Biden, Harris Pay Tribute During COVID-19 Memorial: “To Heal, We Must Remember”

A Covid-19 Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in October 2020. Photo by Victoria Pickering/Flickr

Greer Jackson, Howard University News Service

In Washington D.C., on the eve of their historic inauguration, incoming President and Vice President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their spouses, joined with fellow Americans to pay tribute to the more than 400,000 people who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. At a COVID-19 Memorial hosted by the Presidential Inauguration Committee on Tuesday, 400 lights shone around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool – a reminder of the devastating loss of life that the virus continues to leave in its wake. 

“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard, sometimes, to remember,” Biden said during his remarks at the ceremony. “But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.” The President elect was introduced by Lori Marie Key, a nurse whose a cappella performance of “Amazing Grace” was later complemented by Yolanda Adams’ “Hallelujah”.

The evening’s prayers were led by the Archbishop of Washington Wilton Gregory, who emphasised compassion and empathy in the face of sorrow brought on by a virus that is, in many ways, a ruthless equalizer. 

“May our prayers strengthen our awareness of our common humanity and our national unity at a time when harmony is a bond that seeks to comfort and strengthen us as a single people facing a common threat that is no respecter of age, race, culture or gender,” he said. 

Kamala Harris, slated to become the first Black female vice president, acknowledged some of the pandemic’s greatest pains, like the fact that so many people have suffered alone. Still, she expressed optimism about the nation’s ability to rise above its sorrows.

“Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together…Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people, are united in spirit,” she said.

Social distancing guidelines coupled with tight security measures following the storming of the US Capitol have made that physical separation inevitable. Nevertheless, people joined livestreams of the event and took to social media to show solidarity. Mariana Muñoz, a Master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin who lost her mother in August last year, said on Twitter, “This is healing. Mamá forever honored.” 

For many people, this memorial provided a much-needed outlet for collective grieving, and the initiative for it showed a stark contrast to the response by the outgoing administration. Marcus Coleman, a Howard University alumnus involved in COVID-19 outreach, reflected on this. 

“Yesterday’s memorial was a welcomed and necessary acknowledgment of the pain, suffering and grief so many Americans have felt since last Spring,” he said. “The Biden-Harris Administration set a tone of empathy, resolve and commitment to provide comfort and solace to those grieving, and it’s a tone I believe will continue to serve our country and the people in it well for this crisis and the crises to come.”

Traci Wyatt Ph.D, a Howard alumna, reiterated this hope for the country’s new leadership.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris acknowledging the grief of over 400,000 families in this nation and taking on the responsibility to lead us through such a dark hour was the leadership we have all so desperately been awaiting. They have restored honor and dignity back to the nation and the Office of the President,” she said.