A group of community organizers and faith leaders is taking turns reciting the names of thousands of people who reportedly died of COVID-19.
The 24-hour “#NamingTheLost” vigil seeks to address a “lack of collective mourning” that organizers believe is obscuring what is at stake during the pandemic.
“Before we can make the future, we must come together in mourning, united across our differences, to recognize and grieve for the lives lost,” the group’s website states. “By taking 24 hours to read the names of those we have lost, we seek to humanize and honor each person — and those whose names we do not know — at a time when we must be physically apart.”
The memorial began streaming live on Facebook and other social media platforms on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern. Grieving rituals, including moments of silence, songs and reflections, intersperse the reading of names.
A number of faith-based organizations, along with progressive groups and politicians, have promoted the vigil on social media. Many of the speakers are clergy or activists who primarily serve communities of color, seniors, and people with disabilities. Organizers said they were driven by grief over the social inequalities the pandemic has exposed and the conviction that it “didn’t have to be this way.”
“Our country’s leaders made choices that risked our lives,” a website for the vigil states. “We know we can choose a different way forward that is about caring for all of us.”
Over 90,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has had an outsized impact on Black and Latinx communities.
The vigil participants can’t name all the deceased, but they aim to “read the names of as many people as we can name,” Anthony Torres, an organizer from Brooklyn, New York said. The group gathered thousands of names by combing through public sources such as “newspapers, unions, faith institutions, [and] government postings,” he said.
“We also put out an open call for submissions for names of loved ones lost to COVID from the public,” Torres said. “We received hundreds that way.”
Zahara Zahav, a New York-based community organizer with the advocacy group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, said she hopes the recitation of these names helps to humanize the coronavirus death toll figures.
“Our country’s leadership has not supported people to take the time and space to really acknowledge what’s happening and look it in the face. For as long as we don’t do that, our leaders will get away with not supporting people,” Zahav said. “If we actually really understood the depths of what’s happening, the depth of the loss, we’d be forced to make some difficult decisions about changing what our world looks like.”