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Living through COVID-19 — Part IV

(This is the fourth installment of The New Tri-State Defender’s ongoing account of three Memphians coping with the coronavirus amid government-directed efforts to slow the virus’ spread.)

 “I’d be nervous as hell”

William Gandy Jr.

That is how barber William Gandy Jr. said he will feel once barber and beauty shops are allowed to reopen. In short, what will the new normal be as a result of COVID-19?

“I’d be nervous as hell. Will customers have to wear something? Will barbers have to wear something?” he wondered, referring to face masks or some other type of protective clothing.

“I don’t want to jeopardize myself or my customers,” he said.

Monday (April 20), Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he will let the state’s safer-at-home order expire April 30. Impacted businesses will be allowed to reopen under “specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business.”

The governor said Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties will work with his administration to plan their reopening strategies.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, however,  has extended the city’s “safer at home” executive order through May 5.

Gandy, meanwhile, said his brother Joseph Gandy, who also is a barber, has contracted the COVID-19 virus, but is doing OK.

Finding peace while cutting grass

James Cook

James Cook, who had to close his two businesses at Memphis International Airport because of a lack of travelers filing through the facility, has found a bit of peace doing landscaping work with his father, who owns a landscaping business.

“It’s funny. We used to look at it (landscaping) and turn our noses up at cutting grass. Now I realize how important it is,” he said.

Cook explained there is less stress operating a landscaping business as opposed to being the owner and proprietor of two businesses.

“You’re your own boss and you get out of it what you put into it,” said Cook, a graduate of Bishop Bryne High School and Florida State University.

“As long as you have equipment (working properly), it’s stress free. It’s therapeutic…”

Cook’s airport businesses are Runway 901 Bar & Grill and Lenny’s Grill and Subs. Twenty-eight people lost their jobs when he was forced to close.

Although he is working the evening shift for another Lenny’s franchisee, he is landscaping to earn extra money “because I had to doing something to feed my family.”

He and his wife, A’Seri, are the parents of 9-year-old twin boys and a 3-year-old daughter.

He is anxious to reopen his airport businesses, but not until it is clear that passenger traffic gets back to normal or close to normal.

What keeps him up at night? “I just want to make sure that what I go back to will be better.”

Faith and disappointment

Margaret Cowan

 For Margaret Cowan’s nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, which work works with single working mothers to increase their earning potential, things are on pause.

Cowan, the organization’s founding keeper, did not have much to report this week. She said she invited her mothers to a get together in her back yard Saturday (April18) – practicing social distancing, of course, including not letting them come inside her home – but not many attended.

Asked what keeps her awake at night regarding the virus situation, she said, nothing concerning her nonprofit.

“I feel kind of stuck right now. We were getting a good momentum, but now everything is on pause.

“I believe in God. For me, that’s who is in control. Whatever He wants to come to pass, will come to pass,” she said, adding she does not feel the current situation will detrimentally affect the nonprofit into the future.

Asked how she is mentally balancing the momentum pause and her faith, Cowan said, “Having faith doesn’t prevent me from being disappointed if things don’t go my way.”

(Jerome Wright is deputy editor for The New Tri-State Defender.)

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