Find a creative way to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case appearing in Oakland County, Mich.
Launch an initiative to reflect on the first year of the pandemic and its impact on community members.
The year 2020 was a difficult one for Oakland County, Michigan’s Brandy Boyd.
Boyd, chief of recreation programs and services with the county’s parks and recreation department, lost both her parents to COVID-19 within days of one another.
On March 10, 2021, on the one-year anniversary of the first case of the virus appearing in the county, Boyd found herself counting down at the #OaklandTogether COVID-19 Tribute Walk to ceremoniously light a half-mile trail to honor those lost during the pandemic.
“I just thought it was important for people to hear my story about what my family and I are going through and how it’s impacting our lives,” she said.
Boyd spoke about her experience to honor her parents at the opening event for the walk.
The Tribute Walk was just one of multiple initiatives Oakland County launched as part of the #OaklandTogether COVID-19 Tribute to mark the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in the county.
“I think it’s important to put that spotlight on people and I was honored that I was able to highlight my parents, but it was also an honor that the county put the effort and resources into not just the families, but the community,” Boyd said.
Kaitlin Keeler, Oakland County’s marketing and communications officer, said the tribute focused on remembering and reflecting on those who were lost, paying thanks to frontline workers who helped throughout the pandemic and educating the public about the virus.
“We chose the word ‘tribute’ specifically, because we thought it was a nice way to both honor those we lost and also pay thanks to those we were grateful for,” she said.
The tribute included multiple activities throughout March with one being the Tribute Walk, a half-mile immersive and interactive light display located in a county park.
Oakland County partnered on the light display with Bluewater Technologies, an Oakland County-based company that works on lighting for trade shows. With events cancelled last year, the company had previously created a similar outdoor immersive experience.
“The collaboration made everything easy and just added another layer of love to the project,” Keeler said. “It was a passion project and a labor of love.”
More than 3,000 visitors came to the walk for the 11 days it was open in March.
One section of the walk, dubbed “The Radiant Path,” included candles that each represented 10 lives lost to COVID-19, Keeler said. Another section of the walk featured lights that swirled around those passing by to signify that those who are lost are always with us.
“That just gave me goosebumps when the company pitched that part of the idea and they were able to bring it to life,” Keeler said.
The county livestreamed portions of the walk to reach those who were unable to attend the path in person.
At the walk, visitors had the opportunity to add names to a yellow heart and black ribbon sign, the symbol for those who lost their lives to COVID-19 or write a message to frontline workers on a green heart. The signs will be displayed at different locations throughout the county.
Boyd said she had the chance to write messages thanking the nursing staff and the doctors who took care of her parents at the hospital.
“It was nice to share the positives and obviously the tragedy of it,” she said.
Oakland County also used their geographic information systems (GIS) team to launch Remembrance and Gratitude Story Maps as part of the tribute to collect stories and photos of community members who lost their lives. The maps are still open and available for anyone to contribute to or view.
“We wanted just to make a safe personal space where you could share your story,” Keeler said.
County Executive David Coulter and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist held a virtual discussion and COVID-19 update about vaccines and the inequities people of color faced throughout the pandemic as part of the tribute.
Keeler said it was crucial all activities were open and accessible to the public.
“Everybody has a story throughout COVID to tell,” she said.
“I just think it’s so important because regardless of where you are politically, COVID has touched everybody’s life in one way or another,” Boyd added.