Service, The Foundation of Community by Matthew Nelder
The distance that has defined the last 2 years has also brought to light just how interconnected we all are. It’s also instilled new ways of considering the lives and safety of others. A single infection could echo through a community, going unnoticed by some, while forever changing the lives of others. During these challenging times we leaned on the foundation of our community: our essential workers.
These were the people who put themselves in the center of uncertainty just to maintain some semblance of functionality in dysfunctional times. Keep in mind that there was a period in this pandemic, when a vaccine was a distant reality; yet there they were, day in, day out. They staffed our hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and restaurants. For some, to serve us despite the virus spreading across the globe like wildfire was a selfless choice. For others, there was never a choice. It was choosing between potential infection or paying bills and tuition. For some immigrants the very right to work, learn and, by extension, simply exist in this country, was on the line. Workers who many once thought of as replaceable or “low skilled” were suddenly shouldering the local economy.
It was that selfless commitment to the health and well-being of our community that inspired this collection of murals. These were previously displayed at the Avalon Mall to be made accessible to the many essential workers employed within to whom this collection is dedicated. The works of Molly Margaret, Amber-Lynn Thorne, Anastasia Tiller, and Nelson White are a vibrant homage to our essential workers on the front lines and behind the scenes.
I worked a number of these thankless jobs myself. As a young adult, I didn’t yet have the language to describe what exactly I was observing. If a single employee who worked the cash or stocked the shelves was not there, the absence was felt in a very tangible way. Almost as though the “essential” among us worked on the front lines for a wage that would barely pay for rent and a bus pass while those in boardrooms a thousand miles away would make more in a month than most did in a year. The stone at the top of the pyramid is nothing without the millions beneath it.
To borrow a quote from Dr. Cornel West, “you can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” We were saved by those who risked their lives to operate our essential services. Community is a precious thing, and we owe it to those who kept our communities healthy to keep that in mind. Together we can build something remarkable. But when we act alone we’re a mess at best, and, at worst, a hazard.
Matthew Nelder is originally from the neighbourhood of Mundy Pond right here in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He holds a B.Sc. in Nutritional Biochemistry and a M.S in Medicine from Memorial University. He is also the former Chair of the local chapter of the Obesity Canada – Students and New Professionals organization.
Matthew currently works in Clinical Research and has published his work in both Frontiers in Endocrinology and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. His non-academic writing often includes themes of social justice, informed by his own working-class background and education in the intersectionality of socioeconomics and community health.
The Mural Project was a collaborative initiative Between Eastern Edge, Riddle Fence, The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, Lawnya Vawnya and the City of St. John’s.