COVID-19 and Loss in Harlem: Overcoming Prolonged Grief in the Black Community

Editor's note:

A version of this article was originally published by Columbia World Projects

October 13, 2021

Columbia World Projects on Monday announced the launch of its new project on COVID-19 and loss in Harlem, aimed at overcoming prolonged grief in the Black community.

This project aims to reduce intense and pervasive mental and physical anguish experienced by Harlem’s Black community, in physical and digital spaces, as a result of the heavy burden borne by the community during this pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black communities, both in Harlem and beyond,” Wafaa El-Sadr, the director of Columbia World Projects (CWP), said: “I am honored that CWP is launching a project that brings together Columbia scholars with community leaders to address the ongoing grief that has resulted from this pandemic.”

The project is co-led by Johnnie Green, the president and CEO of Mobilizing Preachers and Community, New York; Desmond Upton Patton, the founder and director of SAFELab at the Columbia University School of Social Work; and Katherine Shear, founder and director of the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia School of Social Work.

The project will modify a set of digital tools, such as apps, videos, and other online exercises, developed by Columbia’s Center for Complicated Grief to address prolonged grief disorder, a form of grief that is enduring and significantly disrupts the quality of daily life. The project also includes machine learning analysis, conducted by the SAFElab, of digital expressions of prolonged grief expressed by Harlem community residents. Data will be gathered to ensure that the digital tools developed are designed to best support the needs of Harlem’s Black community and other Black communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our community, and many families have been gripped by unprecedented grief. The aftermath and problems of prolonged grief endured by many Harlem residents who have lost loved ones must be addressed, and this project will offer invaluable insight and tools for living amid the nightmare of such painful realities,” Dr. Johnnie M. Green Jr. said.

This is the third project to launch as part of Columbia World Projects’ ongoing work to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The other projects are a digital mental health care project in partnership with the New York State Office of Mental Health (NYS OMH), and a project aiming to increase COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence, which is using data science and artificial intelligence to increase public confidence in the vaccine.