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No Time to Grieve: COVID-19 Has Changed Funerals and Mourning

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It could be the high-profile deaths of African American cultural icons like Little Richard, Andre Harrell or Betty Wright, who all left us recently, or the peaceful passing of a well-known local activist or the sudden death of a close family member.

COVID-19 has changed the way death hits us, and the ways we mourn and memorialize people we respect and love.

Funeral homes across the United States and here in California are taking extraordinary steps to maintain the safety of their staff, mourners, and the general public. They are also going the extra mile to console families having to deal with the loss of a relative while accepting the grim reality of not being able to hold a traditional funeral — all the while doing everything they can to keep their businesses profitable.

“My husband wasn’t embalmed. They put him in a plastic bag and then put him a casket,” said Margo Rose Brunson, a resident of Sacramento, who lost her husband, Charles L. Brunson, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, to COVID-19 on April 13.

Brunson said she understands that there was nothing the funeral home or the cemetery could do to accommodate the end-of-life arrangements she had planned for her husband. Charles Brunson, who died at 76, was also fighting pneumonia as well as recurring health complications due to stroke and hypertension.

The Brunsons were the co-founders of the Sacramento Branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP), which was in operation from 1968 to 1970. They were also good friends of Bobby Seale, the well-known political activist, Oakland 1973 mayoral candidate, and co-founder of the national arm of BPP with Huey P. Newton. Brunson’s service, handled by Morgan Jones Funeral Home in Sacramento, lasted no more than seven minutes, and the 10 people who attended the burial stayed in their cars.

“In the African-American community, there are so many rituals we all know when it comes to funerals — to burying our people, family members and friends we love,” says Mark McKay, owner and operator of McKay’s Mortuaries in Southern California.  He says, so far, he has handled several cases of COVID-19 deaths. McKay’s has locations both in the Los Angeles area and in the Inland Empire.

“It is difficult. People are taking this hard. Imagine crying and having to look in the other direction because you’re making these unusual home going service plans,” he said.  For some families whose relatives die of COVID-19, there are “no services, no prayers. They take them straight from the hospital to the cemetery and put them in the ground – or they go to a crematory and burn the bodies.”

Most Black funeral homeowners say they have seen sharp dips in their revenues since most of their customers no longer need auxiliary services like limousine rentals and other costs associated with funeral services.

Funeral homes across California have adopted technologies like Zoom and other streaming services to allow families to watch funeral services remotely online.

For families everywhere in the world, the coronavirus crisis has complicated dying, grieving and funeral services. Across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people keep a safe distance of six feet between them to avoid spreading or contracting the virus. The state has ordered that no more than 10 people can assemble for a public gathering.

In California, there are 66,680 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the California Department of Public Health. So far, the disease has caused the deaths of  2,657 people. More than 260 of the deceased are Black Californians.

Mortician Albert Tillman in Riverside says he approaches funeral services with a sense of duty, but he constantly has to steel his nerves because he’s always thinking about the safety of his 19 employees and guests who attend viewings at this funeral home.

“We sanitize all the time. We follow CDC guidelines. We wear masks,” says Tillman, who does not embalm any bodies of people who died from COVID-19. “What scares me most is the unknown. We just don’t know enough about this virus, that’s why I don’t make decisions that might endanger my staff and the community.”

Advice

The Perfect Time to Lock in Your Mortgage Rate, Keep Rising Housing Costs Under Control Is Now

Despite a challenging homebuying environment with high demand and historically low inventory, purchasing a home is still attainable – and you don’t have to go through the process alone. Getting connected early with a home lending advisor will better prepare you for the homebuying process, help you understand how much home you can afford and get you prequalified so you can shop with confidence.

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There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to locking in a mortgage rate and there are many factors to consider.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to locking in a mortgage rate and there are many factors to consider.

By Christina Dello Buono

Surging mortgage rates combined with double-digit price gains are putting homeowners and potential buyers in a tough spot. First-time homebuyers, in particular, are being squeezed out of the market – due to the fact they don’t have equity or an additional boost from the sale of an existing property.

Despite those challenges, buying a home may not be as out of reach as you think.

We sat down with Denise Richardson, Community Home Lending Advisor at Chase, to discuss how to navigate the mortgage process, what resources are available, and how increasing mortgage rates can impact your family’s homebuying dreams.

Q: How do increasing mortgage rates impact prospective homebuyers?

Richardson: Mortgage rates have nearly doubled in the last six months – from 3% in 2021 to more than 6% in 2022 – making it increasingly difficult for many Americans to purchase a home, especially those on a limited income. That difference is significant by any measure, but it could result in hundreds of dollars added to your monthly payment and thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Despite a challenging homebuying environment with high demand and historically low inventory, purchasing a home is still attainable – and you don’t have to go through the process alone. Getting connected early with a home lending advisor will better prepare you for the homebuying process, help you understand how much home you can afford and get you prequalified so you can shop with confidence.

Q: Is it a good idea for homebuyers to lock in a mortgage rate as soon as possible?

Richardson: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to locking in a mortgage rate and there are many factors to consider. This is where your home lending advisor can provide more individualized counsel specific to your situation and your market.

Given the volatility of interest rates right now, we recommend locking in rates as soon as possible so you can be certain what your payments will look like on your loan. Many lenders require you to have a purchase contract in-hand before locking in your rates, but that isn’t always the case. Chase offers a Homebuyer Advantage Program, which allows you to get conditionally approved while you shop for a home.

Q: What happens if mortgage rates drop after a homebuyer locks in their rate?

Richardson: There isn’t an exact science to timing the market, and while interest rates have risen in recent months, it’s always possible that interest rates could fall. Some lenders offer a mortgage rate lock float down, which allows you to lock in an interest rate with the option to reduce if market rates fall during the lock period. This option provides you with a little more security in a volatile market and allows you to take advantage of falling interest rates.

You may be able to move to a lower rate even without the float down option, but it may require additional fees. Additionally, your lender may have particular requirements, such as being at a certain stage of the loan process, for the customer to be eligible to lower their rate.

Q: Can a homebuyer potentially let the rate lock expire by pushing back their closing date? 

Richardson: It’s certainly possible, but it isn’t likely to be beneficial for the customer. Oftentimes, lenders will only allow you to move forward with the rate you originally lock in – or the rate on the day you relock, whichever is higher.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the ability to move quickly in this environment is critical. It’s important to do your research on lender-backed resources available to you, such as Chase’s Closing Guarantee. This guarantee commits to closing customers in as little as three weeks, or they receive $5,000. The program offers buyers peace of mind knowing that they can close on their new home without delay or receive compensation that can be put toward additional costs.

There are plenty of other resources available to help boost your homebuying knowledge – especially if you are a first-time homebuyer. The Beginner to Buyer podcast is a great resource for prospective homebuyers to get answers to all their homebuying questions. Every episode offers conversations with real buyers and expert guests about each step of the process, from mortgage rates and application to closing.

Christina Dello Buono is a vice president in the Dept. of Communications, JPMorgan Chase/Northern California. 

Content sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: The Power of the Vote

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

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We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.
We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.

By Richard Johnson

The Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) org. is launching a voter drive to protect and encourage democratic participation while seeking educational, economic as well as social opportunities to reunite families.

Our goal is to focus on potential voters who have been overlooked in the voting process as a class due to ultra-restrictive policy measures meant to discourage voter turnout.

Recently laws that allow those with criminal records to actively participate in the voting process on all levels have changed. This would give those underserved citizens a voice in what happens in their communities.

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

We can help ourselves and make changes by voting with our full strength.

We of the Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) will be canvassing throughout our communities to register this obscure neglected class of prison returnees and their families. We will also join with other organizations, churches and the Post News Group, along with other media to spread the message of our mission. FIGB will also help contact and sign all other unregistered voters to impact change at the polls. We will collaborate with other groups, voting blocks, and entities to increase awareness while raising the turnout at the polls. We are asking all churches, institutions, and social clubs to join this endeavor by engaging with FIGB.

During the next two months we will regularly publish the results of our coordinated efforts to put boots on the ground in this column.

Change is an inevitable phenomenon; however, the right changes are not. We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few. Let’s be clear, nothing should be taken for granted. Just as one is seated, so can one be unseated. Let the voices of the underserved be heard loud and clear. The policy of exclusion must be replaced with inclusion.

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Activism

School District Security Violently Clashes with Parents, Community at Parker Elementary School

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process. Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

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This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.
This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District security officers arrived at Parker Elementary School in East Oakland on Thursday, Aug. 4 to change the locks and clear people from the school.

Parker, located at 7929 Ney Ave. in East Oakland, has been occupied and kept open operating community programs for the last two months by community protesters, who are resisting the school board decision to permanently close the school at the end of May.

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process.

“Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

In a response to Oakland Post questions, OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki wrote: “OUSD staff went to Parker on Thursday and found all the people who had been inside the building had left the premises. So, staff changed the locks and set the alarm.

“Someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building. They were removed. But unfortunately, individuals forced their way back into the building.”

Sasaki continued, “Parker K-8 School is now closed. The individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions. Of great concern is that the children that were onsite were sleeping in unsafe conditions and that the adults were running an unsafe and unlicensed childcare program. We continue to demand that they find other ways to safely and peaceably express their concerns.”

Parker protesters condemned the actions. “It was unthinkable that the district would send a group of poorly trained security —consultants ­— to injure, aggress, and antagonize a peaceful community where children were receiving services, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood of East Oakland, which already experiences disproportionate police violence,” the release said.

Parker activists say they are not leaving and will continue their fight to keep the school from being permanently closed and privatized.

Civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, says that his investigation told the Oakland Post that description of the incident on Aug. 4 “were concerning in a number of ways.”

“The people had been there all summer, and the district had allowed them to continue. No notice of eviction had ever occurred. After locks were placed on the door, a protester made entry, not by breaking in but through a door with a key, as has been the case all summer,” said Riley.

The security agency employed by the district does not have the authority to use “self-help” (that is to physically evict people from the building). They are untrained, and the district is liable for their injuries.

Riley continued: “OPD officers, when they arrived, stood by, and watched unlawful physical attacks. One person was thrown headfirst into a wall by security causing significant injury. Another person, a candidate for school board and an active parent, was taken to the ground, a knee placed on his neck by security. He was brutalized, handcuffed, and held for up to two hours without medical aid for injuries to his wrist, neck, and face.”

Since May 25, the final day of classes of the 2021-22 school year, protesters have occupied Parker 24 hours a day, utilizing the space for a summer program for school-age children, youth empowerment initiatives, free food distribution, voter registration drives, and hosting community town halls and other events, according to protesters’ press statement.

This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

One of the two teachers who was fired was Craig Gordon, a 32-year veteran Oakland teacher and union activist. The other teacher who was fired was not named.

District spokesman Sasaki declined to comment on the firing of the two teachers. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” he said.

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