Howard University Multicultural Media Academy in partnership with the Dow Jones News Fund

COVID Chronicles: Students Share Ups and Downs of Pandemic

A cello. Poetry. Halo CE. Earphones. Positivity. Family. These are just a few factors that have been helping our student journalists thrive during the coronavirus pandemic. In our “COVID Chronicles,” students reveal the people, places or things that resonate with them and will always evoke this epic moment in history.

Recovering an Absent Hobby

Like many high school students, the pandemic left me feeling isolated, lost and hopeless. I spent most of my days moping around the house, trying to keep myself occupied. The Netflix movies felt dull, board games were already boring, and I didn’t want to bake bread with my mother for the third time that day.

In despair, I retreated to my room and my gaze fell upon the pearly-white shelf that stretched out across the room, its corners pressed firmly between walls. Feeling drawn towards the appliance, my eyes were lured to the various novels that had garnered a thin powdered layer of dust. Enveloped in a dark hue of jade, one book protruded out from the rest, like an arm reaching out, calling for help. I grabbed it. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was engraved along the sides. With nothing else to do, I propped myself against my bed and began to read. 

By the time I had set the work down, salty, wet streaks were gliding across my face, stinging my skin. I was stunned. Who knew that simple words of the English language could make one feel so alive? I wanted more. I craved more. I was hungry for more. 

After re-reading the novel a couple more times, it became apparent to me that I had regained my love for reading. As a child, I was never seen without a book. Whether it be about fairies, monsters or wolves eating up pigs, I loved to read. As I grew up, the world moved rapidly around me, and I felt like I had lost all control. It seemingly felt as if there was just no time left for me to read. While everything and everyone around me continued to suffer through losses, I was just grateful that this pandemic allowed me to recover an absent hobby: reading. Sumaya Abdel-Motagaly

More Highs Than Lows

Growth is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the pandemic. Throughout the college process, school, and other experiences that occurred I was constantly self-reflecting and trying to be more open with the people closest to me. It’s always been hard to speak about my personal problems, and I wanted to start sharing how I feel. 

A friend had reached out to me during this time, and I wasn’t able to help. I learned that even if I couldn’t be the one to be there for her, she would be OK. Things worked out in the end, and she’s safe now.

I’m thankful that I remember more highs than lows. I didn’t lose a family member to COVID-19. Although my mother lost her job, my family never missed a bill. One of the many highlights during this time would have to be Sundays. My church community shared so much love and support via Zoom. Their positive outlook and open-mindedness gave me hope during these dark times. 

Community Bridges (CB), a non-profit organization that empowers and instills confidence in young women, was also extremely supportive. The organization kept me active, and I was able to find new opportunities and be involved with my community through the girls program. I honed my public speaking skills and interviewed Shebra Evans, president of the Board of Education in Montgomery County, during a Racial Equity Town Hall. This experience was really empowering for me. The program reminded me that I am important and valuable.

From Christmas parties, movie night and Valentine’s Day celebrations, CB gave my friends and me a virtual space to connect and celebrate each other. The best part of my experience was having a mentor. Cristal is one of the most thoughtful and caring people I’ve ever met. I never thought I would talk to someone on the phone about a book I want to read and receive it days later in the mail as a gift, just because. Her keen ear and gracious spirit inspire me, and she mirrors the type of person I want to be. 

During the pandemic, I’ve read books and articles about the history of the Black community. Reading working on essays for my college applications have improved my writing tremendously. 

My story isn’t perfect, but I definitely came out more courageous and self-aware. I feel more confident in who I am. I hope I can inspire the people around me as much as they’ve inspired me. — Brigitte Bonsu

“Music became my best friend,” Brigitte Bonsu says.

Brigitte Bonsu Changes Through the Notes

It’s hard to imagine that I've been in my house for a year, because it really doesn’t feel that way. It’d be typical for me, as a Gen-Z baby, to say my phone helped me through the pandemic but it was the music.

I spent my birthday in the house on March 16, 2020, just days after the pandemic had been officially declared. Although everything came to a pause, music didn’t. Hearing Yo-Yo Ma playing his cello for the world via Youtube and playing alongside my orchestra virtually reminded me that music can still heal even without a vaccine. 

My musical journey led me to the virtual New England Music Camp in July. I will never forget that experience -- the amazing performances broadcasted from individual homes, the joy in every musician's eye as we listened to orchestras we hoped to play in someday, and the Zoom classes that became my community. Yes, I was still disconnected from the world but I didn’t feel alone. When I couldn’t find someone to talk to, music became my best friend. 

During online learning, I continued to take music class and cello lessons. Instead of trying to conduct on Zoom, my teacher, Ms. Roberts, taught music history and shared compositions by people of different backgrounds. On weekends, I attended music conferences and discovered instruments played in different countries. From film score composition to musicals and jazz, my appreciation for various harmonies grew as I learned  the meaning behind pieces. 

The more creative I got, virtually, the more I made people smile and encouraged younger students to join orchestras. As the world turned upside down at the beginning of the pandemic, I searched for familiarity within music. Now, I only want to discover the unknown.

Positive Memories

This past year had many positive moments such as bonding and sharing so many jokes. One specific time is when my parents had been out all day while I was in online school. They somehow managed to get home and have lunch with me, which is something that doesn’t happen often. I missed those things that we could do when we had more time on our hands.

I have also learned how to cook a basic breakfast from my aunt, who is an amazing cook. I have progressed in my learning of Spanish as well as piano. I have a Spanish heritage, plus I have to learn Spanish in school, so why not learn as much as I can now? I have been singing since I can remember and started piano a year or two before the pandemic, music has become such a stress relief. I have become more mature over this year and have become a much more observant person. — Maddison Canzano

Creating Poetry From Scribbles and Crossed-Out Words

The line comes to me when I’m awake. Lying in my bed, remembering that it is 4:08 a.m. and that I have to be up in three hours. That line, it won’t get out of my head. Like clockwork, my brain is deciphering the rest of the work. Words are perfectly falling into place, and I know that I’ll regret not getting it down. 

As I stretch and sigh, I reach under my pillow and grab my journal. I had read an article that talked about sleeping with your writing materials, so that you receive inspiration in your sleep. For the past few nights however, I’ve been kept awake by the lines in my head. I turn on my bedside light, and the words come out of me and onto a page. I’m reminded of car lights in the fog, as my brain steers and corrects the overall course. When I finish, my book looks a mess. Covered in scribbles, lines and words crossed out, some words aren’t spelled correctly, but I know that if I had stopped writing, just to look up the word, I would lose it. I look over at my clock again, and I see that it is 5:16 a.m. I make other corrections and fall asleep. 

I woke up the next morning with a pen in my hand, and I look over to see what I wrote. I barely remember writing all of those words, but I am proud of the work I’m reading. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I’ve gotten more accustomed to writing my poetry and expressing my feelings. I could most definitely say that my journal is my most important item. — Joseph Griffin

dear african american. 

the night before a project, 

when popsicle sticks are strewn across the table

and my fingers are burned with hot glue,

i realize that we are missing something,

every time. 

the missing piece. 

the halo that crowns the angel,

the little human figurines that adorn our model.

my father reprimands,

my mother tells me that if i want the grade,

i must anoint our cheap silver wire,

transmute it into gold. 

i must cut a family out of cardboard,

create a community out of the 

100% recyclable materials in our bin. 

i must make do with what we have.

i am tired of making do with what we have.

please do not get me wrong,

the “nigger talk”,

the vernacular that was colonized and popularized

decades after its creation,

Now called  “gen z language” 

is one that i am comfortable in. 

one that i navigate with ease. 

please do not get me wrong,

i am proud of the way we reap 

where we were brought to sow,

bent over the barren field,

creating a culture for ourselves.

i am african american.

i can tell you about my father’s father 

and my mother’s, mother’s, mother.

i would point you to tik tok when you ask me about my 

broken foreign language,

invite you to the cookout when you ask about my cuisine 

i would tell you that i am part of the african diaspora,

but i have nothing to show for it. 

everything i have is tainted with the blood

of ancestors i did not know. 

ancestors who died fighting the same fight

i fight today. 

i am not fortunate to claim another country,

another culture as my own,

i am and always will be 



i am tired of making do. 

compromising with what little i have.

Joseph Griffin

My Favorite Game

An item that helped me through the pandemic was Halo CE. It’s my favorite game in the Halo series, and it was the first FPS (First Person Shooter) game I ever got. I still have an original copy of the 2001 Gearbox PC port my dad got me when I was 9. It is pure coincidence we even found the copy as it was a 9-year-old game and wouldn’t have been on shelves anymore. It was extremely comforting to play a game that I had literally grown up with again, and remember all the good memories that came with it. — Wyatt Harris

A Blessing in Disguise

During this time of the pandemic, I have honestly learned that it has been and will be one of the most significant moments of my life. Although COVID-19 came and brought so much bad news and chaos in 2020, it has taught me and many others I know about so many things that we would not have been able to learn without this quarantine. 

Times were definitely hard for me and my family. No longer being able to go to church, see friends and family, feeling alone, and much more were all things that dismayed me during this time. But I was able to learn a lot about myself, get closer and become more reflective upon my relationship with Christ, become more aware of the things and realities of life around me, and learn new things. School had definitely been a stress for me, especially as a junior in high school, but over time I learned to overcome and conquer things that seemed intimidating. In my opinion, COVID had definitely been a blessing in disguise that came to break us, but behind the brokenness, there was a molding of good rebuilding in our lives. — Dorothy Nathan

Mastering Musicality

My violin has helped me get through this COVID-19 pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my mental health in ways that I could not have imagined. I felt so lonely and isolated. Without music or my violin, I do not know how I would be able to live through this pandemic. 

On the other hand, this pandemic has benefitted me. Before the pandemic, I would practice my violin for only 30 minutes a day playing music for my high school orchestra, but being in quarantine made me more flexible with my time. I used the extra hours to take a nap or do nothing. But during the pandemic, I had an extra hour of practicing my technique, scales, and mastering my musicality skills. 

This COVID-19 pandemic left many people feeling isolated, dejected, and disconnected. But listening to music helps people connect to other people. 

Playing my violin has offered me emotional and psychological relief because I forgot about all the shifting, crazy events that are happening in the world and the stress of school and schoolwork. 

They say that music has a calming effect on many people and that music connects the mind, body, and soul. The music, expressed through my violin, certainly did that for me.

— Jordanne Semper-Scott

Being Myself

Over the past year, I’ve learned more about myself and my reality than ever before. Quarantine has allowed me to go through the many trials and trials and tribulations that have led me to the person I am today. I believe that I have developed in my social views and even some parts of myself, but I’ve also struggled with my mental and physical health. I have been able to get extremely close with my family and I am basically best friends with my sister but I’ve still felt very alone because of my lack of interactions with people outside of my household. Not having to constantly be around other people has killed most of the relationships and taken a toll on my social life. The more time that I spent alone the more I was forced to at least try to be myself because before this I just reflected on my peers’ actions. While this past year has been extremely difficult for me, it has given me time to reflect on my past and notice what I need to improve in my life before I can really be happy. I definitely have a long way to go when it comes to improving my way of life I now know what I am working towards and what influence I should allow in my life. — Jadyn Settles

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