11 episodes

These are the stories from residents of New York City from the borough of Queens who are living, working, learning, and helping one another through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Borough We Became: Queens Residents On Life During COVID-19 Queens Memory

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These are the stories from residents of New York City from the borough of Queens who are living, working, learning, and helping one another through the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Episode 10: Gathering

    Episode 10: Gathering

    The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the 10th episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    In our final episode of season two, we hear once again from Queens residents about their hopes and fears for the future, as well as one quarantine wedding, 20 years in the making.
     
    On the final episode of season two of Queens Memory Podcast, we begin with a 20-year love story. Kate O’Connell and Michael Scott Robinson first met in an acting class. The pair recount their first kiss, their courtship, getting engaged in 2013, and Kate’s cancer diagnosis one month before their original wedding date in 2018. “I wasn’t going to do ‘tragic bald bride.’ Nope. That’s not me,” she said. So they postponed. Kate got better. And they set a new wedding date for 2020. Their plans were once again derailed -- this time by COVID-19.
    Kate, an ER nurse who has worked in a hospital throughout the pandemic, quarantined from Scott in their own house. Fear and stress and all the feelings that have struck some people throughout these trying times ultimately inspired the pair to hold a virtual wedding. “I realized that we still had this amazing celebration that we were entitled to, that we could create and share,” said Scott.
    Listen to Kate and Scott’s wedding vows and hear about how they created a little bit of happiness for themselves, their family, and friends.
    Later in the episode, we hear one more time from Queens residents about what they believe life “after COVID” will look like. From fears about students being left behind in their schooling, to hope that the traditional in-person working environment will be reimagined, even after it’s safe to come back; our Queens neighbors remain vigilant and hopeful. Many are rightfully determined that the Black Lives Matter movement, which sparked nationwide  protests  this summer, remains active and that conversations continue and work toward equal rights and equal treatment is never ceased. 
    Individuals whose voices can be heard in this segment are: Tunisia Morrison, Tiffany Nealy, Yvette Ramirez, Khaair Morrison, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, Richard Parker, Aleeia Abraham, Shante Spivey, Keshia Desmarattes, Ty Hankerson, and Franck Joseph.
    To close out the final episode, our whole team shared what they hope for the future after COVID, and reminisced on their favorite memories of the season.
     
    This episode of the Queens Memory podcast was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’, in conjunction with Anna Williams, Giulia Hjort, Syreeta Gates, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. 
    Editing by Anna Williams and mixing by Briana Stodden, with music composed by Elias Ravin, the Blue Dot Sessions, Audio Network, as well as, Dale Stuckenbruck (violin) and Heawon Kim ( piano), who played "The Marriage of Figaro" during Kate O’Connell’s and Michael Scott Robinson’s Zoom wedding ceremony. 
    Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.

    • 34 min
    Episode 9: Creating

    Episode 9: Creating

    The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the ninth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    In this episode, we hear from artists and creatives in Queens about how they have managed to shine through the pandemic, by finding innovative and fun ways to express themselves while staying safe.
     
    In mid-March, as the pandemic was starting to take hold in New York City, Governor Cuomo  issued   a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more -- a move that would prove to be only the beginning of great steps taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. That same day, Broadway went  dark.
    Restrictions grew tighter in the following weeks, and soon enough, public spaces were closed and New York became a vastly different city. Faced with new social distancing rules, members of the arts community did what they do best: They got creative. 
    Crockett Doob,   a writer and drummer from Queens, plays drums on a makeshift setup at 33rd Street and Astoria Boulevard so he won’t disturb his neighbors. When he lived in Sunnyside, he played on the 39th Street bridge, where he enjoyed the noise of the traffic which allowed him to play as loudly as possible. Now, playing in a more exposed location, he enjoys the anonymity wearing a mask allows him, so he can play as excitedly as he wants.
    Richard Parker  is a tattoo artist in Queens and the designer of the Black Lives Matter  mural  on Jamaica Avenue. Having spent his entire life weaving through the borough, from Corona to Bayside to Flushing and beyond, Parker calls himself a “Queens mutt.” 
    Parker sees the world coming to a standstill as an opportunity for artists, “Now is the time to do what you want to do, especially in New York City.” By designing the BLM mural and his other art projects, Parker says he has been called an “activist” by the community, a title which he says he obtained simply by expressing himself through his art.
    Lifelong Queens resident Sapphira Martin is a dancer, podcast producer, and writer. She and her mother are the owners of dance studio,  It’s Dance at the Brown Barre.  She is also co-host of  The Black Girl Podcast,  alongside four other proud and strong black women. She has focused during the pandemic on supporting her Queens community. She leads classes via  Instagram  for her dance students and continues to work remotely on her podcast and subscription box service,  SassBoxx,  co-curated by Martin for black women. She has leaned heavily into her creative outlets over the last few months, and the Black Lives Matter resurgence that took place this summer drove Martin further to create and show up.
    “Black lives have always and will always matter,” she says.
     
    This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore in conjunction with Theresa Gaffney, Anna Williams, Syreeta Gates, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. This episode was edited by Anna Williams with mixing by Briana Stodden and music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.
    Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.

    • 24 min
    Episode 8: Learning

    Episode 8: Learning

    The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the eighth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    On this episode, we hear from educators of different backgrounds about how virtual learning has impacted their students and the way they do their jobs. 
     
    On March 15, 2020, Mayor De Blasio  announced  New York City schools would close to slow the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers in the city switched to remote learning. Less than two weeks later, De Blasio  extended  the closure to the end of the school year. As of the publishing of this podcast, NYC schools  remain closed  for most children.
    Tiffany Davis-Nealy, of South Ozone Park, traveled the world as an education consultant before becoming the principal of PS 165 in Flushing. Davis-Nealy was a motivated student, raised in Bed-Stuy at PS 40 and transferred to PS 121 in Queens in the fifth grade, where her mother fought for her to be placed in advanced classes. Nealy felt destined to be an educator because she wanted to be like one of the teachers who shaped her life so positively. She majored in psychology and education in college and then began her career in Harlem in the 1990s. Nealy would later work for Columbia University, PS 21, and finally, currently, at PS 165.
    Nealy states she has learned a lot about her students since the onset of COVID-19 and the switch to virtual learning. She has noticed a higher level of food insecurity among the families than she had previously been aware of. In fact, Flushing is what is known as a food desert -- where there are fewer than  10 retail food stores  per 10,000 residents. Nealy notes that many of her students had relied on lunches received in school as their primary food source. While  organizations  and the  city  have stepped up to help provide meals, there remains a struggle to support families and make virtual learning work for everyone.
    Shawn Chandler, an attendance teacher for the Department of Education, is eager to help people through the uncertain future of the pandemic. Born in Queens, Chandler has worked for the DoE for 15 years, where he tracks down young adults who have stopped attending school for various reasons and helps get them on a course to graduation. Chandler also owns  Sing 2 School Inc.,  a hip-hop educational company.
    Predictions have been made far and wide about what schools will  look like  when they reopen amid COVID-19, what the US can learn from  other countries  about safely reopening, and even what schools will  look like  years after the pandemic has ebbed. 
    Chandler has his own theories. While he acknowledges that the implementation of remote learning has  not been seamless  and that the practice itself is  not for everyone,  he predicts that hybrid-lessons and attending in-person a few days a week will be much more common in coming years. Chandler is hopeful that whatever changes are coming to the education system will be effective in keeping students in school.
    Remote learning has been especially difficult for students with special needs and their families. These students who require the most direct support in a classroom have suddenly had to transition to learning at home with their families. In New York City,  228,000 children  with disabilities have been affected by the closure as  services  have changed.
    Keisha Desmarattes is a lifelong Queens resident and a special education teacher. Formerly a social worker, Desmarates earned her MA in social work in 2014. She recalls teachers scrambling to prepare for what teaching is going to look like this fall. When the closures began, most teachers assumed it would be back to normal by September. Desmarates laments the  disadvantages  her students experience with re

    • 24 min
    Episode 7: Organizing

    Episode 7: Organizing

    The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the seventh episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast.  This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    On this episode Queens leaders talk about campaigning during a quarantine and ways they have found to continue to support their communities. 
     
    Unemployment filings skyrocketed as COVID-19 settled upon New York City and the world as businesses closed and workers were laid off. By early May, the New York Department of Labor  announced they had paid $6.8 billion in unemployment since the start of the pandemic. This number is nearly three times greater than the total unemployment payments made in 2019. While  food pantries  and other nonprofits scrambled to answer the call for help, their resources were  strained  by the sharp spike in need.
    On August 1st, Queens residents gathered outside the New York Hall of Science to receive food distributions. Senator Jessica Ramos hosted the event, which also offered  free COVID-19 testing.  Senator Ramos hosted regular fresh food  distribution events  in the months after the pandemic upended life and income for many Queens residents. The event on August 1st was the 14th distribution. Michael Pereira, who was born and raised in Queens, was in attendance and talked about how this time away from work  has enabled him to take better care of himself physically and mentally. He also talks about the  systemic dietary oppression  Latinx families face, as well as, the negative health impacts of  low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods due to low housing quality. 
    Meanwhile, politicians and aspiring leaders try to adapt to campaigning and staying in touch with communities while social distancing. 
    Queens resident  Mary Jobaida  was forced to derail her campaign for the New York State Assembly District 37 when the shutdown began. Jobaida immigrated to Queens from Bangladesh in 2001 and has lived in the area ever since. She talks about watching the gentrification of neighborhoods, pricing herself and her neighbors out of options. A 2019  report  by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development found that, in Queens, the neighborhoods of Jamaica and Hollis were most at risk. This  map  shows gentrification throughout all of New York City. Jobaida decided to run for State Assembly in District 37 to help those who have been affected, against incumbent  Catherine Nolan  who was first elected in 1984.
    Jobaida says she originally thought about running for State Assembly in 2018. She filed the paperwork to do so in spring of 2019, using her professional name “Mary.” In April 2020, the board of elections removed her from the ballot upon learning her full name is Meherunnisa. Their stated reason being that the name in the application filing must match the candidate’s legal name. Jobaida, along with Moumita Ahmed, who was also removed for the same reason,  sued the BOE,  claiming xenophobia was behind the decision. In May, a  judge ruled  the two women will appear on the ballot.
    Continuing her campaign while social distancing, Jobaida was severely limited. A number of her organizers and campaigners contracted COVID-19, four of whom died. 
    One month before the election, unable to afford mailers, Jobaida utilized volunteers to operate phone banks. The Democratic Primary Election took place on June 23, 2020.  Jobaida lost  to incumbent Catherine Nolan by 1,153 votes. Jobaida won 5,041 votes, while Nolan won 6,554. Jobaida suspects if she had been able to campaign in person, she would have won, and vows to continue the fight. 
    Brent O’Leary  of Long Island City is running for City Council, District 26, which includes Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, and part of Astoria. O’Leary  announced his campaign  in the summer of 2018 - three

    • 27 min
    Episode 6: Comeback

    Episode 6: Comeback

    The  Queens Memory Project  brings you the sixth episode of season two of the  Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    In this episode, Queens small business owners share what it has been like to operate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic -- their struggles and perseverance.
     
    On March 20th, Governor Cuomo announced  that New York City was going “on PAUSE” with an executive order, wherein all non-essential businesses were to close their doors. This included restaurants, shops, and other small businesses to reduce their workforce by 100%.
    Food service was hit especially hard. New York lost an estimated $1.9 billion in sales and 250,000 jobs  in March, according to a survey conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association.
    Local advertising company and community blog, Give Me Astoria, established a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the  Astoria Relief Fund. Founder of Give Me Astoria, Sonia Mylonas, along with designer Eleni Louca and Editor-in-Chief Lou Lou Chryssides, successfully raised $25,000 -- delivering over 5,000 meals to essential workers from over 100 local restaurants.
    The fund provided monetary compensation for restaurants to bring back their employees to prepare and deliver meals to essential workers, though the team says many restaurant owners contributed more, as they were grateful to have a reason to work again.
    Meanwhile, other non-essential businesses found new ways to work within the guidelines of the executive order.
    Local audio and video business owner Jonathan Jetter was able to operate his company, Right Angle Productions, from his office, as the only person there. Jetter recalls working long hours in the uncertain days leading up to the lockdown as he tried to finish projects in case he was forced to halt his work. However, while business has slowed, Jetter has been able to keep his company up and running.
    Jetter laments that no rent relief program for businesses has been instituted. (Note: Jetter was interviewed on 07/23/2020 and this episode was posted on 09/10/2020). According to a  Hospitality Alliance survey, only 19% of New York City businesses paid rent in June, and only 26% of landlords waived any rent. An estimated 64% of restaurants  in New York State may close as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Food blog Eater NY  provides an ongoing list  of local restaurants that closed their doors permanently during the pandemic.
    Several  bills have been proposed  by New York politicians, including a  bill to the New York City Council  that would repeal commercial rent tax for the remainder of the pandemic. However, nothing has been enacted yet.
    While the struggle to remain open has hit many business owners, those that have been able to remain operational have had to learn new ways of staying safe. 
    Demetrios Vasiadis, owner of  14th Street Laundry  in Astoria, talks about navigating the safe operation of his laundromat -- deemed an essential business -- during COVID-19. Vasiais maintains a  blog for the laundromat,  in which he describes everything from new safety measures to changes in traffic conditions. He attributes an increase in business to the security and comfort the blog provides customers.
     
    This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’ in conjunction with Anna Williams, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. Mixing and editing by Briana Stodden with music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions. 
    Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.

    • 23 min
    Episode 5: Intersection

    Episode 5: Intersection

    The Queens Memory Project brings you the fifth episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
     
    In this episode, we hear from first responders of color who have been on the front lines of the pandemic from the very beginning. 
     
    Diana Wilson has been an EMT with the New York Fire Department for 17 years in Springfield Gardens. Rob Semple has been a firefighter with the FDNY in Corona for less than a year. Both Rob and Diana are first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Rob, who is new to the force, remembers their 20-week training being cut short by two weeks in order to get more firefighters in the field as soon as possible to help with the pandemic. Indeed, medical 911 calls to the FDNY rose from 4,000 to 6,500 per day, including a notable spike in calls involving cardiac arrest, and a 400% increase in cardiac arrest home deaths. 
    Diana notes a new rule for paramedics, implemented because of the pandemic: Limit your use of CPR. This rule was put in place by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City, in an attempt to keep COVID-19 positive people from entering hospitals and infecting others. However, following widespread objections, the New York Health Department rescinded the order.
    Previously, according to New York City EMS protocol, CPR should be initiated to all patients in a state of cardiac arrest, unless signs of obvious death are present or the patient has Do Not Resuscitate orders in place. 
    Diana and Rob discuss the emotional toll they have felt during these trying times. Diana lost her husband to an illness in April 2019, and after COVID-19 took hold in New York City, she sent her children to live somewhere outside of the epicenter. She reports feeling isolated without her family around her, especially after two of her colleagues died by suicide in the midst of the pandemic. 
    Similarly, Rob notes that many of their fellow firefighters find comfort in spouses and significant others, which Rob does not have. While the FDNY offers mental health support, neither Diana nor Rob have utilized it, though both encourage people to find support within their communities.
    Rob also reflects on the unifying effect 9/11 had on the FDNY as a result of so much shared loss, and they lament that the pandemic hasn’t brought about the same response.
    Fellow EMS worker Christell Cadet tested positive for COVID-19 in March and was told to come into work anyway. (In the early days of the pandemic this was not unheard of because hospitals were so overwhelmed.) Cadet has asthma, a respiratory condition which she is 20% more likely to have as a  Black American woman than a non-Hispanic white American woman. Eventually, Cadet went to the hospital, where her condition worsened and she was put in a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator. (COVID-19 patients that require ventilators are always put into comas.) Cadet awoke from her coma a month later.
    All medical personnel responding to the COVID-19 pandemic work long hours, are under immense stress, and literally put their lives at risk while working. It is an incredibly dangerous job, and workers like Cadet and 100,000 others have paid a high price. For this reason, there has been a widespread call for hazard pay to be distributed to essential workers, like medical staff, who put their lives on the line for us all.
    Hazard Pay has been a point of contention between first responders and the government since the onset of the pandemic. “Hazard Pay” is additional pay for workers performing hazardous duties. Diana, as an EMS worker, has not received hazard pay for working on the front lines of the deadly pandemic. She reports hearing that doctors and nurses received hazard pay -- which could be because certain private hospitals and private c

    • 23 min

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