Sylvester Brown Jr.

“Irony is one of my favorite aspects of life.”

I can’t say that I agree with Cherokee American actor Wes Studi’s assessment of irony but I have been reflecting on the word lately. A couple of weeks ago, I received word that I would be joining The St. Louis American as a Deaconess Fellow. My major responsibility for the next year is to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on African Americans in our region. 

The ironic part of this new opportunity is that days after getting the gig I found out my girlfriend tested positive for the coronavirus. Sure, I want to write great narrative pieces about the pandemic, but I have no desire to be a participating part of those stories.  

Yet, I am. 

My test results came back negative. My girlfriend also seems to be OK. To date, she’s shown no symptoms of the virus. Still, the impact of possibly having the disease, the still-unknown mysteries of COVID-19, the impact on her life, my life and the lives intertwined with ours are all too real. All that fear, uncertainty and the need for answers will serve as inspiration for this new assignment. 

We all know that black people disproportionally contract and die from this disease. We know that access to quality healthcare, being essential workers, reliance on public transportation and suffering disproportionally from diabetes, heart disease and asthma all make black people extra vulnerable to the virus.  

My job here at The American is to put faces and personalities on the pandemic; it’s to tell narrative stories of how we cope, how we excel against great obstacles, and how we can collectively survive this crisis. 

I want to speak to those questions that invaded my mind and more: How do I protect myself and those I love? How will our children return to school safely?  What provisions are provided for children and adults with special needs? What leaders can we truly trust? Can small, black-owned businesses ever rebound? What if any new social, economic, or health-related opportunities will this pandemic present?

As you can see, I have a lot of ground to cover. I will need your help, your stories, and your ideas. Together, we can provide valuable insights and understanding about this disease, ourselves, and our future. 

At the very least, these stories will serve as a historical testament to a time of great challenge and fear. Years from now, when COVID-19 has been relegated to the annals of history, later generations can visit The American’s archives to see how we, as a collective, grappled and coped with and survived a worldwide pandemic.

I’m also hoping to shine a light on the heroes amongst us. I want to share the stories of local first responders, essential workers, researchers, healthcare providers and scientists who bravely tried to assist, rescue, and guide us through this crisis. I want them to know their great deeds have not gone unnoticed.

I’d like to thank publisher Donald M. Suggs and The American’s entire staff for this amazing opportunity and gracious welcome. Not only will I report on the pandemic across all of the newspaper’s coverage areas, but I’ll also utilize a wide range of media platforms. Look for my work not only in the print edition but through The St. Louis American’s website and social media platforms as well.

I’ve already heard from some of you. Please keep it up. Send me any ideas about interesting people or stories you want to read pertaining to this coronavirus crisis. Please email me at sbrown@stlamerican.com.  That said, I look forward to the work will we produce.

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.

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