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Essential Workers Hold Protests In National 'Strike For Black Lives'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the multiple crises facing this country. In response, essential workers have been walking off their jobs to demand racial and economic justice. It's part of a nationwide Strike for Black Lives. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In Philadelphia, the Strike for Black Lives took place in front of the African American history museum.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: I say Black lives. You say matter. Black lives.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Matter.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Black lives.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Matter.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Black lives.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Matter.

BRADY: In the crowd, Darnell Fassett was wearing a rainbow umbrella hat - not to shield the hot sun but because he's selling them.

DARNELL FASSETT: Life for me right now is a struggle.

BRADY: Passes says the summer typically as his busy season but not during the pandemic.

FASSETT: I go from making $200 to $300 a day to making $30 or $40 a day now. I have to give up going out. I have to give up some food, had to give up some clothes. I can't go buy my clothes like I used to.

BRADY: Fassett says he just tries to keep his head up and hope sales improve. Nearby, Eve Carlton says she's still working as a security guard. She says dozens of union colleagues contracted COVID-19. Still, getting protective gear has been difficult.

EVE CARLTON: Between the masks, the gloves, the cleaning supplies, you know, it just wasn't there. And it still honestly isn't there.

BRADY: Carlton worries about spreading the coronavirus to her ailing mother. She says in recent months, she's felt depressed, frustrated and anxious but has ways to cope.

CARLTON: I'm really thankful to be a child of God. Definitely pray, do my daily prayers. And having my family, you know, and having my outlets to talk to. I write in my journal. You know, I color. That's one of my things - color and painting.

BRADY: This was just one of dozens of Strike for Black Lives demonstrations around the country yesterday. Near Detroit, Lisa Elliot protested outside the nursing home where she works.

LISA ELLIOT: You know, it's hard enough having to work as an African American, but then you have to come into the workplace and be treated like dirt.

BRADY: Elliot supports the demands for this protest, including health care for everyone and a $15 an hour minimum wage. The unions organizing the demonstrations also called on companies and politicians to dismantle systemic racism in the U.S. That brings up President Trump's recent comments on race. He's downplayed the deaths of Black people in police custody, defended Confederate symbols and called the statement Black lives matter a symbol of hate. Elliot says Trump has taken rhetoric hurtful to her to a new level.

ELLIOT: I know racism has always been - it's been out there. But now it's like he's promoting it.

BRADY: In Mississippi, Sheree Collier says Trump's words add to the pressure she feels under these days.

SHEREE COLLIER: And, you know, it's a stressful situation because you're doing your job the best that you can do. You're not getting paid the wages that you want. There's a pandemic.

BRADY: Collier works for a government contractor that runs a call center in Hattiesburg. She's helping form a union at her workplace, where she says employees need better sick time benefits. Without them, she says, ill workers face a difficult choice.

COLLIER: Do I stay at home, don't get paid? Or do I go to work and infect everybody else?

BRADY: In talking with people who attended yesterday's Strike for Black Lives, it's clear many Black Americans feel under a lot more pressure than usual. And they hope it lets up soon.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.