From the Classroom

‘Rona, Race and Raising

How young Black single parents have coped with COVID and racial unrest

Candita Hinds sat on her couch in her suburban Maryland apartment and watched in amusement as her son, Samar, attempted to reenact a comedy routine he recently discovered on TikTok. Though she flaunted a jovial spirit, the smile on her face belied her current hard-hitting reality. Hinds, a single Black mother, recently lost her job of helping others to cope with their mental health struggles. Now, the therapist says she finds herself working through her own anxieties as she tries to manage caring for a 10-year-old son during a period of financial uncertainty and racial unrest. 

“My mental health has been like being on a roller coaster and I’m still on it and I haven’t come off of it as of yet,” Hinds, 32 said.

While the impact of the COVID-19 and the aftermath of George Floyd’s death have been especially taxing for families of color, the particular impact felt by single Black parents has been magnified both economically and psychologically. It’s already tougher for Black families than white families, with a difference in median household income of 70%. Black families earn just $41,692 compared with white families earning $70,642. According to data from MIT’s Living Wage calculator, single parents in the state of Maryland need to earn at least $61,450 annually just to make ends meet. To help quell her financial woes, Hinds was left with only one option. 

“I had to do what everyone else was doing…which is applying for unemployment due to loss of wages and also for food stamps,” Hinds said.

After several notable killings of unarmed Black men and women occurred in the first half of 2020 (climaxing with the death of George Floyd), single Black parents now bear the burden of coping with trauma for both themselves and their children. Anxiety and depression numbers spiked for Blacks in the weeks following Floyd’s death according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Combine this with the disproportionate number of Black people dying due to COVID-19 at 2.5 times the death rate of white people and the result reveals a clearer picture into the current tested psyche of many Black people.  

The main issues on the minds of young single Black parents such as Hinds aren’t too far removed from the problems that distress a majority of the country. Although concerns over government and poor leadership still hold a slight edge as the most significant problem that worries Americans, recent data has shown an unforeseen shift in views held towards coronavirus and race relations. 

Mohmed Younis, editor in chief of Gallup Inc, noted a split last month in his research on the virus and race. “We went from 40 percent of people saying that COVID was the number one problem to 20 percent of people saying race relations and 20 percent of people saying COVID”.  

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, the country saw historic numbers of Americans take to the streets in all 50 states to protest against police brutality and social injustices. Despite a global pandemic, an estimated 26 million people in the United States have partaken in the protests. According to a Civis Analytics survey, young Americans were especially sympathetic to the demonstrations with 66% of Americans between 18 and 34 expressing support for Black Lives Matter while 71% of all Blacks were strongly supportive as well.

Balancing the desire to support the Black Lives Matter protests against the safety risks of being outside in large crowds during a pandemic left young single Black parents such as Rex Jarrett, 30, grappling with a decision of conviction versus rationality. The father of a 5-year-old girl, Skylar, Jarrett made the decision to attend the marches in D.C. and deal with the consequences later.

“I fully expected to contract it,” Jarrett said, “at my age I was content with maybe contracting it, having to fight through the virus and just isolating. If I wasn’t able to get childcare for Skylar I wouldn’t have been down there.” 

Jarrett, who has raised his daughter alone since her mother’s death in 2017, has been engaged in activism since his high school days. He says that it is especially important to not abscond from the responsibilities of social activism, especially during harrowing times. 

“Probably the most impactful that stuck out to me was the Baltimore revolution around the Freddie Gray murder,” Jarrett said, “because it was not only the protest…it was bringing food into the city to help those who are impoverished in Baltimore.”

Though few in number, there are some organizations in the D.C. area whose work intersects directly with the lives of single parents in the region. Parisa Norouzi, executive director and founder of the non-profit organization Empower DC, hopes to bring about sustained improvements in the quality of the lives of D.C. residents in need of assistance. Her organization uses its platform to mobilize these residents and help them become leaders in their respective communities. Norouzi enjoys the energy that single mothers give to the organization and she believes that they play a vital role. 

“I personally have felt that single moms are a major base of power in the sense that they tend to be the leaders, they tend to be the people who become actively involved on a consistent basis on these issues,” she said.

Hinds said, the leadership role that she plays in her own family is one of the reasons she felt compelled to take action. While remaining mindful of the threat of being exposed to coronavirus, she decided to attend the large demonstrations in Washington D.C. with her son. 

“I want to be that role model for him to see that it’s okay to stand up for something that’s wrong. And I felt that it was important for me to be a part of the movement someway, somehow,” Hinds said, “going out there is not the solution…but there’s a power of being in the same environment of other people who share the same experiences or who share the same trauma.”

Despite her challenges, Hinds has taken this opportunity as a teaching moment for Samar. In a time where virtual schooling is now taking place at home with parents oftentimes being the instructors, Hinds decided that learning about Black history would be a mandatory lesson for her son. 

“I started to educate my son on our culture,” she said. “We were really big on Juneteenth this year and it’s sad that we weren’t always like this before…this is the time to have all these conversations.”