As the lights dimmed inside the Bryn Mawr Community Church, parishioners lit dozens of white candles meant to symbolize the South Shore residents whose deaths were COVID-19 related.
“Many loved ones didn’t have a funeral or have a memorial,” said Erick Johnson, a church member who helped organize Sunday’s ceremony. “So today Bryn Mawr Community Church celebrates their lives and their memories, and we are determined not to let them be forgotten.”
Sunday’s ceremony inside the church, 7000 S. Jeffery Blvd., honored the 181 individuals who lived in the 60649 ZIP code — which includes South Shore — and died from COVID-19 complications since the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020. The candle-lit ceremony included spiritual songs and prayer.
Johnson thought of the idea for the ceremony earlier this year after he found someone dead next to his car. He later learned the man’s death was related to opioids, but he knew something was needed to help the community grieve. He saw the ceremony as a way to not only honor those who have died, but as a way to help the community meditate and heal from the pandemic.
“I just think that mentally, it’s been very difficult for many people during this pandemic,” Johnson said. “We’ve all become so numb to death — it’s all around us. We hear about it every day, and especially with COVID, and I just think this helps us mentally.”
There could be more than 181 South Shore residents whose deaths have been linked to COVID-19. In total, 589 deaths were tied to COVID-19 from four South Side ZIP codes that includes portions of the South Shore community area, according to data from the city.
Inoculations in this part of the city have lagged, with less than 50% of the eligible population considered fully vaccinated in the four ZIP codes that include parts of South Shore. In the 60649 ZIP code, which includes a large portion of South Shore, 42.5% of the population has completed the vaccine series, according to data from the city.
In comparison, about 65% of the eligible population across the city is fully vaccinated, and 72.2% of residents 5 or older in Chicago have gotten at least one shot, according to city data.
Black Chicagoans continue to face the most serious outcomes from COVID-19. As of Friday, 2,522 Black residents’ deaths were tied to COVID-19, according to data from city officials. More than 14,000 Black residents have been hospitalized because of the coronavirus.
For Denise Miller, hearing how many of her neighbors in South Shore died from COVID-19 makes the pandemic hit home. Miller, 56, does not attend the church, but she wanted to participate in the ceremony to support her community.
“It’s just a reminder of the importance and the significance of being vaccinated,” Miller said. “So I get to take that home to my siblings, my nieces and nephews just to reiterate we’re still losing people, and there’s too many of us that don’t realize that.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.