Wayne State alumna and community activist urges Warriors to join the fight against COVID

photo of Kaitlin Popielarz
Kaitlin Popielarz

Community organizers have been going to bat for Detroiters long before the coronavirus (COVID-19) hit, but the pandemic has drastically impacted how they do business, said Kaitlin Popielarz '20, a recent Wayne State University alumna and community activist.

As a community action researcher with We The People of Detroit, a grassroots organization that informs, educates and empowers Detroit residents, Popielarz has witnessed the toll shelter-at-home orders take on people without access to clean water. "Wash your hands," government officials, billboards and ads say. But many can't.

Since 2014, over 140,000 homes have experienced water shut-offs in Detroit. Governor Whitmer issued an executive order on March 28 to restore water to all Michigan residents without it, but there are still homes today that have yet to have their water restored, Popielarz said.

In response, We The People of Detroit continues to work with coalitions such as Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry and Replenish Detroit to fight for people's right to water and expand their outreach efforts.

Popielarz is also on the Core Team of MIStudentsDream, a coalition of Detroit educators, students, parents, and youth organizers fighting for immigration justice as a component of education justice.

Undocumented people are uniquely impacted by the crisis. They pay taxes but can't file for unemployment benefits and will not receive support from the stimulus plan; many don't have reliable access to health care due to lack of insurance and a fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); DACA recipients are not eligible to apply for emergency funding through the CARE Act; and many are held in detention centers across the United States, which are "unsanitary and unsafe, which increases the spread of COVID-19," Popielarz said.

At the onset of the virus, MIStudentsDream began weekly check-ins to assess the needs of community members and has since created a pledge to support and donate to the work of local immigration justice organizers.

Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM), is another grassroots organization that has ramped up its outreach efforts during the present crisis. Led by young Detroiters, it was established after March For Our Lives Detroit in 2018. Popielarz serves on the adult ally advisory council and has helped facilitate a COVID Youth Taskforce for young people in Southeast Michigan. The Taskforce hosts weekly meetings, mental health check-ins, movie nights, and provides care kits to those with limited access to specific resources due to the pandemic.

While everyone acclimates to their "new normal," these and many other local grassroots organizations remain dedicated to fighting for all Detroiters.

For those still wondering how they might assist, Popielarz has some advice--well, advice she's borrowed from Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder and president of We The People of Detroit: "We have a transformative moment before us that starts with telling the truth, but it requires sacrifice, a rethinking of moral values, and dismantling systems of oppression. Deputize yourselves to figure out where you are in the fight."

Lewis-Patrick said this before COVID-19 was ever a thought, but it applies today, Popielarz said.

"It is my hope that Wayne State students, faculty, and staff recognize and utilize the transformative moment before us in order to advocate and work toward transformative social change."

Graduate students: Are you finding new ways to conduct your research, making a community impact or studying mental health, resource insecurity or health disparities in the time of COVID? We want to highlight your story. Just email the Graduate School.

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