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Friday, April 19, 2024

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Maneuvering through the perils of COVID-19

by Jerome Wright — 

Margaret Cowan works with “her moms,” who are struggling to create a decent life for themselves and their children.

Her moms are single working mothers, who are seeking a better quality of life; struggling to make ends meet while working in low-paying jobs.

Cowan’s weapon for making a difference in the of lives of these mothers is her nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper. She describes herself as the organization’s “founder and keeper.”

Her efforts on behalf of her moms have been curtailed because of the COVID-19 virus, and the havoc it has caused.

William Gandy Jr. is a barber. He comes from a family of barbers. His late father William senior, who everyone simply called Gandy, was a barber, trimming the heads of some of the best-known folks in Memphis.

William, also like his father, is an accomplished singer and musician.

The Whitehaven barber shop where he works, like most barber shops and beauty salons in the area, has closed.

Under “safer at home” mandates from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, because of the coronavirus, these businesses are not deemed “essential.”

Some men and women, however, may disagree with the mayors about barber shops and beauty salons being nonessential.

So, William is out to work as a barber and, because of “social distancing,” out of entertainment gigs.

James Cook is proprietor and partner with KC Eatery, which operates Runway 901 Bar & Grill and Lenny’s Grill and Subs at Memphis International Airport.

Because of a lack of passenger traffic through the airport because of virus fears, he has had to close Runway 901 and, Lenny’s is barely holding on.

Cowan, Gandy and Cook are just three of the people here and across the country, who have been impacted – some more than others — by officials’ efforts to slow the spread of the virus. “Stay at home” mandates have closed all kinds of businesses, resulting in thousands of layoffs and furloughs, or reduced services.

Cowan, Gandy and Cook’s virus-related predicaments reflect what is happening to their fellow citizens.

Beginning today, The New Tri-State Defender will check in on them weekly to see how they are doing.


Margaret Cowan

Margaret Cowan, the mother of three daughters, ages 19, 17 and 15, works with single mothers who walk along a financial cliff. Their jobs do not pay enough to ensure a good quality of life, but their income precludes them from qualifying for benefits that could ease the strain.

“We provide support and connect the mothers with partnerships and organizations that provide for mom’s who are the working poor,” said Cowan, who moved to Memphis from Orlando, Florida with her mother in 2011.

She currently is working with 20 mothers who are working while attending school.

“We are creating a village, with the ultimate goal of having them own homes and starting to be independent,” Cowan said.

Her work involves a lot of personal contact with her mothers, and interaction among the mothers and their children. “Social distancing” has a put a crimp in that. They have had to cancel their monthly meeting and a horseback-riding excursion scheduled for this month was canceled when the business closed.

“Safe at home” and other business closures have had an impact on “several” of her moms.

For example, one her success stories, who got a job in hotel management, was laid off last Friday. Another mother was laid off from her hotel job as a front desk agent. Cowan said the woman was told she would have to reapply for her job once staff was brought back.

Cowan’s personal experiences help her relate to her mothers.

“In 2015, I was living in an apartment … that I never thought I’d live in – roaches and other stuff. Then my job suddenly ended,” she said.

That is when she got the idea for the nonprofit. “I saw that there were other people living in same conditions.”

A friend gave her the money to apply for a nonprofit charter, which she received on Dec. 31, 2018.


William Gandy Jr.

William Gandy Jr. is a passionate advocate for people exercising their right to vote.

His grandmother, Mary Alice Gandy, made national headlines when at age 106, she cast a vote for the first time in her life. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Since then, Gandy has written a children’s book “Grandma’s Big Vote,” and has written songs that encourage people to vote.

The shop where he worked closed last week. It employed six barbers, who have lost a big chunk of their incomes.

Gandy said some of his clients have tried to get him to come to their homes to cut their hair, but to protect them and himself, he has refused.

He said the stimulus package recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump “is going to be helpful” in preventing him from having to “rob all my savings.”

Asked how he planned to spend his time with the barbershop closed and his music gigs dried up, Gandy said, “I’m getting familiar with my house.”

By that he meant he will be doing some serious spring cleaning.


James Cook

James Cook has operated businesses at the airport for more than 10 years. He said KC Eatery is not the only business owner in the airport that has had to close its shops and restaurants.

Another company shut down six of its seven airport businesses at the same time because of lack of passenger traffic, Cook said.

“The lack of traffic has hurt us tremendously,” he said.

Gallery: Photos by Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises

Cook had to lay off the Runway 901 staff, but unsuccessfully tried to keep the bartender.

“There wasn’t enough business to keep him. Even the passengers who are flying, aren’t in the mood for a drink,” explaining that he sees many passengers wearing masks and rubber gloves.

Cook has kept Lenny’s open, although he had to reduce staff. He said he is working the night shift on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prevent further layoffs.

Asked about “safe distancing” between customers and staff, he said, “We’re trying to do a no contact thing with customers, where there is no personal contact. To be honest, there are really no people to touch.

“The one thing that is keeping us afloat are the airport employees. … That’s 75 percent of our business right now,” but it does not compensate for the lost passenger business.

“They (airport employees) thank us everyday for staying open,” Cook said.

He added, “I’ll be in there by myself (if necessary) to keep the gates open. As long as there are (airport) employees, we will be open.”

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



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