When Karen Morrison envisions a memorial, she thinks about the permanence of plants and trees, and how nature can outlive humans.
That’s why Morrison worked with Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington to create a memorial for Clark County people of color who have died of COVID-19.
In all, 41 trees have been planted in a clearing along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail to honor the lives lost.
Twelve more people of color have died since the trees were planted, which means that 53 deaths, or 20% of Clark County’s 261 COVID-19 deaths, have been people of color.
“I wanted something that would show the life that goes on after a death,” Morrison said. “We wanted to celebrate their life instead of their death.”
The plants and trees, which are still young and small, are native to the memorial location.
The plantings can be viewed from the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail, as it follows along the greenway just west of Andresen Road. Visitors should stay on the trail when viewing, so the tender plants are not disturbed.
Morrison and Watershed Alliance staff worked with the city of Vancouver’s Sensitive Lands Team, which identified and prepared the site for planting, and provided the trees.
City staff will care for and maintain these newly planted trees so they continue to serve as a memorial.
“This seemed like a natural fit,” said Sunrise O’Mahoney, executive director at Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington. “Trees tend to symbolize life and new growth and something positive. In this time of great loss, we thought this would be a symbolic way to give back to the community.”
O’Mahoney said people will be able to revisit the memorial site and watch the trees grow each year. She also hopes the memorial brings attention to the disparities in infections and deaths that communities of color have experienced in Clark County and across the U.S.
According to Clark County Public Health data, Black people in Clark County have contracted COVID-19 at 1.3 times the rate of whites. Hispanic or Latino people have contracted the virus at 3.1 times the rate of white people. Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people have contracted the virus at close to 3.8 times the rate of whites.
Nationally, Black people have died from COVID-19 at 1.4 times the rate of white people, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Hispanic or Latino people have died at 1.2 times the rate of white people, and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islander people have died at 1.1 times the rate of white people.
Morrison, who leads Odyssey World International Educational Services and works to connect people to services such as COVID-19 testing and vaccination, said the memorial is specifically for people of color as a way to represent their lives lived in Clark County.
Morrison explained that representation in murals around the county, or in memorials like this one, matter.
“We need more things to let everyone know we are part of this community, too,” Morrison said. “We live work and play here. We lost lives during the pandemic. This happened to us as well.”