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Lessons learned: Living through COVID-19, Part XIV

A fresh lesson in patience —

Six months ago, The New Tri-State Defender began an ongoing account of how three Memphians were coping with the coronavirus amid government-directed restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.

Restaurant entrepreneur James Cook and barber William Gandy Jr. have taken financial hits as a result, but have been able to resume their careers.

Margaret Cowan, founder of the nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, has adjusted to the reality of social distancing while working with the young single mothers she counsels. Otherwise, she has thrived, somewhat, in the new normal.

President Donald Trump proclaimed on Feb. 25, when there were 57 confirmed coronavirus cases, that the virus was under control. As of Friday (Sept. 25), there were 6,979,785 confirmed virus cases and 202,824 deaths. Daily, 900-plus people are dying from the virus.

In Shelby County, as of Saturday, the Shelby County Health Department reported 31,044 cases of COVID-19 and 454 COVID-19 deaths.

Health Department officials said the county continued to have a spike in cases following the long Labor Day weekend. The 14-day average of new cases was at 196 Wednesday, up from 178 Tuesday (Sept. 22).

When the number of virus cases began to spiral upward in mid-March, federal, state and local government officials issued mandates aimed at slowing the spread, including stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders. The impact was massive, affecting air travel, dining out, retail and grocery shopping, services offered by barbershops and beauty salons, the closing of schools and much more.

Thousands of layoffs, furloughs and reduced services resulted.

Local barber and beauty shops were among businesses labeled nonessential, and ordered closed. When they reopened two months later, it was under strict guidelines.

William Gandy Jr.

“I thought for sure it (the closing) would be for only two or three weeks,” said Gandy, lamenting two months without any income. “It was horrible.”

Only about 55 percent of his customers have returned, Gandy said.

“I have quite a few elderly customers,” he said, adding that many are concerned about getting out because of the virus.

“Financially, I’ve had to cut back to my penny-pinching ways. I’m not eating out as much. I’m cooking at home more and I’ve switched to a healthier diet, which helps save money.”

For Gandy, the virus delivered a fresh lesson in patience.

“That (patience) was taught to me by my mother and grandmother, but I’ve really learned what that means over the last six months.

“I’m a bachelor, so I was always on the go; going out a lot. Now, I only go places when necessary.”

Meanwhile, Gandy continues to fine tune his musical production, “Grandma’s Big Vote,” which is scheduled for Oct. 25 at the Orpheum Theatre’s Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.

The full-scale musical production is based on Gandy’s book, “Grandma’s Big Vote,” which tells a story about his 106-year-old grandmother, Mary Alice Gandy, who made national headlines when she voted for the first time in 2008, casting her ballot for Barack Obama.

And, Gandy said he is making headway toward a movie based on the book.

“I didn’t think it would last this long”

James Cook, who owns Lenny’s Grill and Subs and Runway 901 Bar & Grill at Memphis International Airport, said he also has learned patience, but in different context than Gandy.

James Cook

He had to close both businesses when airport travel nosedived because of the virus. Travel has increased enough, however, to allow him reopen both businesses on limited schedules.

During the closures, he worked for another Lenny’s franchisee to earn money and worked with his father’s landscaping business. He still cuts grass when time allows.

“I knew this (a drop in passengers) was going to happen, anyway. The airport is transitioning and COVID came along. I knew it was going to take a while to get back to normal, but otherwise, I didn’t think it would last this long,” he said.

“What I’ve learned is that you have to have the gall and the ability to pivot,” he said. “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially in entrepreneurial settings.”

That is why he bought a Whitehaven building and began rehabbing it into the Nubian Design Studio, a barber and beauty salon.

As for the continued financial viability of his eateries, Gandy said, “With airport concessions, with proper management, they are profitable,” even with the reduced operating hours.

“I’ve had to persevere”

Cowan’s I Am My Sister’s Keeper helps single working mothers increase their earning potential. She now works with 22 women.

Margaret Cowan

The COVID-19 crisis and safe distancing impacted the way she interacts with “her mothers,” but Zoom meetings and other adjustments have helped.

She said all of her mothers, except one, have jobs.

She also has learned patience.

“I knew that starting a nonprofit was a process,” she said. “I’ve had to persevere. COVID has forced me to buckle down and focus.”

Cowans finished an associate’s degree and will enroll at the University of Memphis in January to earn a degree in sociology. She has gotten the nonprofit involved with several nonprofit partners over the last six months to distribute food and clothing to the needy.

I Am My Sister’s Keeper received several small grants, including from the Community Foundation, to help further the nonprofit’s mission. And, the organization landed a significant grant from the Network for Good’s Jumpstart program, which is providing free services for a year, valued at $10,000.

Her nonprofit recently moved into a temporary home, at least until January, at Longview Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church, 685 East Mallory, which she will use to collect and distribute donated items.

She said having an actual business address will help in landing grants.

Cowan said the nonprofit is considering purchasing a home from the Land Bank, which she hopes can be rehabilitated into housing for her mothers.

The mothers would have to pay rent and utilities, but “it can relieve a lot of stress on the mothers if they know they have a nice affordable place to live.”

For more information about I Am My Sister’s Keeper, go to https://iammysissyskeeper.org/

(Jerome Wright is deputy editor for The New Tri-State Defender. Contact him at jwright@tsdmemphis.com.)


Maneuvering through the perils of COVID-19

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part II

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part III

Living through COVID-19 — Part IV

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part V

Living through COVID-19: Part VI

Living through COVID-19: Part VII 

Living through COVID-19, Part VIII

Living through COVID-19, Part IX

Living through COVID-19, Part X

Living through COVID-19, Part XI

Living through COVID-19, Part XII

Living through COVID-19, Part XIII


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