The #DocumentingCOVID19 Project is gathering untold stories from people in diverse communities
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

In the early days of California's shutdown, I read diary entries from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The entries portrayed many things; fear, despair, anxieties…the same things I was seeing every day on my social media.

My Facebook was filled with commentary and experiences from Black people, women, LGBTQ+ folks, and other diverse groups. One friend had a fever of 102 and a vicious cough, another was sheltering-in-place with her children while working from home, and yet another friend had lost a job opportunity. Would history remember their experiences? Would anyone remember how they felt, what they feared the most, what they were hopeful about?

The Internet has given diverse communities outlets to express ourselves for the world. We make people laugh through TikTok, start engaging conversations on Twitter, and document our dog's antics on Facebook. However, as a historian, I look at all of this material and wonder: who is organizing all these narratives? In 100 years, we may have archived the social media of MJ Rodriguez, Cardi B, Billy Porter, Hillary Clinton, and Anthony Bourdain, but their lives are not representative of the majority. Most of us will not ever be a presidential nominee, win an Emmy, or be on the front of magazines. And while I am not against recording celebrities, I believe that we can learn the most about a historical event from those who are never given the spotlight.


Historical narratives are often framed around the experiences of straight white men. As a Black woman thinking about future history books, I felt anxious that stories like the ones I saw on my Facebook would never be told because they would not be considered important. I could not let my family and friends be forgotten by history. With that determination set in my bones, I began assembling an oral history project, The #DocumentingCOVID19 Project, aimed at recording my communities.

Every week, I interview people to assure they will not be forgotten by history. I am recording the stories of people living through the COVID-19 pandemic so future generations will know how diverse communities and women survived. Since April, with the help of many supportive friends, I have interviewed 23 people from all walks of life: CEOs, hairdressers, mothers, teachers, COVID-19 survivors, community center workers, and government employees. Within these groups is even more diversity: Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Jewish, people with disabilities, etc. In each interview, I ask people about their experiences during this pandemic as it relates to their identities.

For example, when speaking with Black mothers, who often give "the talk" about the police, I ask how they navigate a new talk… about COVID. For teachers, I ask about their concerns over what they can cover through virtual learning and the preparedness of future students. For people living with disabilities, we talk about the experience of watching large companies suddenly instituting working from home for able-bodied people, something disability advocates have been demanding for years. The records created by my interviewees gives a nuanced look at the pandemic: not everyone is making sourdough starters and perfecting their brownie recipe. Many people from diverse communities are afraid, suffering, but also showing a steel resistance to a pandemic that puts them most at risk.

Recording the narratives of diverse communities is essential because the nuances they give disrupt historical myths. One of my favorite things to do is read through primary sources in archives. Recently, I came across former slave narratives collected in the 1930s by Professor John B. Cade of Southern University and A&M College. Professor Cade and his interviewers traveled around the Jim Crow South, collecting the memoirs of former slaves. The power of these slave narratives is that they debunk many of the myths we have created about slavery. When someone tells me about how "slaves were usually treated well", I will now always share the story of Florence Bailey, who testified that slaves on her plantation were "branded by cutting ashes into their skin." It is hard to stand by your belief that slavery was only "a bit bad," when the voices of survivors say the exact opposite.

As I look ahead to the years that will follow this pandemic, I can already see some of the myths that will be created: it was hysteria created by the media, it was a Democrat hoax, it was just a cold, etc. While historical myths are created in part to organized political following in the present, they also occur because people do not know their history. It is my hope that the oral histories collected during this pandemic by researchers across the world will assure diverse communities are not forgotten. That our stories are not forgotten. That in a way, the work being done now, by historians and researchers can serve as a Mythbusters time capsule for future generations.

COVID-19 takes more lives each day and we do not have a cure. But we do have voices. Voices that recall the devastation, fear, and also the hope. One of the last questions I ask my interviewees is what their feelings about the future are. It has surprised me, after almost an hour of describing the exhaustion, anxieties and frustrations that the most common answer is "I am hopeful."

When they write the history of this pandemic, I want the world to know that despite everything we faced, we held tightly to hope. And if anyone doubts this, all they need to do is listen to the voices we have saved, telling our stories, preserved so our great-grandchildren will know how we survived.

Nikki Brueggeman is a writer and poet based in Southern California where she focuses on the subjects of Blackness and history. She can be followed on Twitter @warriornikki.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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The battle between millennials and older generations isn't exactly a generational war—it's more a case of mistaken generational identity. A decade ago, whining about millennials being young adults unprepared to make their way in the world at least made sense mathematically. But when people bag on millennials now they end up looking rather foolish.

A marketing researcher with a doctorate in social psychology wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune titled "Post-pandemic, some millennials finally decide to start #adulting." And when the Tribune shared it to Twitter, their since-deleted tweet read, "Writer Jennifer Rosner predicts COVID-10 lockdowns will force easy-breezy millennials to grow up."

Hoo boy.

Interestingly, the writer of the op-ed is a millennial herself, but she repeats generalizations about her entire generation that seem like they mainly apply to her own social circle. Read it yourself to decide, but regardless, the tweet of the op-ed itself set off a firestorm of responses from millennials who are tired of being painted as irresponsible young people who don't know how to "adult" instead of what they actually are.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.