Pastor Jamal Brown, right, escorts his daughter Janiyah from her dorm room at Messiah College. (Courtesy photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

The surge of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just mean the closing of outside merriment, but a change or end to traditions, intimate family gatherings and general normalcy, which made quarantining incredibly hard for many people, and presented challenges that impacted both physical and mental health.  

It was March 11, 2020 when the novel coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and after that, semblances of normalcy were shattered.  Suddenly, there was no more in-person school, many adults began working from home or lost their jobs, dining, entertainment facilities and places of worship were closed and suddenly crowded graduation ceremonies, proms, family vacations and in-person holiday celebrations became distant memories. There has been so much loss during the pandemic, and yet people could not have normal funerals with hundreds of attendees saying goodbye and paying tribute to their lives and legacies. No more Sunday dinners at Grandma’s house or holidays with extended family and, to this day if, people choose to still gather together they’re risking their lives and those with whom they come in contact.

According to the COVID-19 pandemic Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) the COVID-19 pandemic has led to rising numbers in anxiety and depressive disorders. Four in 10 American adults reported anxiety and depression symptoms in comparison to one in 10 from January to June 2019. Further these mental health issues during the pandemic have taken a toll on overall health, with 36 percent of adults reporting difficulty sleeping, 32% had challenges eating, 12 percent increased their alcohol consumption and 12% had worsening chronic conditions all because of stress related to COVID-19.  

Despite these rising statistics, Americans, and people all over the world for that matter, are finding ways to combat pandemic depression due to major changes, social distancing and isolation by finding creative ways to celebrate life.

Virtual Everything

From virtual learning, to virtual church, to virtual dance parties, to virtual hugs, everything has gone virtual, allowing for people to connect from all over the world. Project mentors in Scotland could coach people in D.C. and Atlanta (as was the case for the AFRO) and despite not being able to attend events in person, people can now intentionally plan and prepare for virtual celebrations.   

People found ways to make their celebrations work. From Zoom paint parties and Instagram dance jam sessions, people found a way to connect. Even in times of mourning, there were virtual funerals. 

The pandemic, quarantining and social distancing led to major mental and physical health challenges, however, people found a way to celebrate despite, such as Joy and Cameron Lawson at their engagement drive-by in August 2020. (Courtesy Photo)

This reporter attended a virtual wedding and was in-person as Maid of Honor for another that allowed for an in-person, virtual hybrid nuptials celebration. Writer and Project Runway judge Elaine Welteroth notedly got married on her Brooklyn stoop.

“In my mind, I saw the faces of people we love from afar surrounding us on iPhone screens and a small group of our local friends in white lining the sidewalk with gloves and masks on,” Welteroth told Vogue. “I envisioned transforming our stoop into an altar glowing with pretty lighting and gorgeous florals. I had no idea if any of this was even possible in the middle of a pandemic, but I was excited about having a new wedding vision to work towards.”

Her vision came to life and she, her new husband and a couple of close friends, including actress Lupita Nyongo, wore all-White and masked up for what became a Brooklyn block party filled with Black love.

The virtual element presented a whole new and effective way of connecting that will last far past the pandemic for those who have learned the benefits of incorporating a hybrid model of digital and in-person communication.

Drive-Bys and Drive-Ins 

People find a way to make celebrations happen. When graduations, proms and in-person celebrations were canceled, drive-by parties became a major part of culture. From drive-by birthday parties, to anniversary celebrations to graduations and proms, people have made signs, decorated their cars and driven to special locations for a moment of brief connections with special someones.

One newlywed, Joy Lawson, founder and CEO of The Joy of Styling, planned a drive-by engagement party for she and her husband. She and her husband, Cameron Lawson, needed to find the best way to allow their families to celebrate their upcoming wedding without many being able to attend in-person.   

“We wanted to have an engagement drive-by because we wouldn’t be making this next step without our family and friends- better known as the village. An engagement is two families coming together in celebration of love. With COVID-19 and not being able to interact with one another it felt amazing to celebrate such a joyous time. We saw a lot of people doing birthday drive-bys, so we said, ‘Why not,’ and it was a great success,” Mrs. Lawson told the AFRO of the drive-by extravaganza.

“Our wedding party had on their shirts and helped direct traffic, along with signs to the different stations. We had a gift drop off, backdrop where we were located, then finally the gift bag station with snack boxes. We even had walkie-talkies so only 10 cares were allowed at a time so we didn’t have to block traffic. Overall an amazing day filled with lots of hand sanitizer, masks and way more love.”

Drive-ins also gained popularity as major event parking lots turned into drive-in theaters to watch film and television premieres, classic movies and even concerts from the comfort of one’s car. This reporter even covered a drive-in dinosaur experience in Washington, D.C. in the parking lot of RFK Stadium, where guests could literally drive through and see massive, mechanical, jurassic creatures.

Take-out, Streateries and Igloos

No matter the state of the world, people are going to be hungry and they’re going to eat.  

The restaurant business took a serious hit during the pandemic. Almost half, 47%, of those surveyed on Upserve found online ordering as the biggest issue and 20% said that paying bills due to lack of revenue was their largest challenge. According to {Fortune}, more than 110,000 restaurants temporarily or permanently closed in the United States and more than 2.5 million jobs were eradicated.

Despite capacity restrictions, major job losses and cuts, and sometimes even temporary closings, those restaurants that have survived find themselves creating ways to safely serve customers.  While take out has always been something many restaurants serve, during the pandemic, many food establishments had to transition to solely take out. When restaurants could reopen, there were often capacity challenges and indoor dining restrictions- which allowed for the boom of the streateries.  Streateries (Street + Eateries) are outdoor dining areas at restaurants often on the sidewalk or literally on the street. Most streateries were created for places with little to none outdoor seating options and many restaurants are finding success, even in the cold, found success with their streatery options that also often includes heated lamps.

Similarly to the streatery was the igloo boom. Most of the time, igloos or glasshouses are being used for a more private (and warmer if outside) dining experience.  Igloos and glasshouses are often outside and zip or close in order for patrons to eat semi-privately and socially distanced at an establishment. Generally igloos and glasshouses are outside, but this reporter went to a restaurant in Chicago with an indoor igloo option, allowing for me and two others to sit in a private, plastic bubble while inside and socially distanced.


Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor