One of 10-year-old Xan Clarkson’s latest creations is a Lego grocery store complete with masked shoppers — a sign of the times during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Xan, of East Lansing, wears a gray one, herself, while her little sisters, Ada and Winter, wear smaller, pink ones when they go out, she said. It was a bit funny when Xan had to wear a pink one once.
“The coronavirus doesn't really bug me that much because — I mean it does — but we don't need to go out and get a lot of food,” she said.
Xan is one of nearly 10 million Michiganders living through the biggest global event in modern times, one which will undoubtedly be reviewed by scientists, researchers and decision-makers for decades to come.
That’s why the Detroit Free Press is partnering with the Michigan History Center, which runs the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan History Museum System, to collect personal stories from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Michigan History Center is gathering accounts and photos from the pandemic, posting them in real-time online and sharing them with the Free Press for use. The Free Press will assemble recordings to be shared in an audio series called We Lived It, and sent to the history center for archival use. Stories based on the effort also will be written for the newspaper.
The history center launched its collection effort in April and the Free Press immediately saw value in a joint effort and audio series.
Maryann Struman, an editor at the Free Press, is leading the project for the newspaper. She pointed to the flu pandemic of 1918 and the lack of technology to document how life changed and how people felt at the time.
“But today, we can capture that experience with audio — people telling first-hand how they are managing to cope,” she said. “It's storytelling at its best, and there is so much to be studied and learned when you look back on this period, say, 100 years from now.”
The partners aim to gather the ups, downs and the in-betweens of everyone including infected patients, frontline doctors, grieving loved ones, members of the hard-hit black community, protesters, stay-at-home home moms, bored 20-somethings and stir-crazy kids.
The history center strives to provide information from all sides for the public to draw conclusions as they see fit — an endeavor not unlike journalism, said Mark Harvey, state archivist.
The goal for the history center is to make sure the emotional and psychological impact of the virus and subsequent responses are documented, not just clinical graphs, Harvey said. In the future, the information could be used by policymakers.
“No one had that luxury this time around,” Harvey said. “It just happened, and decisions had to be made. There was no hindsight available. So, I feel like collecting the widest array of stories and experiences will give us that hindsight that we don’t currently have.”
The history center is curating submissions for display on its website and, down the line, will seek the submission of objects, too.
The Free Press will collect audio stories through a phone line set up for the effort. News team members including Cary Junior, Tad Davis and Darcie Moran will interview residents as well and curate stories, too.
Journalists often go to archives looking for something specific and archivists are sometimes waving their hands in the air to get something noticed, Harvey said. It makes this effort unique.
Still, it’s a natural partnership and a complement to the stories already being shared by the Free Press, said Anjanette Delgado, senior news director for digital and leader of audio efforts for the Free Press.
The effort can help enlighten, uplift and inform residents in 2020, as well as future generations, she said.
There’s also a benefit to hearing the voices of everyone, including 10-year-olds like Xan, Delgado said.
“We’re all going through this,” she said. “I’ve been in news for a long time, and there are stories that affect certain people and certain groups of people or even certain states, but this is a story that’s affecting the entire world.”
Xan’s story stems from a submission to the history center and serves as one of the first audio samplings from the project, live on Freep.com, Apple Podcasts and through Alexa and Google devices on Sunday, May 17.
Xan, for her part, spends her time doing school work and playing with her three siblings.
At lunch, the extra meal they all spend together, her youngest sibling will sometimes say, “I don’t want to sit down,” and be told she must sit down if she wants to watch the show “Bitz & Bob,” Xan said.
Wearing a mask is a little weird and a little wet, she said.
Her story is a happy one in a devastating time.
“It’s not all fear and worriedness and stuff right now, there’s fun,” she said.
To hear Xan and other Michigan residents tell their COVID-19 story, ask your Google or Alexa device, “Play the Detroit Free Press briefing,” check your favorite podcasts app or visit freep.com.