MIAMI – Stephanie McKay was among the first mourners to arrive Wednesday at the public Simonhoff Floral Park in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
McKay was there to add her mother’s name to one of the hundreds of white plastic tombstone-shaped pieces that are part of a temporary memorial to Miami’s victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her mother, Nellie Mae McKay, died in August after suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms in a hospital bed for about three weeks. She was 84.
“She was a loving person and she just didn’t have to die like this,” McKay said, adding that hospital visitor restrictions made “just the fact of not being able to see her and let her go through that alone ... the hardest part."
The installation at the park, at 1850 NW 54 St., is walking distance from the voting precinct at the Joseph Caleb Center Community Meeting Room on 54th Street and 22nd Avenue. It was a team effort by The Circle of Brotherhood, a nonprofit organization that encourages community activism, and two Democrats: Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and Rep. Frederica Wilson.
“We chose Liberty City for the memorial cemetery because this pandemic has also exposed inequities that make Black people and other people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Wilson said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the many inequities in social determinants that put racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk include a lack of access to healthcare and having to live in crowded conditions.
Epidemiologists estimate more than a million people have died of COVID-19 around the world. The latest report shows COVID-19 caused 260,000 deaths in the United States including about 15,700 in Florida. In Miami-Dade County, officials report 3,485 related deaths.
The temporary installation in Liberty City aims to use the 500 tombstones to allow Miami-Dade residents to add their loved ones' names until November. Wilson has been critical of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic and she is hoping his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, takes charge after the Nov. 3 election.
As the COVID-19 death toll in FL passes more than 15,000, including more than 3,000 in Miami-Dade, I am partnering with the Circle of Brotherhood, Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and other local elected officials to erect a cemetery to honor the lives lost. pic.twitter.com/9bPum3UMdh— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) October 14, 2020
For McKay, the installation was both a tribute and a haven. She said she hopes it will raise awareness. Others said they hope it can serve as a cathartic experience for those who participate.
“Open it up so everybody can see how people are just dying for no reason,” McKay said. "I went and got tested to make sure that my mom was OK, and she didn’t go anywhere, so I don’t know how she contracted COVID-19.”