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WLRN Connects: Handling Anxiety Amid The Pandemic And Racial Justice Protests

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Freddie Peralta holds a sign in memory of Breonna Taylor during a protest over the death of George Floyd and others, Saturday, June 6, 2020, in downtown Miami. He is wearing a mask and face shield amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protests and Pro Tools. The pandemic and plants. Time with family and moments of joy.

These are ways South Floridians are coping with anxieties and stresses brought on by the pandemic and deep pain resurfaced by the race and social justice protests. The pandemic has led to isolation to protect public health. And it has caused a lot of economic anxieties.


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And for two weeks, protests sparked by George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minnesapolis police officer have swept across South Florida and the country. Generations of racism, police brutality and social injustice have been central to the marches.

The anxiety in the air is mixed with people stuck in their homes for months during a pandemic, high unemployment, closed businesses, isolation, an endless flood of polarizing racial and political stories, and now -- here in South Florida -- the beginning of hurricane season.

Anuella "The Green Goddess" Alexander is the owner of A Green Community, an environmental conservation organization in West Palm Beach. She's also a member of Kärnl Moon, a local healing and wellness group. The "plant mama" uses wellness and horticulture to keep spirits high at public schools and businesses and to keep herself "sane through all of this." 

"I definitely find it very meditiative - taking care of plants and gardening, and being surrounded by nature," Alexander said. "I always feel that nature is the most grounding thing in our lives." 

Jarel Brown, a West Palm Beach musician who performs as Rello, is a member of FLA.VAR [Florida Variety], an eclectic media and events group.  Brown says the artist community in West Palm Beach is finding different ways to cope with the pandemic and protests. After Instagram Live interview sessions hosted by FLA.VAR, Brown says the general consensus is that the community is "flourishing." 

"Artist can be some of the most outspoken and passionate people," Brown said. "So when they're put into a situation where their moral compass is triggered, I think there is a bitter-sweet mixture of pain and progress...like protest vs protools." 

Devon Lewis-Buchanan is a registered clinical social worker and former college athlete. He’s the founder of Inspire Youths, an organization that brings behavioral health education to marginalized communities in Palm Beach County. He says representation in the mental health field is an important factor to alivate trauma in distressed communities; young black boys relate to him but he also "sees himself in a lot of the young men he serves."

Inequities in education. Health disparities. The "underlying issues are the things that we don't see everyday - that can't be captured on camera." Serving is his way of coping during the pandemic and protests. 

Parents are trying to adjust to role changes while finding ways to cope with their families. 

Cari Cuellar, a middle school nurse in Hialeah, came down with the COVID-19. Her husband caught it, too, as they were moving into a new house. They sent their two children to their grandparents as Cari and her husband nursed each other through the illness for two weeks. She says her job role has completely changed, and as she adjusts to virtural nursing, she's stuck with one question for the fall school semester: "what is school nursing going to look like for us."

In the meantime, she's finding ways to cope through the uncertainties. "Take mental breaks - whatever that is for you. Mindfulness session - if it's mediating, whatever brings you peace and holds you still," Cuellar said. "And that can be for a few moments of the day." 

Martini Jean-Baptist lives with health risks everyday as an ICU nurse at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. She says the isolated unit for her COVID patients, the "COVID world" adds an extra layer of anxiety and uncertainy; the day-to-day gear proceess is overwhelming - "You don't want to cross-contaminate," she says. 

"When you're coming out to either take a break or go to lunch, we have to degown - the process, the anxiety level is so high, you're thinking about 'Oh, did I mess up? Did I miss a step? Did I take the glove off first before I took my mask? Did I touch the inside of my mask?' You're using that same mask to go back in," Jean-Baptist said. 

Jean-Baptist also worries about keeping her daughter safe. But she finds comfort in praise and worship, her managers, doctors, coworkers and 1199 union members - "we support each other like a family." 

"Whenever we do have those days where we need to talk, we can call each other," Jean-Baptist said. "Spending time with your family - learning new things, I learned new things about my two-year-old that I didn't know." 

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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