“I can’t breathe.” These were the last words of Eric Gardner, George Floyd, and at least 68 other Black men who died at the hands of police. Floyd’s death unleashed the largest social protest in United States history31. COVID-19 also takes away your breath. It has exposed racial injustices as well as gender injustices. Blacks and Latinos are dying in greater numbers than whites. Students in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, including my own, did not have computers, and our school did not have enough to provide when we suddenly closed in March. Students had nowhere in their crowded apartments to learn remotely. Many had no Internet. My students and their parents were essential workers who did not benefit from federal unemployment packages, who had to leave their children at home in the care of others, had little health insurance coverage, and who got sick with COVID-19.
Will the combination of a viral and racial pandemic finally open our collective airways and let us breathe justice for all marginalized people? I hope that this unit, drawing on women’s voices from the past, will inspire students to take that deep and courageous breath to tell their stories, and relate what they experienced and learned about injustice in America during COVID-19. I want students see that a society that allows injustice for some, harms everyone. I want them to see clearly their power and value, and to fight against violence from police, society or partners. To fight for health care, child care, family leave, flexible working hours, higher wages, and balanced representation in government. These are everyone’s issues that will yield a better, more just society. We should not need a war or deadly pandemic – viral or racial – to make changes, but given that one is upon us, it is truly time to seize the day.