Arkansas transplant feels adrift in Memphis when pandemic hits

Feature image: Sha’Kira Carroll cooks at her home. Self-portrait by Sha’Kira Carroll.

“I was worried about losing my job; I still worry. They’ve had to downsize significantly,” says IT contractor Sha’Kira Carroll

By Sha’Kira Carroll, for MLK50
In partnership with The Collective Blueprint

When my employer initially told us that we were preparing to work from home because of the pandemic, I was elated. I had been begging my boss to let us rotate work-from-home shifts.

For the past year, I have been working as a full-time contractor at a nonprofit affiliated with a hospital. I work in the IT department as a service desk technician, where I am usually face-to-face with most of my clients.

I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with fear about the virus, so the more the media covered COVID-19, the more cynical I became. I laughed and joked with my friends on social media by sharing memes, and even nicknamed it “the rona” for extra giggles. But the week before the city shut down, I was scared because financially, I wasn’t prepared to stock up on essentials.

As the days drew closer for us to work from home, my anxiety went into overdrive. I had so many decisions to make. I constantly went back and forth about whether or not I would dip into my bill money to stock my fridge and shelves or try to get by with the minimum. After work, I went to the grocery stores. Seeing the barren shelves made my depression worse.

I got what I could. At one grocery store, I had to settle for a carton of eggs with a few broken ones. I had to wait until I heard about stores getting more inventory. And even then, I wasn’t prepared financially to be able to buy enough to keep my shelves full.

An emergency fund is definitely essential for times such as these, when anything can happen and you need to be prepared. I live paycheck to paycheck; $500 would have been a good amount of extra money to have to stock my shelves and prepare for the weeks or months to come. Luckily, I have my own car, a 2007 model.

My co-workers were all pretty much like me — they didn’t start preparing until very shortly before stay-at-home orders began, and by then we were close to not having anything at all.

The whole time I was attempting to be financially responsible, others were preparing by stocking up and I was left to pick over what little was left. I was driving all over the city trying to piece together a few items that I thought would sustain me for at least a few weeks. If we were being told to stay at home, I wanted to make sure that I strictly abided by those rules.

Ground beef is something you can typically make a few different meals out of, but it was the hardest thing to find. If you were able to go to a store and find it, a 1-lb. package for one person was $6 or $7. I had to do without things like that, and like chicken, at times. I wanted vegetables, but I didn’t want to get too much fresh produce because it wouldn’t last long. I ended up having to throw away produce. I tried to get by with things like milk, cheese and eggs.

In the beginning my friends and I laughed about the way shoppers piled up their grocery carts from top to bottom. And then we found out we couldn’t prepare ourselves because of all those people trying to take everything for themselves.

There were difficulties when we all started working from home. We have to use a secure network, but a lot of people weren’t prepared for that or only found out about technical issues once they started working at home. Everyone went into a panic about it.

As our work-from-home shifts started, the workload soon began to build up and I started to feel overwhelmed. At night my body wouldn’t rest, so I began to take any over-the-counter sleep medicine. By morning, I’d be so tired that I was unproductive. We’re not allowed to work overtime in our contract. If we can’t get it done, most of the work goes to a full-time employee.

I was worried about losing my job; I still worry. They’ve had to downsize significantly. We have usually 25–30 people in my department. Since the pandemic started, we’ve lost three contractors in technical support.

I have quarantined alone. I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas, and I have a few friends who lived here and they told me about the different trade schools. I thought it would be a good career opportunity, so I moved here about three years ago to study IT.

Since the pandemic, I haven’t gone around others and I’ve made sure to always practice the CDC’s regulations about wearing a mask whenever I do leave the house.

I was used to being able to freely come and go, to brunch on the weekends with my friends and church on Sundays. In the beginning, every day seemed worse than the last because I couldn’t go anywhere, I never got to see anyone and I really missed being around my coworkers.

Nothing has really changed, but I’m not as stressed out now. My church is doing virtual services, and I am trying to get more fresh air.

The pandemic has made me think about everything in my life, including how I can improve my financial future. I really need to consider furthering my education so I can secure better opportunities.

This piece is published in conjunction with the Collective Blueprint, a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate barriers and create new avenues toward economic self-sufficiency for young adults. The Collective works with schools, employers and community stakeholders to establish career pathways and ensure equitable access to support, resources and opportunities that allow young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 to thrive.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.