By: Natalie J. Greene, student journalist

It was nearing Spring Break of 2020, we had our pre-paid batch of discount carnival tickets and primo seating to see Lizzo perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for Black Heritage Day, and were excited about participating in our yearly family tradition.

Texans – especially Black Houstonians – do not play when it comes to getting their “cowboy and cowgirl on” from late February through late March for RodeoHouston festivities. During this time of year, we wait until the last minute to flood the western wear stores, grabbing blinged-out boots and hats, posing “for the ‘Gram” with our denim jeans and tassels, and fighting traffic to get to the fairgrounds at NRG Park, home of the “Eighth Wonder of the World” Astrodome.

Then it happened…….

On March 11, 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner broke into regular television programming, with a breaking news press conference, updating the public on some strange virus that we heard was killing people in China. Apparently, it had made its way to the Houston area.

“All of the cases that have been confirmed in Fort Bend, Harris County, city of Houston; all of those cases have been related to international travel,” Mayor Turner said. “Yesterday changed things. Yesterday, the case within Montgomery County, that was evidence of community spread and, as a result, that takes us to ‘what do we do next?'”

He went from there to drop the bomb on us all.

“By the end of today, I will sign an emergency health declaration which will remain in place for seven days as we continue to assess the situation and, depending on where we are at the end of those seven days, then City Council will have to vote to continue that emergency health declaration,” Turner said. “What does that mean? That means, as it relates, for example, to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, that we deeply love and support, they are impacted by the decision and changing of events. It (the decision) was not come to easy, but after conferring and talking with the stakeholders, we are all in agreement in the decision that is being made in the best interest of the health and safety of the people within our region. So as of today – starting tonight – the concerts will come to an end.”

Say what? No Lizzo? No Black Heritage Day? No having fun at the carnival with my friends?

My 13-year-old brain could not process that.

The mayor went on to explain that the rodeo was not the only event being canceled. The following week’s “Tour de Houston” bike event was a no-go, in addition to all city-produced or co-sponsored plans, including town hall meetings.


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Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston, then explained “why” it was all necessary.

“This virus is new to the human population. None of us have any immunity to it. We don’t know how wide it is going to spread. We are watching around the globe and we are seeing many communities, many nations, coming up with many, many cases and the spread is occurring very rapidly,” he said. “Within that spread of the people who get ill, we do know that about 80 percent of those folks have minimal or mild symptoms, to some degree that is a bit of a problem because those folks are probably the ones who are spreading it throughout the rest of the community.”

Persse further explained that there was a subset – about 15 percent of the population – who required hospitalization. The doctor said, at that time, the death rate appeared to be predominantly in people over the age of 50, with chances for death increasing the older they were.

“We are doing this in order to save lives. If we are successful, with not only things that this community can do, what government can do, but what you can do in terms of social distancing, washing your hands, covering your cough, not going to work when ill – when we do all those together, we can slow down the spread of the virus throughout our community and it’s important for everyone to understand that that is what did not happen in Wuhan (China). It exploded in Wuhan, they did not know it was coming,” he explained. “They had no warning. They had no time to prepare. They had no ability to slow it down and it completely overwhelmed the community and, importantly, their health care system to the point where when people needed a hospital bed, there was none available.”

It was all very confusing to me then…..

CORONAVIRUS was a word I never heard before.

ISOLATION was something I never had to do.

I thought they were all just over-reacting adults trying to ruin our Spring Break. They were telling us that we needed to stay inside and not go outdoors. None of it made sense to me.

The world, as we knew it, changed…..

The mayor’s seven days turned into 30 days, with re-evaluation, they said, around April 15, which jumped to three months, six months, and so on……..

Black Twitter began to release funny memes to get us through the isolation days and FaceTime was the only way I could see my friends.

We couldn’t go to school. My eighth grade dance was canceled and PTO parents promised to find a solution, but couldn’t. My parents had to watch my middle school graduation on live stream, my ballet classes were shut down, my brother – a high school athlete – was upset because he couldn’t practice or play anymore, and adults seemed to be acting like crazy people in stores grabbing toilet paper and Lysol.

Then, my family lost part of its soul.

My father died, and we couldn’t give him a proper burial – in some part – because of the barriers of COVID-19 restrictions. That hard slap in the face made it real.

My mother, the strongest woman I know, began to cry all the time and it would just come out of nowhere. As a journalist, she was obsessed with making us watch news reports on updates about the virus, while trying to keep it together working remotely from home, leading other projects she was a part of and trying to get us through grief counseling over my dad.

We kept fighting to survive as a family, documenting things along the way, and during the pandemic, launched our own media outlet and newspaper, Bayou Beat News. I think it was my mother’s way of keeping us focused – and sane.

When vaccinations became available, my mother signed us up for a program that provided members of the National Guard to come to your home – or any place where five or more people were gathered – and administer shots. Of course, she documented that and shared it with our audience.

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My mother insisted we “follow the science,” “respect” the virus and understand that we had to get to this “oasis” of “herd immunity” that everyone was talking about.

As I began to mature and accept the “new normal” we were living in, I began to pay attention to how the virus was affecting specific groups of people. After entering high school and becoming a basketball player like my big brother, I saw how the inability to play was taking an emotional and physical toll on the dreams of those wanting to make it to the big leagues. There were many rules put in place, later, to help them adjust.

As vaccinations and COVID testing hit target goals, restrictions began to lift and people rushed to seek entertainment.

The rodeo is also back, and while Lizzo has not been rescheduled, Texas rap legend Bun B’s Houston and Southern Takeover concerts for 2022 and 2023, respectively, had the 40 + clubs filling NRG Stadium. (I went to his first concert, but sat this year’s out because watching my mother and her friends rap and dance was sort of – humorously – traumatic for me.)

At least it’s good that the world is slowly starting to smile again because, to date, the COVID-19 death toll has risen to nearly seven million people worldwide.

And now, on the anniversary of the day Mayor Turner made the bold decision to SAVE HIS CITY, I salute him and the other leaders who stood before the masses that day, telling us what we did not want to hear.

My mother made me realize, if Mayor Turner had not shut that rodeo down, tens of thousands of people could have died from those “super spreader” concerts. So many people complained that he could have at least waited until after Lizzo hit the stage for Black Heritage Day but, now knowing that African Americans were disproportionately dying due to COVID-19, I view Mayor Turner as a hero.

We love our mayor!!!! Houston Mayor @SylvesterTurner and @Sister2Sistah cofounders Ms. Rebecca @bckybr Briscoe, Nakia @NewsWitAttitude Cooper and Natalie Greene at #BeautyMentoring #RoyalTea

[SCROLL BREAK!!! Bayou Beat News can also be found in PRINT at a store near you. Click the link below to check out our E-Edition!]


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