If you have ever been a patron of Uber or Lyft in Jackson, chances are you’ve ridden with me.
I have been rolling in the metro area since December 2016. My disco ball, strobe lights and candy are often talked about. I started out of pure boredom and the need to generate more personal income. I take pride in providing great service and have done just that over 4,500 times.
I believe in the importance of rideshare in the area—not only to benefit the customers with convenience, but also small businesses.
More importantly, the unbelievable safety benefits of keeping the roads safe from drunk drivers cannot be measured. I am publicly vocal about the safety of everyone in the community, and I encourage everyone to get comfortable using rideshare.
These last three and half years have been nothing short of life-changing. However, my purpose changed just as the world changed with the onset of COVID-19.
‘These Are Not Bar Runs or Airline Passengers’
Like many people, I was skeptical of the safety of rideshare, but with quarantine in full effect and so many businesses closed, I felt my community needed me more than ever. To say that the dynamic of rideshare in Jackson has changed since the pandemic began is a severe understatement.
Despite the “shelter in place” and “stay at home” orders, the demand for Uber and Lyft drastically increased. Simultaneously, many drivers quit for various reasons. Some decided to draw unemployment instead; some have health issues and were concerned about the dangers of COVID-19; some assumed that the demand was not there.
Fellow drivers and I soon found out, though, that our services are not only vital, but are absolutely critical to the running of businesses in the area. Many of these businesses are staffed by an overwhelming number of African Americans in low-wage jobs, who are not allowed to stay home for their health or their families.
Since March 2020, I have given 1,733 rides—approximately 80% of these rides have been for African Americans, with 40% of them Black women. That percentage was rarely above 50% before the pandemic.
These are not bar runs, airline passengers, people going to dinner, events or sporting events. The overwhelming majority of these rides have been people getting to and from “essential” jobs that required them, in some cases, to work extended hours despite having no childcare available. These numbers and circumstances alarm me.
If customers were not going to work, they were likely coming from Kroger, Walmart, Target, Save-A-Lot, or from a doctor’s appointment or some sort of treatment for a life-threatening disease. I have never had to put so many wheelchairs and walkers in my Impala—not to mention packing it down with groceries.
Essential But Without Transportation to Work
One Black woman waited for me in the rain to drive from Madison to the Walmart on Highway 18 in Jackson, just so she could get her groceries home to her kids. She told me it took her nearly an hour just to get me as a driver on the app.
Another Black woman told me she was worried about being fired because, despite me getting there as soon as possible, she had waited so long for a ride she was going to be late. An elderly white woman told me she needed to get to treatment for her spinal injury, and because her husband was on dialysis, he was unable to take her. She missed a few appointments due to the unavailability of cars to get her there.
Despite this, the gratefulness and thanks I have received from my customers rewards me in a way no amount of money can buy. I’ve heard, “Thank you so much for driving” and “You are a lifesaver” too many times to count.
Many people believe the media has “twisted the truth” about the severity of COVID-19, but what I’ve witnessed should be alarming for anyone. Most days, every single passenger I picked up, whether day or night, was a Black Mississippian going to or from a job. In many cases, these individuals were working in Madison, Flowood, Fondren or other affluent areas of the metro area, but were then brought back to homes in under-developed and -resourced areas of Jackson or rural areas of Hinds County that have been neglected.
These same Black people work jobs that so many others take for granted and depend on, yet they are seen as inferior. We literally cannot live our everyday lives without their services, and they are put at risk daily amid this pandemic and are not paid enough.
While the statistics prove that Black communities were more at risk for contracting COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic, all we have to do is look at who is going to essential jobs when others work from home.
Not a Political Issue, But a Human Issue
This pandemic has given drivers like me a new purpose in the city, and now I feel it is my duty to call out the systematic racism that is very prevalent—I have seen it with my own eyes.
This systemic problem has left children home unattended, low-wage workers feeling unappreciated, fatigued and exploited, and many senior citizens left without care. It has opened my eyes to a problem that I believed existed, but now I have no doubts.
This is not a political issue, but a human issue.
We can split hairs and debate political policies, but if you fail to see systematic racism and classism when it is happening right in front of you, you are simply not looking.
Be kind, be grateful and tip an essential worker today. They work much harder than we realize.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.