From pandemic to protests, chronicling a community in the time of COVID.

In March 2020, COVID-19 disrupted the lives of people all over the world. From the fear of falling ill to the awkwardness of social distancing to the adjustment of working from home or losing a job, our normal routines were upended on many levels. 

As a creative director, my business, like that of countless other non-essential workers, felt an immediate impact from the pandemic. Despite the downturn, or perhaps inspired by it, the desire to create was stronger than ever. My neighbor, fine art photographer Tania del Carmen Fernández, felt the same way. After a year’s worth of previously scheduled shoots was canceled, she was determined to find a meaningful way to remain productive.

At a social distancing gathering in our Fan neighborhood, it became clear the pandemic was affecting people differently. As a parent, Tania had the additional layer of complexity of trying to figure out childcare, while an immuno-compromised neighbor worried about exposure at the grocery store.

We were all weathering the same storm, but we were definitely not in the same boat.

Given the varied situations just in our neighborhood, we knew more stories were out there. Tania and I joined forces to create #OnHoldAtHome, a photo series documenting the hopes, fears, and lessons of Richmonders during COVID-19. As weeks turned into months, we expanded the project to feature people in other neighborhoods to better reflect our diverse community.

In May, the challenges of the pandemic were then met with the rise of protests over George Floyd’s killing, bringing the topic of racial and social inequality front and center. Richmond, former capital of the Confederacy, soon found itself in the national spotlight with public demands for removal of Confederate memorials, amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On July 1, Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the removal of all city-owned Confederate statues, stating, “Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to demonstrate that.”

What began as a project to unite people through shared experiences of sheltering in place has now transformed into a powerful documentation of this historic time in Richmond. 

#OnHoldAtHome aims to provide a platform to help amplify voices and foster open, honest discussions on race, politics, and systemic inequality. It is our hope that by sharing stories, we have an opportunity to learn and grow with one another and ultimately, cultivate a kinder, more compassionate, and more empathetic society.

COVID-19 affects everyone, everywhere. But it affects different groups of people differently, deepening existing inequalities.

— Angela
Angela Patton is CEO of Girls For A Change, a non-profit youth development organization aimed at empowering Black girls and other girls of color. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

I think we can truly grow as a society from this experience.

— Noah
Noah Scalin, here with his family, is one of many local artists collaborating with Hamilton Glass, creator of the public art project Mending Walls. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

“It turns out that community, human connection, companionship… that is what keeps me sane.”

— Christina
Christina Marie is a graphic designer and founder of Turkish pop band Yeni Nostalji. She admits she’s struggled with the amount of time she’s spent alone. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

“Sometimes we need to experience darkness to appreciate the light.”

— Lourdes
Lourdes, with her husband and daughters, worries about the impact COVID will have on our economy globally and the safety of my family and loved ones. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Chapter 1: The Lockdown Begins (March 15-April 19)

The first of many COVID-19 cases is reported in Virginia. Governor Northam declares a state of emergency and extensive closures of schools and businesses begin. As we witness the number of cases exponentially increase each week, the dangers of the virus become evident. Face masks and social distancing become the norm, and residents are urged to stay at home as much as possible.

When times are tough, it’s important to help and be open minded to those around you.

— Nick
While martial arts specialist Master Lorenzo Gibson (left) is focused on financial and health concerns, his son Nick worries about social implications. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

I love helping people. I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be right now.

— Betty
Betty is a front line worker who worries about getting the virus and inadvertently passing it to family, friends or anyone I may have to interact with at work. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Yes, we argue, but we also laugh more now.

— Alicia
 Alicia Diaz, here with her daughters, is originally from Puerto Rico. Diaz is a dance artist and educator who is the process of reimagining her livelihood. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

“Some will find greater faith and put their lives in clearer perspective.”

— Robert
Robert, here with his family, worries about the health of his wife giving birth at the hospital and the quality of care due to doctors being overworked and stressed. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Chapter 2: Time Loses Meaning (April 19-May 24)

Days blur into weeks. Weeks into months. By the end of April, the U.S. reports over 1 million COVID-19 cases. The U.S. economy shrinks by nearly 5 percent (the steepest drop since the Great Recession in 2008) and unemployment is at nearly 15 percent. While there’s a general restlessness, people also try to make the most of this rare time when the entire world is paused.

Having had COVID-19, I’m living proof that the virus is brutal and can harm very healthy people.

— Anna
Anna Laughlin, here with her husband and three children, contracted the virus earlier this year and says the experience has been “isolating and terrifying.” Photo by Tania del Carmen.

The pandemic has given us a certain amount of appreciation for routine and our home.

— Crixell
Crixell Matthews, here with her fiancée, Morgan, is a photojournalist at VPM, and has been documenting the RVA protests. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

The world has been at a standstill, with clear minds and hearts – the truth rises.

— Carol
Carol Adams, an essential worker for 30 years, acknowledges the difficulty in communicating and educating the deadliness of the virus. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

I do not think we will ever return to normal, but we are trying to live each day guided by hope and gratefulness.

— Laura
Laura Pho (center) and her family have been isolating with her mother (left) and mother-in-law (right). Not long after this photo was taken, Laura’s mother, Lucy Le, died unexpectedly. The family is honoring her with Buddhist mourning rituals. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Chapter 3: Revolution In The Air (May 24-August 26)

After Memorial Day weekend, the country learns of the senseless killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Protests erupt, and the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the nation as well as abroad. In Richmond, Confederate statues are defaced and, eventually, most of them are removed. The pandemic remains, but the larger issues of racial and social inequality take precedence.

Racial and social inequality has always existed, but not many people (including those in power) were willing to discuss it.

— Shayy
Shayy Winn (right), an aspiring singer with a neurological condition causing vision impairment, says the pandemic has helped her appreciate life more. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

This is an opportunity for us to search within ourselves and check for our own privileges.

— Daniel
Daniel Davis produced a socially distanced collaboration – all proceeds were donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Color of Change organizations. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Black lives have mattered for centuries, and will continue to matter in the future.

— Liza
Liza Mickens (left) is encouraged by the real, honest conversations happening around the inequalities of our health and financial systems and police brutality. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

A bright future is possible, but only if we get to work building it.

— Michael
Rabbi Michael Rose Knopf, here with his family, hopes we will build an inclusive and just world upon the ruins of the one that crumbled in this catastrophe. Photo by Tania del Carmen.

Conclusion (or not)

According to The New York Times, the U.S. has the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases in the world, now surpassing five million. As we make our way through the first wave of this pandemic, it’s clear the world has shifted and will never be the same.

While no one knows what chapter is coming next, one thing’s for certain: there are stories that still need to be told.

To learn more about the photo project or to nominate someone to be featured, visit #OnHoldAtHome and follow the stories on Instagram at @OnHoldAtHome.

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Rachel Everett

Rachel Scott Everett is co-founder and creative director at EVERGIB, a nomadic creative studio specializing in strategically led advertising and branding. A champion of big ideas and the power of storytelling, Rachel believes creativity can be used as a force for good to improve the world we live in.