Our Community Pandemic Year Stories

Our Community: Pandemic Stories

Mina Yakubu is a Spring 2021 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a double major in African, African American, and Diaspora Studies and Political Science with a minor in Social and Economic Justice.

“COVID-19 introduced overwhelming grief and uncertainty into our lives. It has further exposed the inequities in our systems and taken away much of what was normal.

For me, it has taken away my senior year and the last bit of memorable moments in community with my peers whether in The Pit or at OASIS events. This academic year was difficult because amid an unfortunate and historic period, more was demanded of students. There were days I spent over 10 hours on my laptop which severely strained my eyes. I am thankful for my professors who took the time to check in regularly with their students and make changes to better support our learning.

Furthermore, the dawn of COVID-19 was not isolated from other tragedies and peoples’ movements taking place all across the world. This compounded grief and frustrations with inequities which I, as a student, was not immune to.

At the end of the day, I am blessed to still have life and I am grateful to begin a new chapter upon graduation!   Amidst the production of COVID-19 vaccines, I hope they are distributed equitably around the world to ensure that we can all begin to fully process the devastation of COVID-19.”


Dr. Shakirah Hudani is an Assistant Professor in the UNC at Chapel Hill Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies.

“This past academic year has been a wrenching one for people across the world, dealing with illness, restrictions, and uncertainty. This has also been the case for many residents of Nairobi, Kenya where curfews imposed due to Covid-19 have compounded an already difficult living situation for residents of the city’s peripheries and informal settlements. Nairobi residents struggle to get home in the evening before curfews start, lining up for limited public transport in the middle of the pandemic. Two colonial tools of order – curfews and urban policing – have structured the contemporary experiences of many in Kenya’s capital.

I spent much of my youth growing up in Kenya and returned to Nairobi at the end of 2020 to see a family member who had recovered from Covid herself. The next semester, I started my faculty position at UNC with the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies as my new home. Living between continents is an uneven task: whilst I was vaccinated against Covid-19 here in the US, many friends and family elsewhere struggle to avoid the third wave of the pandemic. Uneven access to vaccines is a stark reality in different parts of the world, and in the different worlds that make up local geographies, conditioning livelihoods, and life chances accordingly, yet also creating windows for greater interdependence.”


Dr. Raphael Birya is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the UNC at Chapel Hill Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies.

“I, Raphael Kalu Birya, Ph.D., originally from Kenya and currently a citizen of the United States, was raised in a Swahili-speaking community and learned the language as I pursued my education. Arriving in the USA as an immigrant through the diversity lottery, I furthered my education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania(IUP). I earned both a Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in communication. After graduating, I taught in other institutions, such as the IUP and the Penn Highlands Community College in PA, before joining the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina in July 2020 to teach Swahili and AAAD courses. While excited for the new job, fears filled my veins and thoughts with the uncertainty of students’ reaction towards the pandemic mitigation strategies. On arrival at the University, offices were full of emptiness, and I rarely heard footsteps of another faculty walking on the corridors and steps of Battle Hall. Dr. Mwamzandi, Dr. Samba, and Dr. Robert, my officemate, are the ones I frequently met and had limited conversions from a distance. Dr. Eunice, the outgoing chair of the department, whom I never met face-to-face that time, was on the phone with me most of the time to make sure I was settled and ready for work., I met the rest of the faculty in the department on zoom during the monthly faculty meetings. What a start? Though a motivated instructor in teaching, approaches to teaching this time remained unclear due to the pandemic’s disruptive nature. A few days after the University’s opening, numbers of students contracting the virus hiked, warranting the traditional instruction’s closure. Subsequently, teaching moved to online with no light of resuming to the in-person instruction soon. More challenges surfaced with students asking for leave of absence, extensions of deadlines, and me as an instructor visiting the Web more frequently than ever for resources to enhance instructions. This experience motivated me to investigate social media platforms’ consumption by religious clerics in communicating with their followers at the Coastal Region of Kenya during COVID-19(an ongoing study). There has been a proliferation of technology in Africa and increased social media platform usage triggered by the pandemic; many people moved to these platforms for communication as a substitute for in-person interaction including teaching, meetings, preaching, fund-drive, etc.”


Thomas Andrew Kelley III is a Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Over the past 30 years, I have regularly performed research in a remote village in Niger. I have many friends there. Most of them are subsistence farmers, and they struggle to survive. For many, soap is an expensive luxury. I was worried that Covid if it reached the village, would have a devastating impact. The nearest medical dispensary is 30 kilometers away. So I raised money from friends in the States and worked in collaboration with some Nigerien contacts to buy soap and handwashing stations for the village. We ended up distributing about $4,000 dollars worth of soap.”


Keti T. Alemayehu is a sophomore at Carrboro High School, Carrboro, NC.

“My experience with Covid and everything else that’s been happening has been very mixed. Some days I’m glad that there is a certain stillness in the world, other days it feels like this will never end, and feels hopeless. I have found out it’s easier to take everything day by day: some days are great, others not as much. Regardless, not invalidating any of the emotions that I got through and reminding myself that it can’t always be like this; things change times change.

Three coping methods that I have found to be amazing are Music, Journaling, and Reading.

Journaling allows me to be in the moment and freely state my feelings without external judgment or opinion. I have established a real relationship with my Journal named Karina (in Arabic meaning companion).  Reading allows me to escape into a different world for a certain time.  Music makes my world a more colorful place, I LOVE to listen to Drake and Reggae/Dancehall.”


Uchenna Umeh is a Nigerian American pediatrician and bestselling author.

“I am a former resident of North Carolina currently residing in Texas. I am Nigerian-born and naturalized American, a board-certified pediatrician, 4-time bestselling author, 2-time TEDx Speaker and United Nations speaker, blogger and podcaster.

My pediatric practice is dedicated to at-risk youth, however, I had to shut my doors and take it virtual because of the lockdown. In June, following the murder of George Floyd and an experience of racism with my children, I wrote my 3rd book which is on teaching children about racism.

I also landed my first TEDx talk in September and started work on my 4th book about immigrant women in December. That book is now an international bestseller! Lastly, I signed up to become a life coach in October, and graduated in April 2021!

So, in all, the pandemic caused me to stop, take stock, pivot and innovate! I am thankful for the growth through the time. It taught me that we can truly accomplish anything we dream of and put forth the work into.

Today in addition to working with unaccompanied minors at the US border, I am also proudly coaching parents of LGBTQ+ children, helping reduce the high rates of homelessness and suicide in that population!”


Nnemka Umeh, M.Sc Computer Science, Northeastern University. Second Astrazeneca dose taken on June 4, 2021 at the. Maitama District Hospital, Abuja, Nigeria


Oluwasegun Fabiyi, UNC-CH Yoruba Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), Getting the Covid-19 vaccine at Walgreens in Carrboro on March 8, 2021


Henry T., Second DOSE! So close to ditching the mask. Taken at Village Peds, Chapel Hill


Ngozi Mojekwu, Getting my first AStraZeneca dose on April 15 at the Federal Staff Clinic, Abuja, Nigeria


Kemal Kabeto (Duke University Alumni) U.S. Presidential election voting on Nov 3, 2020 at San Diego, California


Nnemka Umeh, M.Sc Computer Science, Northeastern University. Taken at a tailor’s shop in Ikota Shopping Complex, Lagos, Nigeria