Against a blue background, a woman reaches out to a butterfly that's flying away.

Part of our weekly series with The Nib
on inequity in the time of pandemic.

Zenobia, Largo, Maryland
Interviewed April 22, 2020

Zenobia: She never wanted to leave customers not having help they need. She liked to help the seniors. She wanted to ultimately become a manager of a grocery store.
a. Zenobia [narration]: They didn’t protect her. She said: b. Leilani: Mommy, there was no gloves. There was no face mask. c. Zenobia: OK, Leilani, you don’t need to go to work. d. Zenobia [narration]: She said, ‘Mommy, if I don't show up I'm gonna lose my job.’ Narration: Giant said the CDC was not yet recommending masks on Leilani's last day and staff were allowed to wear gloves at that time.
Zenobia: She got deathly sick, to where she could hardly breathe. She had a strong case of COVID-19, and she didn’t stand a chance ‘cause it already had gotten a hold of every area that she needs to survive.
Zenobia: I couldn’t visit her in the initial COVID unit. But I was able to FaceTime her. And she left me a video of how she felt. That’s very dear to me.
On a table with a photo of Leilani is a paycheck for $20.64, a pin from Giant foods marking five years of service, and a certificate from the grocery store reading “Values in Motion” at the top. Narration: Leilani died, at age 27, on April 1, 2020. After her death, Giant foods mailed the family her final paycheck. It was for $20.64.
Zenobia: My battle is with society. Why are we making it seem as though because somebody has a condition of any kind, that makes it okay for them to get coronavirus? That’s not humane to me.
Zenobia: My daughter died giving her heart helping. But God is good, and God knows what my baby did. That’s why God gave her wings. Zenobia: God’s going to watch out for you. He’s going to take care of you.

Interview by Patrick Michels, illustrated by Thi Bui, script by Sarah Mirk and Amanda Pike.

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Thi Bui

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the "boat people" wave of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017) has been selected for an American Book Award, a Common Book for UCLA and other colleges and universities, an all-city read by Seattle and San Francisco public libraries, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics. It made over thirty best of 2017 book lists, including Bill Gates' top five picks. She illustrated the picture book, A Different Pond, written by the poet Bao Phi (Capstone, 2017), for which she won a Caldecott Honor. With her son, Hien, she co-illustrated the children’s book, Chicken of the Sea (McSweeney’s, 2019), written by Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son, Ellison. Her short comics can be found online at Reveal News, The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

Patrick Michels is a former reporter for Reveal, covering immigration. His coverage focuses on immigration courts and legal access, privatization in immigration enforcement, and the government's care for unaccompanied children. He contributed to Reveal's award-winning project on indigenous land rights disputes created by oil pipelines. Previously, he was a staff writer at the Texas Observer, where his work included an investigation into corruption at the Department of Homeland Security and how the state's broken guardianship system allowed elder abuse to go unchecked. Michels was a Livingston Award finalist for his investigation into the deadly armored car industry. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where his work focused on government contractors grappling with trauma and injuries from their time in Iraq.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Amanda Pike (she/her) is the director of the TV and documentary department and executive producer of films and series at Reveal. Under her leadership, The Center for Investigative Reporting garnered its first Academy Award nomination and four national Emmys, among other accolades. She was the executive producer of the inaugural year of the Glassbreaker Films initiative, supporting women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. She has spent the past two decades reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, CBS, ABC, National Geographic, A&E, Lifetime and The Learning Channel, among others. Subjects have ranged from militia members in Utah to young entrepreneurs in Egypt and genocide perpetrators in Cambodia. Pike also has dabbled in fiction filmmaking, producing the short film “On the Assassination of the President,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.