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Column: Kids speak up about the impact of COVID-19


“During COVID-19, my daddy, George Floyd, changed the world.” With those words, 7-year-old Gianna Floyd, whose father died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, wrapped up her essay about life during a pandemic.

“When I go out, I now have to always wear my mask, use hand sanitizer and make sure I wash my hands for 20 seconds,” she wrote. “I don’t get to see everybody because we have to be socially distant.”

Gianna was one of nearly 60 children — including one from each state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia — invited to describe their lives during the pandemic for a new book.

The resulting, “Kids Journal Through COVID-19,” and its audio version, are being unveiled Oct. 25 in San Diego at Mandate Records, 8333 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., where audio production took place.

Joining its mastermind and author, Laval Belle, Sunday at 1 p.m. will be three young San Diegans and a Temecula boy who participated in the project: Jayden Dial, 13, Temecula’s Ethan Jackson, 14, Psalm Ko, 10, and Mason Pham, 11. They read essays for the audio release, and Pham wrote one of the pieces.

Jayden Dial, 13, attends San Diego's High Tech High School. She helped produce "Kids Journal Through COVID-19" audio book.

Jayden Dial, 13, attends High Tech High School. She lent her voice to the audio book version of “Kids Journal Through COVID-19.”

(Courtesy photo)

“I wanted to document this part of history through the eyes of the kids … give them a platform to express themselves,” explains Belle, a west L.A. musician who founded and heads Noahs Ark Publishing.

“If I am struggling as a parent, imagine what the kids are going through with this monster disease. They’re told to go home, wash their hands and keep their distance,” Belle says. “This is their 9/11, their World War II. This is the first group of kids who can’t go to school; the first group who had to graduate from high school virtually.

“I want to make them the stars and let them be the authors,” adds Belle.

That’s why the four young San Diego area contributors will be signing books along with Belle on Oct. 25 in a COVID-safe atmosphere. They’ll be visible through the recording studio window as they autograph books brought in by “runners” for customers who purchase them and remain outside.

Teams were set up in each state to solicit entries and narrow them down to five finalists, says Belle.

Belle was particularly touched by a Q & A-style essay from a Massachusetts boy, Jamil Akbar II, 9. He later found out that Akbar weighed 1.5 pounds at birth and was living with his mother in a homeless shelter. Nevertheless, Jamil didn’t have a victim mentality, Belle says.

A 13-year-old Iowa girl, LibbyAnn Latimore, wrote that several family members, including her parents and grandparents, had contracted the coronavirus. One of her aunts died.

“She lost a family member and then she had to sing at the funeral. I could never have done that,” notes Belle, a professional drummer and performer.

He estimates that 90 percent of the book’s essays describe the trauma of being yanked out of school, isolated at home and restricted from seeing extended family or friends. “Some talked about how they miss school and how they want the pandemic to go away. They’re afraid,” Belle says. “Some are positive, writing that this will pass, and we’ll be OK,” he adds.

After reading the book, George Floyd’s second grade teacher,Crystal Waynel Sexton, wrote a cover blurb suggesting that when we see someone who is struggling, we must look for one small thing that we can do to help: open a door, make a card or give a smile. These young authors did that, she observed, by sharing their personal stories during this monumental epidemic. (if this sentence is added back, the following seven words need to go.)

George Floyd’s second-grade teacher Crystal Sexton, actress Cicely Tyson and spiritual leader Michael Bernard Beckwith offered cover endorsements, while actress Tamera Mowry-Housley, former co-host of “The Real” TV talk show, wrote the book’s introduction.

Mason Pham, 11, writes about living on a Native American reservation during the pandemic.

Mason Pham, 11, writes about living on a Native American reservation during the pandemic.

(Courtesy photo)

The words of San Diego’s Mason Pham are telling. He is a member of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and first learned about COVID-19 on TV. He observed that adults talked about it like it was going to end the world. It brought to mind zombie apocalypse shows in which everyone got the disease. “My school didn’t want us to come in anymore. … What I was worried about was not being able to see any of my friends,” he wrote.

Below is an abbreviated portion of his essay:

“I am Native American and live on the Sycuan reservation. … We don’t really have neighbors nearby so it was often quiet and scary during quarantine. Most of my friends have neighborhood kids they can play with. I felt alone and a little scared that things will never be normal again.

“I enjoyed not having to wake up early and get dressed for school. I remained in my pajamas most days and played (video games) until my dad yelled at me to get off. All in all, it wasn’t that bad.

“The worst part of the quarantine was that no one was working. How do people make money? Even all my favorite places to eat were closed. I basically ate whatever frozen foods we had left in the freezer. Some of my favorite frozen foods were Hot Pockets and breakfast sandwiches. … This was a gamer’s dream come true: I had food, I could play all day, and I woke up later.

“The most hurtful thing I saw was my parents wondering when the world would start again. How were we going to get money, and how we were going to get help? People forget about us on the rez. I saw on the news that food was being passed out to other families on other reservations. Where was our food? Where was our help? And where were our Hot Pockets?

“Also, my grandma’s brother died. It was really strange that we couldn’t go to his funeral. We had to watch his services online. I didn’t get to say goodbye. It was a difficult time for my whole family. I didn’t know what to say to make my parents feel better, I just hugged them.

“Once again, I felt alone and unsure. I felt unsure if the world will ever start again. I felt unsure if my friends would remember me. I felt unsure if my life would ever get back to normal.”

Another author, San Diegan Roger Conlee is getting creative with his meet-and-greet book signing this weekend since the pandemic precludes conventional bookstore autograph sessions.

Rather than go virtual or further postpone release of his newest historical thriller, Conlee opted to move his event outdoors. He is staging his own drive-in/walk-in book signing in Balboa Park’s Morley Field at a table festooned with helium balloons near the tennis courts from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday. (Oct. 24) Face coverings and social distancing are requested.

Conlee, a former Tribune reporter and retired public relations consultant, recently completed his ninth historical novel, “Lion at Twilight,” a Cold War kidnapping adventure set in Berlin in 1953.


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