A tearful acknowledgement of the COVID-19 pandemic took place in Manhattan’s Bowling Green subway station on Monday as transportation leaders unveiled a digital tribute to employees who died of the virus.
Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg, who took up the temporary role about a month before the health crisis formally arrived in New York, said the digital tribute was in itself an “interim” way to honor those who died while keeping the trains and buses moving.
About 107 stations will display the tribute featuring “Travels Far” — a poem commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and penned by former US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith — roughly three times per day with music, also commissioned by the agency. All the while, the displays will cycle through photos of the men and women of the MTA lost to COVID-19.
“We wanted to do more than just show something on screens and give family members a place to gather and we also wanted some unique elements to it and so we actually commissioned the poem,” Feinberg said. “This has been something that we’ve been working on in some form or another for 10 months.”
The agency acted quick in approving $500,000 in death benefits to the workers’ next of kin, and in making drastic changes to operations such as suspending fare collection on buses in order to allow rear-door boarding to help keep drivers safe from the public on top of providing personal protective equipment and encouraging social distancing.
“We quickly made sure that those families who lost an MTA worker to COVID were taken care of financially, but the launch of today’s memorial is aimed at personalizing the legacies of those who died during the pandemic,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “It is a moving tribute to the members of our heroic workforce who lost their lives and we will continue to make sure those who perished are not forgotten.”
While close to 140 MTA employees have died from the virus, the tribute features 111 portraits from families who were willing the contribute. The others, Feinberg said, are grieving in private.
“Surrounded by a spectrum of colors, the portraits in black and white allow us a glimpse into unique personalities known to their families and colleagues,” added Sandra Bloodworth, director of MTA Arts and Design. “This memorial shows that art can be a powerful messenger, conveying loss and honoring the memory of our colleagues.”
As the pandemic continues, however, the interim transit head confronted the reality that the names worthy of remembrance will only accumulate, but also expressed hope in the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine as an end to the crisis.
Find a station with featuring the tribute near you by following this link.
This story first appeared on AMNY.com.