Early last week, I published an article about my concerns about the great American reopening.

After spending just one hour in one of our Champaign-Urbana parks, my suppositions in that earlier article were confirmed. I was so concerned and disoriented by my outing that I had to come home and revisit our state, national, and county documents to understand what phase we are actually in.


Screenshot of graph of COVID related deaths through May 26th sorted by race. Screenshot from APM Research website. Screenshot from APM Research website.

Last I checked, African Americans are dying of COVID-19 at rates two to three times higher than our white counterparts.

Locally — as I thought I understood based on CUPHD data — African Americans make up 13% of the Champaign County population, but make up 21% of the COVID cases.

This data alone is reason enough for my hesitation to return to recreating and spending money in the local economy. 

However, my experience at a local park on May 29th just reinforced my hesitation to rush back out to communal Champaign-Urbana spaces and spend money.

I took my daughter out just for some fresh air and sunshine at from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. My daughter and I both wore masks.

With the exception of one man of color on a bike, most of the people 50-60 people we encountered out in the park were: 1.) white, and 2.) NOT WEARING MASKS and, 3.) NOT KEEPING SIX FEET DISTANCE BETWEEN US as they walked three across on the sidewalk within three feet of myself and my masked daughter as we sat on a bench. 

Others, on this very breezy day, let their toddler run toward us in grassy spaces. Even park employees did not wear masks while executing tasks walking by us or driving by us in vehicles. Finally, another unmasked gentleman let his dog walk far out ahead of himself as my child and I walked by and the dog leaned in our direction.

For the record, given last week’s showdown between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper in Central Park, this is not a great week for me to have to deal with white folks and their dogs in parks on long leashes.

This is all despite the fact that the directives for Phase 3 Outdoor Recreation Guidelines clearly state: “Social distance of at least 6-ft. should be maintained between non-household individuals unless participating in activities permitted under Phase III guidelines.”

So what does it mean for white folks to not cover themselves, not socially distance, and not keep their pets in close proximity when approaching people within communities that are more susceptible, more infected, and dying at higher rates? 

It means that were are having very different experiences in Champaign-Urbana around what it means to feel safe to return to work, shop and dine out, and engage in "social and recreational activities" according to the Reopening Illinois Phase 3 Guidelines.

If we are strangers to one another and you do not social distance from me, it means you put my life or the life of my child in danger. If you cannot or are not willing to manage to social distance with people of color, then it means I must limit my time and withhold my resources from the public sphere.

Our lives matter.

BLACK LIVES MATTER — whether you know the Black person in question or not. 

So as we continue to manage a pandemic that is often asymptomatic, that means we must all take more care to distance from Black folks, not less.

I should not have to feel terror or panic for myself and my child in an outdoor outing that was sought for relaxation and ease.

Alternatively, if we cannot honor what it means to share space for free, how then are we going to fare when there is literally money on the table? Let me again close with the reminder offered by my Smile Politely colleagues from the recent editorial: "We do need to be very cautious about how much interacting we are doing." I would add that we be even more cautious about how we are doing it. 

Some of our lives — particularly lives of color — truly do depend on it.

Top image by Nicole Anderson Cobb.