Going to the University of Dubuque was challenging for Jakyra Bryant.
Not academically, though she did work hard to keep up her high grades. But as one of the many college students in Dubuque working to support herself, she had to work two or three jobs in addition to her studying in order to pay for rent, car payments, groceries, and all of the other expenses that came with her degree.
Yet Jakyra thrived despite this brutal schedule, until the COVID-19 outbreak. Shortly after the crisis started, she lost both of her jobs and soon was staring at mounting costs and no way to pay them. She applied for unemployment, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of income. So she began searching for jobs, and eventually found work at a grocery store, where she became one of Dubuque’s “essential workers.”
During a crisis, it can be easy to forget about the grocery store employees, mail delivers, agricultural workers, and countless other people whose work became vitally important during the outbreak.
“It was very busy,” Jakyra explains. “And it was very stressful.”
With over 300 orders a day coming in and new health measures being introduced frequently to try to maintain some level of safety in the crowded store, Jakyra felt overwhelmed.
She was constantly worried about her health, especially when reports began to come in about the outsized toll COVID-19 was taking on Black individuals nation-wide, and she found it difficult to come home every day and focus on school work. “There was a lot of anxiety, crying, and trying to stay on task.”
But despite the fear and pressure she felt just trying to finish her senior year, when George Floyd was killed and protests broke out across the country, Jakyra felt compelled to step forward.
“I realized that I had a privileged position too, because of my education and my school. Many minority men and women can’t be heard. So, I used my privilege, drive, and positivity to get things moving.”
Jakyra organized a public Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest at Jackson Park, held in an open space while encouraging social distancing, with disposable face masks and hand sanitizer readily available.
The gathering was focused on educating attendees on the issues and history surrounding systemic racism. Education is close to Jakyra’s heart, as she is getting her degree in Elementary Education, and her goal is to one day open her own preschool. “Education is how you get long run change.”
For Jakyra, these experiences showed her how important it is not to forget. We can’t forget about all of the essential workers who risk their health as part of keeping our city moving and food on everyone’s plates. We can’t forget that real problems like systemic racism don’t disappear during a crisis, but instead often become worse.
And we can’t forget that whether protesting or returning to our jobs or even just trying to enjoy the summer weather, right now we need to consider the health of ourselves and those around us.
“There is more than one crisis,” Jakyra reflects, “and we need to deal with them together.”
Hosted by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, #AllofUsDubuque focuses on stories like Jakyra's about coming together and overcoming our differences to fight back against COVID-19. This is our opportunity to take advantage of our full potential, which we can only do when we act together as one community. Learn more at allofusdubuqe.com.