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'Lives changed forever, that's what I see' | 20,000 chairs at President's Park honoring US lives lost to COVID

COVID Survivors for Change hosted a National COVID-19 Remembrance Sunday to honor the more than 200,000 American lives lost to the coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — Nearly 210,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins. On Sunday, COVID Survivors for Change set up 20,000 chairs in President's Park to commemorate those lost lives and demand action.

One of those chairs stood for 73-year-old Dr. Maima Darbah Fahnbulleh, who raised her children in Montgomery County. She died from COVID-19 after contracting the virus in a nursing home on May 7, 2020.

Her daughter, Konah Bernard, said she had to say goodbye over zoom.

“I remember that dreadful morning when they said we need two individuals because your mom is actively dying," Bernard said. "Time just stopped.”

Dr. Fahnbulleh was born in Liberia and well-educated in the United States, earning a Ph.D. in social work from Howard University, Master’s Degrees from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in social work and public health, and a Bachelor’s Degree in zoology at McGill University in Montreal in 1970.

“Mom was a very vibrant person," Bernard said. "She spent most of her life advocating for people with disabilities, speaking for the disenfranchised and the people who didn’t really have a voice."

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Organizers set up thousands of folding chairs on the Ellipse in President's Park as a sort of wake-up call to leaders. Grammy Award-winner and former U.S. Ambassador to Health Dionne Warwick hosted the hour-long National COVID-19 Remembrance that included a variety of speakers: families who have lost loved ones, survivors and frontline workers.

Bernard, her husband and three kids drove from Baltimore to speak Sunday.

Gazing at the rows of chairs, Bernard said: "Lives changed forever, that’s what I see.”

As an occupational therapist and mother of three young kids (four, five, and six years of age), she's had a lot to focus on during the pandemic.

After helping to plan her mother's funeral in May, Bernard had to turn her attention back to her own patients and kids who were confused where grandma went -- and had to start virtual schooling.

“With my children, knowing that I am creating their childhood, I am part of it. It also makes me reflect on how much my mom did for me," she said.

Organizers and Bernard want government leaders to take action and develop a national plan for safety and recovery.

“I think education and consistency is the main thing," Bernard said.

They hope to see fewer and fewer chairs added.

Credit: Jess Arnold
COVID Survivors for Change set up 20,000 chairs in front of the White House to honor American lives lost to the coronavirus.

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