COVID-19 Oral Histories – Semeka Smith-Williams
For the past few weeks, Packer’s Upper School History Club has been working on an oral history project that documents the Packer community’s experience with COVID-19. Through 30 minute interviews with various people in the community, we have been recording people’s feelings, thoughts, and stories about this global pandemic. In addition to posting select parts of the interviews to the Prism website in both transcript and video form, we are also archiving these interviews at the Brooklyn Historical Society so that we can keep a visual and written record of these testimonies for the future generations. As for now, we hope this project is a way for people to stay connected and share their unique personal stories. Each week, new interviews will be posted, so keep coming back to learn more about your classmates’, teachers’, and colleagues’ experiences during this difficult and unusual time. We hope you enjoy!
-The Leaders of History Club: Sadie, Amelia, and Nick
Semeka Smith-Williams: Director of Diversity and Equity and Packer Parent
Interviewed by: Lucy Anderson
Q: What has been the best or most surprising thing about being in quarantine?
A: Um… I guess it would be that even for the most vocal community members, who sometimes feel frustrated by the lack of empathy from their peers, or um, you know, thinking about like, oh that teacher is always out to hound me for work, or whatever it is, um, that people, students, um, you know, staff members, uh, administrators, teachers, um, parents, missing the school. I think that why, um, in some ways it’s taken for granted all of the ways in which we benefit from being a part of the Packer community and being connected to one another and being able to feel a sense of community and, I think, um, it’s, it, it is surprising to hear, or, or, to even kind of, um, you know, watch as people are typing in the chat, or whatever it is, oh my gosh I miss seeing you, or you know, um, you know, who knew that I would uh, you know, uh, you know, loving being in the classroom, you know, as much as it feels overwhelming at times, there is really something magical about that. I think it’s giving us, um, a reminder that you know, of all the things that are really beautiful about being a part of the Packer community, the things that we sometimes feel challenged by, um, it’s still, it still gives us something in the day today. Umm, it allows us to kind of stretch and grow in ways that are more challenging to do when working from a digital platform.
Q: Do you think COVID-19 will change the way that the younger generation moves forward both in relation to government policies and communities in general. Do you think that it will change and affect the way that we live?
A: Um… I think all of us will be changed by, by this pandemic, um, what that change will look like, I’m not sure, um… I do believe that for, um, young people in your generation this will be memorable, and um, I don’t know, I hope that we can hold on of the realizations, um, some of the pain, um, I think some of the ways in which we have had to, like support one another and extend, um, you know… Uh, uh, a calming voice [makes a telephone with her hand and gestures with it], or, you know, a phone call to, you know, grandparents, or whatever it is, um, I, my hope is for, for your generation holds on to that and, um, and, and, and use it to help shape how you, um, care for other community members, um, or think about, like, you know, health care for all is real. Um, and think about our hospitals right now are, um, are, are losing money because they can’t perform, like, surgeries, um, it’s a crazy reality, right? I think, um, I don’t know, like, that’s like… I don’t know. Just, I, I think thinking about, like, what it means to support small business, and, and thinking about policies, or the ways in which we, um, clarify the language so that, you know, big businesses aren’t taking from Mom and Pop shops, uh, you know, here in Brooklyn, or elsewhere, um… I do hope that, that these are an element of, um, this time that, um, maybe you all will hold on to and, and work hard to preserve, um, or see the value in, um, speaking up for and advocating for those.
Q: Is there anything that you want to say to people who might be watching this years from now, who may not have experienced or remember experiencing this virus?
A: Sure, um… You know, I guess I would just say that there have been ways in which we have had, uh, deliberate conversation about what it means, um, to have different stories, um, different ways of living and experiencing, um, life on a daily basis. And though this pandemic has been the thing that, um, has amplified some of the, uh, um, you know, uh, some of those differences, um, whether it be around mental health or around, um, you know, uh, racial profiling, um, uh, you know, physical abuse, um, uh, educational, uh, uh, um, access, whatever it is, um… I think that there are ways in which being a member of the Packer community has, um, has kind of created a bubble around some of those things, and at this point in our lives, we’ve had to acknowledge that although it can feel like that there is a bubble around our community, there are ways in which, um, those realities that I just named can, um, can puncture that bubble for some of our community members. And, um, and, and, and those spaces where there has been conversation around, like, how have you managed this time, um, have been really valuable, and I think eye-opening for lots of reasons, and, um… I guess, I’ve said this before during this recording, but, um, you know, I think it’s really important that we not take for granted, um, the range of experiences that exist in our community and um, that value of, um, reaching out to one another and just being supportive, and I think empathetic and caring, um, it’s something that I think is such a beautiful quality about, uh, the Packer community, um, but it’s not without work, and I hope that we can continue to work towards that, kind of, uh, school culture. And hopefully without a pandemic, um, impacting us [said with a hint of laughter]. There, there is value to it, and I think that it is something that we all benefit from.
See more of Ms. Smith-Williams’ interview in the video below: