A screenshot of the weekend house party on the West Side that went viral on Facebook

Tink Purcell lost two of her friends to gun violence in 2018, she said. That’s why she and dozens of her peers defied the statewide stay-at-home order on Saturday (April 25) to attend a massive house party in the Galewood neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. They wanted to memorialize their friends — and the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going to stand in their way.

Once at the party, which took place in the 2000 block of North Narragansett Avenue, Purcell went live on Facebook. It didn’t take long before the Facebook video received thousands of views, she said, and eventually made national headlines with outlets such as TMZ reporting “1,000 people attended the Chicago house party during the coronavirus pandemic.” According to her, the party had about 100 or more attendees. 

“A lot of people were overexaggerating,” said Purcell, a 26-year-old mother of two.

Everybody at the party ranged in age from 19 to the mid 20s. When asked if she knew that Black Chicagoans were at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, Purcell said she hadn’t heard that. The K-Town native also has asthma.

If anything, the party did one important thing: it highlighted a major disconnect between government officials, news media and younger Black Chicago residents regarding information on COVID-19. 

“I’m not afraid of it,” Purcell said about COVID-19. “I mean, I know it’s serious. I had an uncle that passed away from it. But it’s like, I’m not letting my fear outweigh my faith.”

According to Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesman Luis R. Agostini, officers responded early Sunday (April 26) to multiple calls regarding a large party at the private residence in Galewood. Upon arrival, police dispersed about 50 people from the house and shut down the party without incident, citation or arrests.

Police said the property is not an Airbnb.

“A subsequent review of the incident was conducted by the 25th District, and the homeowner was issued a notice of violation for disorderly conduct on April 27,” Agostini said in an emailed statement.

Despite legal reprimanding and harsh backlash from folks on social media, Purcell believes law enforcement overreacted. On Tuesday (April 28), health officials reported that the total number of COVID-19 cases statewide is 48,102 cases, including 2,125 deaths. 

Purcell said she’s been trying her best to comply with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect on Saturday, March 21. But, she said, she gets bored staying at home.

Growing up out West in K-Town, Purcell said that she learned how to make her own money when she was only 11 years old. For high school, she attended Austin Voise Academy, but said she was eventually kicked out due to a fight. 

“A lot of us had rough childhoods. Some grew up with their parents, some didn’t,” Purcell said.

Party flyer from Tink Purcell’s Facebook page.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Purcell said she’s only been going outdoors when she feels she needs to go out.

“I get irritated with these celebrities trying to tell us to stay in the house,” said Purcell. “I’ll stay in the house if you come build me a basketball court like you got in your house. Come put a zoo in my backyard. These rich people got things to do while they sit in the house. Us people that aren’t as rich as them, we don’t have nothing to do in the house. Sometimes this can cause you to go into boredom and depression and you have to get out, you have to get some air.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has worked tirelessly with other local officials to enforce the stay-at-home order, which Pritzker recently extended to May 30. Earlier this month, Lightfoot shut down the Lakefront, 606 Trail and parks to discourage large gatherings.

From March 23 to April 26, CPD said there have been 5,295 group dispersals, 13 citations and 18 arrests in relation to the stay-at-home order. 

On Friday, April 26,  Lightfoot released a statement about the party, saying that she was disappointed in how the party-goers violated the state-mandated stay-at-home order. 

“I never want to paint with such a broad brush,” Lightfoot said. “What I know from the data, is that the mass majority of Chicago, and of course that includes people of color at all ages, are complying. We are up to about 80% or higher in terms of compliance to the stay-at-home order.”

On a press call with Lightfoot on Tuesday (April 28), she said that of course she and other officials are working to increase that percentage.

“I think that the reality that we saw in that video is that some people haven’t gotten the message,” said Lightfoot. “Every single person who doesn’t take this virus seriously not only puts themselves at risk, but every single person that they come into contact with. We are exercising social distancing because we know it makes a difference and saves lives.”

Also during the call, Lightfoot said that her 25-year-old niece currently lives with her. While discussing the viral Facebook Live video from the house party, Lightfoot said her niece’s response was, “those people are crazy.”

“So I know that we can’t paint millennials with such a broad brush. We’ve got to keep doing everything we can to reach them and meet them where they are,” Lightfoot explained. “But we are going to make sure that people are safe. I am grateful that the Chicago Police Department cited the owner of that home for acting in such an irresponsible way. We are going to keep bringing down the hammer on people who violate the order.”

Despite the memes and viral jokes about Lightfoot during the stay-at-home order, along with her ongoing “Stay Home, Save Lives” educational campaign, many young Black Chicagoans such as Purcell still are unaware of how COVID-19 is directly killing more people from their neighborhoods than anyone else in the city. 

It seems COVID-19 news and data are not connecting with them in the way local officials are hoping for. In fact, Purcell said that she doesn’t watch the news because it’s boring and most times depressing. 

During a phone interview with Illinois State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford on Tuesday (April 28), he posed the following question: “As a government, are we looking to help them after what we saw in the video?”

Ford sees the conversation around the house party as an opportunity to educate and reach young Black Chicagoans.

“These are the very same people that have been disrespected by the government, the police, by the school system that they attend,” Ford said. “Now we are saying that we expect them to do better, now that we’ve failed them in the city of Chicago? Not only has Chicago failed them, but it has failed their parents and grandparents.” 

On Sunday, April 26, Ford released a press statement saying that he hopes Lightfoot’s response isn’t punitive. 

“Young people like Tink Purcell have to fight for survival every day,” Ford said in the press release.  “Every young person that was at that party, I would be willing to bet that they know 10 to 20 people that have been killed, and they are suffering from post-traumatic stress.”

Ford recently spearheaded a “Mask Up and Live” initiative with rapper Twista and business owner and community activist Anthony Jones. Through Mask Up and Live, Ford and other community leaders take on the task of distributing masks and educating Black residents on the West Side about the dangers of COVID-19. According to South Side Weekly’s COVID-19 neighborhood tracker, the Austin neighborhood is one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19.

During the phone interview, Ford pointed out that when considering Chicago’s lead water problem, police brutality, gun violence, poor public school system, and racial inequities surrounding incarceration for nonviolent offenses, it becomes difficult to educate Black communities on preexisting conditions, how a virus spreads, and the dangers of coronavirus in relations to Black people. 

“The youth in Chicago are all traumatized,” said Ford. “Young people in Chicago don’t feel that they will live past the moment, and they live for the day.” 

The challenges faced by young Black Chicagoans are generations deep. And now, decades later, many Black Chicagoans do not trust the news. This is the reason why young residents like Purcell don’t watch TV news and, more importantly, why she didn’t know that Black people in Chicago are dying from COVID-19 more than any race in the city. 

Black journalist, fellow Chicagoan and MTV News host Dometi Pongo believes that news media isn’t reaching young Black Chicago during this pandemic. 

“We have to think about what the news looks like to different people,” said Pongo. “When you turn on the news, when it’s talking about the Black community, it’s normally in a negative light.”

Pongo said that Black people’s distrust in the news isn’t something that just happened overnight. 

“When you look at something that doesn’t represent you, doesn’t speak to you, after a minute, you begin to disengage. This is something that happens over time as we grow up and consume content and don’t see ourselves represented,” he continued.

Charles Whitaker is the dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is one of only two Black journalism school deans at predominately white institutions, according to journal-isms.com. 

“There are systemic and structural issues around how we educate people, not just Black millennials, about the importance of news and having a news diet that would make you an informed citizen,” Whitaker explained. “That is not just a failure of the media. That is a failure of the school system. That is a failure of our parents. That is a structural and systemic failure that we as a community have to own, in addition to our institutions owning as well.”

Whitaker also said that he thinks media literacy should be a part of educating young people. Same time, though, he believes that young Black Chicagoans should act more responsibly when it comes to their media consumption.

“They are consuming media all the time. They are just not always consuming the media that has the best information for them,” Whitaker said, referring to inaccurate and unverified news reports and posts shared by social-media users.

West Side United, a local organization that works to build community health, economic wellness and vibrant neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side, is also working overtime to determine the best way to reach young Black millennials in Chicago about COVID-19. 

Ayesha Jaco, director of West Side United and sister of Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, believes that Chicago’s officials and leaders are not doing a good enough job reaching Black millennials and educating them about COVID-19. As of 2020, people in Generation Z are between ages four and 24. Millenials are between the ages of 24 and 39. And Generation X is now ages 40 to 55. 

“It is part of our nature and culture for Black people to gather,” Jaco said. “We have not done a great job of communicating and using the channels that these young people dig into to get their information. There is a disconnect.”

Jaco said that we need a better solution to get important COVID-19 health information to young Black Chicagoans.

“This is one of the most creative generations of our time. We have to meet them where they are. We need to employ them to help us educate them in ways that are most effective,” Jaco said.

“At the end of the day, how many of those young people left that party and went to a congregate living situation where there is an older person that lives there with them without knowing that people 65 and older are at a higher mortality rate?” Jaco said.

Purcell said that she doesn’t believe anyone who attended the party is at risk of contracting COVID-19 and she’s pretty confident that many of her peers who attended the party also believe they are not at risk.

“I just don’t feel bad,” said Purcell. “Nobody looked sick. Nobody acted sick. I know we weren’t really social distancing. It’s been two to three days now, and I’m perfectly fine. They say wait seven to 14 days. We’ll see.”

This story has been updated to reflect the year that Tink Purcell’s two friends passed away.