It didn’t have to be this bad.
For artist Eric Millikin, this is the ugly truth behind COVID-19 – a truth he sought to reveal in a powerful image commissioned by the city of Detroit, a mural featuring the faces of 900 Detroiters who lost their lives to the novel coronavirus.
Husbands. Wives. Children. Grandparents. More than 1,500 died between March and August, mostly from Detroit.
Millikin created a montage that forms the iconic “Spirit of Detroit,” using the faces of the people Detroiters long to remember.
The uncle who will never host another barbecue.
The couple who will never go to another Tigers game together.
The 5-year-old who never made it to kindergarten.
“Hers was particularly hard,” Millikin said of the photo of 5-year-old Skylar Herbert, Michigan’s youngest COVID-19 victim who passed away in April.
The human toll of COVID-19 is staggering; the pictures tell it all.
“I want people to see the enormity of that and understand it. It’s absolutely immeasurable. These people – they touched so many other people, and they will never get the chance to touch them again,” Millikin said, his voice trailing off as he choked up. “When they see the enormity of it, they can understand –
it didn’t have to be this bad.”
He stressed: “I want everyone to look at this to understand what happened to the city of Detroit.”
The portraits were submitted to the city of Detroit by families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 over the last five months in preparation for The Memorial Drive, an all-day memorial event held Monday on Belle Isle.
On Monday, billboard-sized photos of the victims of COVID-19 will be on display around the island so that their families – who were often prevented from properly memorializing their loved ones during the pandemic – can grieve and remember.
The Memorial Drive will include about 15 funeral processions, starting with the sound of bells echoing across the city at 8:45 a.m. to honor those who died.
While Belle Isle will be closed to public visitors Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan has declared the day Detroit Memorial Day, the nation’s first citywide memorial honoring victims of the novel coronavirus.
Free Press coronavirus ‘We will remember’ obituaries
Tributes to a few of the metro Detroiters who died of coronavirus
Millikin’s mural will adorn the cover of a program that will be given to each family participating in the Memorial Drive.
Many majority-Black cities
like Detroit have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus. For example, in Michigan, U.S. Census data shows that while Black people make up 14% of the state’s population, they have accounted for about 33% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of COVID-19 related deaths.
Medical experts have cited preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure for the virus’s deadly impact on Detroit, though both health care professionals and social activists have said there’s more to it.
Disparities in health care and institutional racism, many have said, have also contributed to the pandemic’s assault on Detroit.
“We created the environment for this,” said Millikin, a former Free Press designer who now lives in Virginia. “If you look at who this virus has hit the hardest,
and in which areas – it’s people in areas that have historically been hit the hardest by everything. And it’s because our society is set up that way. Our culture made it that way. And it doesn’t have to be. We can change it.”
Millikin, who grew up in a mobile home in rural Michigan, the son of a laid-off autoworker and a Denny’s waitress, has been advocating for social justice and equality most of his life. The Michigan State University art school graduate has been exhibited worldwide, creating art involving everything from health care and suicide to police brutality and candy corn.
The pandemic mural was especially gut-wrenching. Photo by photo, he broke down.
“I cried almost nonstop for 11 hours,” said Millikin, who took breaks to epose himself. “I totally broke down … but as difficult as it was for me to work on this, it’s nothing compared to a famil…