When I first found the Lacko girls chalking the sidewalk in front of their house on Mershon Street, Sarrah hadn’t finished writing “Stay Home.” “Wait!” she said. “Let me finish it first. I don’t want it to say ‘Stay Ho’ in the picture.”
Sarrah, 12, and Kamara, 11, were born in Grand Rapids. 4 year-old Kazia was born here in Saginaw. The older daughters arrived here with their mother, Chantal, seven years ago via Underground Railroad.
“When you’re in an abusive relationship, people are always like ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ First off, you’re dependent financially. They know what time you get out of work. They know what time to meet you at the day care. They know which door frames are weakest and which windows don’t lock. He literally kidnapped me in front of my job one day. It got to the point where I just stayed because I was too scared. It was easier to know his every move than not know.”
For a few years, Chantal and her two eldest daughters bounced from shelter to shelter, city to city. She’d never spent much time on the east side of the mitten, but made calls in Pontiac and Flint. She earned her CNA license through a program offered by one of the shelters. She went north a few times and was in Sault Ste. Marie (near her birthplace in the Rankin reserve of the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways) when Underground Railroad called. It was a Monday, Chantal remembers. Could she and the girls be in Saginaw by Thursday? They packed a van and have been here ever since.
“I don’t have nobody here. It’s just me and the girls.”
I ask her if she’s worried about the virus and she gives me a look that I’ve come recognize. What it doesn’t say is “Oh you mean that overblown hoax?” It does say, “Do I look like I have extra time and energy to be worried about the virus?”
I look back at Sarrah’s chalking—”Stay Home” scrawled in multiple colors across the gravelly, sun-kissed asphalt. It seems to symbolize their attitude pretty well. They hear you, me, everybody else screaming. They know what’s up.
They also know how to protect themselves, stick together, and carry on with a sense of humor. They’ve been doing it long enough.