Jervey Tervalon jumps out of COVID quarantine for Black Lives Matter

Author Jervey Tervalon.
(Jervey Tervalon)

For months, the Times has been asking writers to tell us what they’re seeing, hearing and doing in quarantine. Over the past few weeks they’ve been emerging to address another national emergency, racial injustice. Jervey Tervalon, a poet, screenwriter, dramatist and author of several books, including “Dead Above Ground,” braved the streets with his family to join three Pasadena protests over a long and exciting weekend — watching his daughter Elise become a leader; ferrying his youngest, Colette, to bathroom breaks; and awaiting the results of his COVID-19 test.

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June 8, 2020

Friday, June 5

Elise, my 19-year-old daughter, made it clear I would be attending a COVID-19-safe event — a caravan of cars starting at First AME Church on Raymond Street in Pasadena for a drive-through protest. The idea was that older folks wouldn’t need to expose themselves to the virus; seniors of our community could stay safely in their cars as they showed their displeasure at the actions of our 45th president. At this protest it was me, two of my daughters — Elise and Colette — and my stepson, Sammy. The only child missing was Giselle, 26, who was in the belly of the beast, Washington, D.C., working for the Center of American Progress. She sent me a photo in which she looked so exhausted from organizing near the White House that I called her mother, so we could both urge her to take time off and come back to her hometown to recuperate.


The automotive protest was characteristic of Pasadena/Altadena, where it’s not unusual to see a Black-and-Asian family like ours do our civic duty — which was to express our barely constrained rage. It’s a given among folks of color, the LGBTQ community, book readers, vegetarians, scientists, gardeners and people who play touch football that the president despises us all. The problem was waiting for the Pasadena police to give the signal to start our engines. A 4-year-old trapped in a car for a long time is a recipe for frayed nerves; a restroom break for Colette was inevitable, and soon. Finally, we received the signal, but we snaked along to Pasadena City Hall at a walking pace. To Colette’s credit, she held on for an hour, but then we had to give up the ghost to find a restroom. Cheering us on and waving “Black Lives Matters” placards was California in all its diversity. At an event to honor George Floyd, the crowd was as Black as it was Latinx and Asian and white.

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April 8, 2020

Saturday, June 6

It is hard enough to deal with a deadly virus by sheltering in place, but how do you do that when you’re a Black man and your 19-year-old daughter is leading a Black Lives Matter protest in front of hundreds of people in Pasadena’s Central Park? What choice is there but to put a mask on yourself and a mask on little Colette, grab 12-year-old Sammy and go see Elise do what needed to be done. I worried, maybe unreasonably, that she might freeze up, but no, she had no problem giving her five-minute speech about resisting racism. She insisted that Black lives matter and the crowd roared back that Black lives do matter, and I was moved to tears.

Who here is tired? Because I will be the first to admit that I am.
I’m sick
And trust me the list can go on, I know many adjectives.
I am ashamed.
Ashamed to admit that at times I have given up. When you are so invested in a cause that seems so simple it is hard to have hope.
When people have philosophical debates and discussions on your fundamental rights.
When people think we’ve done enough.
When police kneel with us, but then the next day they’re murdering my brothers and sisters. When Garcetti says he supports us and he kneels with us, but he proposes to allocate over $3 BILLION toward the LAPD. The thing is, I could be next. My father could be next. Amanda could be next. My mother could be next.
I mean I can see it already, as morbid as it sounds. Our faces plastered on flyers and Instagram accounts. Our pain edited to match your aesthetic.

My secret fear is of deranged folks with guns intent on intimidation at best, slaughter at worst. To my relief the crowd was safe; there were no deranged folk with semi-automatic weapons to ruin our morning, the Pasadena police stayed a discreet distance away, and a motorcycle officer was even applauded for stopping traffic.

After the protest in the park, the crowd lined up and, chanting in unison, headed to Colorado Boulevard, and it all went very civilly even if civility wasn’t the point.

I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment. I got to see Elise blossom into a confident adult — an unexpected pleasure. From there we drove to east Pasadena to get ice cream at Carmela’s to celebrate. I had another thing to celebrate: A few days earlier, I had creeped through another very long line; I was at Dodger Stadium for the free COVID-19 test and my God: After two bladder-testing hours (I felt Colette’s pain), I got the chance to push the swab around the far reaches of my mouth and then into its solution tube and deposit it into the right container, and then I fled from the stadium to find a restroom.


Two days later I got the text message: I was negative.

Writer Jervey Tervalon's family
Jervey Tervalon’s wife, Jinghuan Liu Tervalon, and daughter Colette, 4, at a Pasadena protest.
(Jervey Tervalon)

Sunday, June 7

Jinghuan, my wife, reminded me that there would be another BLM march the following day, from the top of Lincoln Avenue to Charles White Park. We readied ourselves and masked up and drove over to where that march would start, fairly close to our house. We were maybe 15 minutes late and damn, it was huge — the most people I’ve ever seen together in Altadena. We had our masks on but it wasn’t easy to socially distance among so many excited marchers determined to show that America was still a free country. The march wasn’t long, but we had to carry Colette the whole way. Jinghuan is very trim and very strong from marathon training and while we all took turns, she did most of the heavy lifting. The rally was very well attended, maybe 600 to 700 people. A woman in the audience started to shout, “Mama, I can’t breathe, mama help me, mama. I’m dying mama!” and we strained to see the woman acting out the last words of George Floyd and it was a brutally moving moment, impossible to forget.

Our president seems to have an amazing ability to make people from diverse backgrounds feel such unified passion for relentless, nonviolent resistance against him that even fear of COVID-19 couldn’t stop it.