important. Also, please do not be hard on yourselves. “You’re doing an amazing job moms”! Practice self-care without feeling guilty. I’m learning that it is OK to make time for myselfI used to have a lot of negative thoughts about how I am as a mother. I felt that I could always be doing something better. It was my fault that my daughter was struggling with reading and she wasn’t set up properly to take on Kindergarten. It was my fault that I decided to go to work instead of opting to leave my two year old at home with me. It’s my fault if I forget to schedule an appointment. The negative self-talk list goes on.

As a mom I need to continue to practice patience and learn that it’s okay if my children interrupt while I’m on a work call.  As a wife, I need to let my spouse know that I do get burnt out while he is traveling and I may need a couple hours to myself to sleep, read a favorite book or take a nice bubble bath. As a woman, believe in myself and the gifts that God has given me. Just because I have children and a spouse doesn’t mean life or dreams stop for me. I am still working on me time without guilt. Also, when negative self-talk creeps in, pray and know that I am doing my best.

Grandmother, essential worker

By Deja Heard
Special to the AFRO

A bright early morning is never the same with grandmother Yolande Heard. The Heard family was hit especially hard by the pandemic. As a family filled with essential workers and high-risk individuals, they had to combat the virus in the most serious manner possible. They grabbed groceries and medicine for one another, quarantined properly, and got tested regularly. 

The Heard family had their system down pat during the first couple of months of the coronavirus pandemic. As months went by, however, and COVID-19 cases and deaths only increased, it seemed like Americans adjusted to having the virus around more than combatting it the proper way, which, according to Heard, was a huge challenge considering she was helping to take care of her two grandchildren. 

“It’s never easy trying to balance making sure your family is good and also avoiding catching a deadly virus,” Heard said. She sat in the living room of her mother’s home; a home filled with many memories pre-COVID. 

When school was back in session and moved to virtual learning, it was quite hard getting 6-year-old Daylon Duncan to sit down in front of a computer. Heard would physically have to be next to him in order for him to pay attention to the things in front of him. She even had to call out of work a couple of times to make sure he was on the computer. It became extremely difficult for Heard and her grandson’s parents. 

Heard noticed that Duncan struggled with online learning. 

“He’s a very hands-on learner,” she said. “Forcing him to sit in front of a computer just listening to a teacher, was very challenging for him.” 

Despite his challenges, she was still wary when his school principal suggested he participate in a small group of students who were doing face-to-face instruction. 

“I was very worried,” she said. “With me working in a prison and him going to school, my biggest fear was me bringing the virus from outside the prison or him getting it from another kid.” 

Furley Elementary School hasn’t reported any confirmed COVID-19 cases. They have been offering in-person classes with a small attendance of students and encouraging parents to get their students tested for COVID-19 regularly. 

However, Maryland has been having problems with handling COVID-19 in their prisons. According to the Baltimore Sun, “Cases among prisoners statewide also are climbing, but at a far smaller rate than at the federal facility in Baltimore. Some 500 of the 18,000 inmates in Maryland tested positive since the start of January. And since the pandemic started last year, about 3,900 inmates contracted the virus in Maryland’s 20 jails and prisons. In addition, about 40% of correctional officers statewide tested positive.”

So Heard’s concerns about possibly contracting COVID-19 at her job were very valid. The risk of possibly bringing such a dangerous virus home was something she thought about when she accepted the job offer. Her family consisted of high-risk family members as things like breast cancer and high blood pressure were something common in the Heard family. 

“I try to be as careful as possible. My job requires us to get a COVID-19 test done every week, I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve felt that cotton swab in my nose,” said Heard. “But it’s for the safety of everyone. Not just my family, but my co-workers, and even the inmates in the prison I work at.” 

As COVID-19 continues to change the world drastically, Heard has learned many things as a grandmother and essential worker. It’s difficult to balance both, but as the adult that your children or grandchildren count on, you have to push through it and make sure your work and family are balanced. 

“We’re all going through some things during this pandemic and when I say we, I’m also referring to the children, teenagers, and young adults we have raised,” she said. “We may be stressing as parents or grandparents over bills and money, but we also should understand that they’re also struggling also.” 

Oyin Adedoyin and Brianna Taylor were supervising student editors of this report.