This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Sylvester Brown, Jr.

Marshata Caradine-Randall, an educator, and East St. Louis resident, hasn’t been in a classroom since September. That’s the month she contracted the coronavirus. It’s also when her husband, Tarlvin Randle, passed away three days after he was diagnosed.

Marshata, who’s been recovering, grieving, and trying to piece her and her two daughters’ (ages 14 and 15) lives back together, says she’s ready to get back to work. She described her job at Patrick Henry Elementary in St. Louis as an “individual care aid who advocates strongly for inner-city children.” 

The first part is official. The second part, advocating for urban youth, is her passion, especially during the pandemic.

“Somebody has to be in those buildings for our children who’s for real,” Marshata declared. COVID, she said, is just another not-so-subtle insult to the offspring of generational poverty or, as she calls it, “legislated poverty.”

“This is what it’s like to just be poor and Black in America,” Marshata said. “For those of us who’ve been legislated poverty, we deal with death all the time. My babies bring death into the classroom all the time, and nobody flinches an eyebrow. These babies lose their backbone, their support systems every day when all they want to do is come to school and be with their friends.”

It was like musical chairs: one grade was out for 14 days, then another grade was out, but no one cared what we thought.

Marshata Caradine-Randall, elementary school teacher

Standing up for children also means backing teachers, Marshata explained. It means being a thorn in the side of politicians, school administrators or anyone who doesn’t value the real-world experience of teachers on the front lines of caring for children. She said teachers’ concerns about the safety precautions instituted at the start of the pandemic were flawed, but health officials and school administrators didn’t listen.

“Take the rules about quarantining and that whole ‘six feet apart’ thing, for example. They weren’t designed for our babies,” she said. “If a child tested positive, they’d pull that kid out of class for quarantine. Our kids mostly live in apartment complexes. They can’t go to the west wing of the house. They are in close proximity with other family members.”

Marshata said teachers better understand the conflicting dynamics of impoverished families than health officials or school administrators.

“We realized that parents weren’t getting tested because they had to go to work or had other reasons,” she said. “It was like musical chairs: one grade was out for 14 days, then another grade was out, but no one cared what we thought. Administrators were only concerned with having bodies in the buildings.”

Although teachers are aware and accept the risks of educating poor kids during a health crisis, Marshata asserts administrators placed families like hers in jeopardy. Although she has no solid proof, she maintains she contracted the coronavirus at school and brought it home to her family. She fell ill at the end of the work week in late August. Her husband encouraged her to get tested, and she did. Tarlvin, an engineer at a local hotel, was already on sick leave from an injury, but he was tested, as well. The result was “positive” for both. Neither had been vaccinated.

“We just didn’t have enough information to make us comfortable,” Marshata said.

The couple quarantined in separate parts of their home. After a few days, it dawned on Marshata she hadn’t checked on Tarlvin. When she went to his room, she found him listless and hardly breathing. After emergency technicians arrived, she said the ambulance just sat in their driveway for long agonizing minutes.  

“They (medics) said he wouldn’t make it to Memorial Hospital (in Bellville) or Touchette Hospital (in Centreville),” she said. “After about 15 or 20 minutes, I knew then he was gone.”

She believed Tarlvin’s fate was worse than hers because he suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and other underlying conditions. The couple candidly discussed the risks of working in a highly populated school and hotel. Still, both chose not to get vaccinated. Tarlvin’s death, however, and concern for their daughter’s health, was the motivating factor that convinced Marshata to get inoculated.

“It finally hit home. Somebody has to be here for them,” she confessed.

Her daughters are grappling with the loss of their father by throwing themselves into volleyball at school, Marshata said. It was the bond between them and their father. For her, though, isolation has been Marshata’s coping mechanism. She hasn’t been in a classroom since Tarlvin’s passing.

Strangely, it was the recent ABC limited docuseries, “Let the World See,” that resurrected her desire to go back and advocate for low-income Black students.

“My daughter saw the documentary about Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley and told me about it,” Marshata recalled. “I remembered that Mamie was a teacher, too. I figured, if she could go back and empower kids after what she went through, then I could, too. If Mamie were still here, she’d say, ‘you have a responsibility to go back!’”

Marshata isn’t sure if she’ll be assigned to teach at Patrick Henry Elementary or some other school but next week, she plans to be back in a classroom somewhere. Not only is it her passion, Marshata feels it’s her call to duty.  

“I guess I’m listening to my ancestors.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.