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Born in Virginia, 28-year-old Ngozi Romain-Johnson now lives in Prospect Lefferts Garden. Most recently, she was employed in retail management but has also worked in the hospitality and food services industry.

Ngozi has lived in Brooklyn for 20 years. Shortly after arriving in the borough to join her mother, she noticed a lifestyle difference, which she didn’t like. Ngozi had been accustomed to her father driving her everywhere, but folks in Brooklyn walk a lot.

“Years later, the walkability and expansive transit system had become one of my favorite things about living in Brooklyn,” she said. “I love that I don’t need to have a car to go places and explore.”

Gentrification has changed the borough over the past decade, she noted.

“It’s been difficult seeing thriving Black and Brown neighborhoods being displaced due to gentrification. I’ve witnessed small and local businesses replaced by conglomerates and the overall culture and vibe change to mimic that of Manhattan,” she added.

Ngozi is an avid traveler, inspired after moving to the United Kingdom during her freshman year in high school.

She was traveling to Vietnam during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan, China, where researchers said the virus emerged, was her layover city on that trip. After arriving in Vietnam in mid-January, Ngozi recalled watching news reports about the first COVID-19 case in Wuhan.

“I didn’t feel a great deal of fear about catching the virus once I returned to the United States,” she recalled, “but I had this underlying fear that I had already been infected when I passed through China or during my stay in Asia.”

Still, much of her anxiety during the pandemic didn’t come from fear of inspection but instead stemmed from unemployment, which happened at the end of the holiday season in December 2019. The mandatory lockdown crushed scores of small businesses across the city.

“I watched job postings and interview opportunities dry up quickly, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to qualify for unemployment benefits,” she recalled.

Nearly all the job openings were for essential workers, high-risk positions for contracting the virus. Few of those jobs, however, provided health care benefits or hazard pay, which created a dilemma for her.

At the height of the pandemic, Ngozi lived “like a hermit.”

She decided to remain in Brooklyn instead of relocating to Maryland with her family.

“I wanted to stay in my own home and in a place where things are walking distance,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in my kitchen, re-directing a lot of my energy, which normally would have been used at work towards culinary endeavors.”

She cooked and baked several times each day and made deliveries on a Citi Bike to loved ones.

“It was nice to see other faces even though we couldn’t hug,” Ngozi said.


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