Around this time last year, Redell Drakeford was coming off of a busy 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. As a promoter, he’s worked with festivals including Silver Room Block Party and Hyde Park Brewfest as clients. He spent All-Star Weekend doing street-promotion, passing out flyers for events in front of Wintrust Arena.

Then news about the novel coronavirus began to spread across the United States. Actors and spouses Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were among the first affected, forcing them to quarantine in Australia. The NBA suspended its season mid-game on March 11, 2020, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. Those events were the tipping point for the American public becoming widely aware of the threat of COVID-19.

“At that point, nobody knew about what it really was, at least in Chicago. It was business as usual for everybody,” Drakeford, 50, said during our March 15, 2021 interview. “By the second week of March, all my gigs were shut down. The week after that, I heard that my older brother was in the hospital for pneumonia.”    

Drakeford’s brother, Delian, was living at Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility in Albany Park. He was first admitted to the hospital at the beginning of March for what they suspected, at the time, to be a lingering case of pneumonia. He was discharged after a few days, but returned to the hospital bed the first week of April with the same pneumonia-like symptoms.

Delian Drakeford died of infection from COVID-19 on April 25, 2020, at the age of 56.

“This time, when he went back in, it was for the same thing, but it was discovered while he was in there that he had COVID-19,” Drakeford said about his brother. “I got a call from my sister in April. She told me that my brother died.”

Delian Drakeford died of infection from COVID-19 on April 25, 2020, at the age of 56. The news shook Drakeford to his core. 

“I would cook and bring him food, bring him clothes. I would go visit him all the time,” Drakeford said about his brother. “He would always say to me that I’d made his day by coming to see him. We were good friends.”

Prior to his brother’s passing, Drakeford’s attention to precautions against the coronavirus was average; he wasn’t ignorant of safety restrictions such as mask wearing, social distancing and limiting outdoor interactions — just not diligent. Losing his brother to COVID-19 woke him up to the severity of the pandemic.

“I started taking it much more seriously. I wouldn’t go anywhere. Only time I left the house was to go to the doctor, to the grocery store, or to go pay bills,” Drakeford said. “I didn’t even want to see or be around anybody except my sister. I still feel that way.” 

The pandemic turned Drakeford into a hermit, he said. So, unlike many of his peers in the event planning and promotion industry who are most eager to get back to throwing parties, concerts and festivals, he isn’t exactly gung-ho on returning to work without COVID-19 safety precautions in place. He isn’t prepared to do away with the mask mandates, social distancing and cleaning practices that have kept him safe thus far.


“I have clients right now tripping over themselves, trying to get permits to try and throw these festivals early as June,” Drakeford said. 

On March 16, it was announced that Highland Park’s Ravinia Festival would be returning in July 2021. The same day, Wrigley Field released its 2021 concert lineup, which includes shows scheduled as early as July 16. Massive festivals such as Pitchfork and Lollapalooza have not yet announced plans of bringing stages back to Chicago’s parks in 2021.

“Right now I don’t feel comfortable trying to get permits to throw music festivals and things like that,” Drakeford continued. “Even though they’re starting to get the vaccine out, I just don’t believe we’re anywhere near out of the woods yet.”

Chicago’s vaccine rollout began in late December 2020 with healthcare workers, and employees and residents of long-term care facilities made eligible under 1A of the distribution plan. Drakeford’s brother, Delian, would’ve been included in the latter.


According to Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, the city will reach the one million vaccinated mark by next week, which will be 13 weeks since the first shot was administered at Loretto Hospital in Austin. 

Drakeford won’t be counting himself among those vaccinated. He is diagnosed with chronic thrombosis, which he fears can make the vaccine dangerous to him. 

“I read in a few places that the AstraZeneca vaccine can cause blood clotting,” he said. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t currently being distributed within the United States, but it has raised flags for European medical officials because of the 37 reported cases of blood clotting across the EU and United Kingdom.

The vaccines available in the U.S.— Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson— haven’t shown evidence of clotting. His chronic thrombosis means that blood clotting in his veins hangs around and can cause blockage and major health complications. Just hearing that one of the vaccines has clotting as a side effect was enough to make him wary about taking any of them.

"Every morning, including this one, after my brother died from COVID-19, I thank the Most High for allowing me to be able to breathe," Drakeford said.

The vaccines won’t cure people of the virus, but will help prevent infection and make symptoms less severe. The more people who are vaccinated, the more effective the vaccine can be. COVID-19 variants have caused concern for their ability to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, and be spread more easily. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) keeps a fact sheet updated bi-weekly about the presence of COVID-19 variants in the state. Health officials strongly encourage vaccination to reduce the risk of spread as much as possible.

“I’m not anti-vaccine. I’d recommend most people take it. I just know I won’t be taking it myself,” Drakeford explained. “I’ve been tested [for COVID-19] before. I’m always down for that.”

For now, Drakeford plans to stay shacked up in the house until about late July or August, which is when expects he’ll be comfortable fully engaging in work the way he was used to, provided we reach herd immunity by that time. 

“Every morning, including this one, after my brother died from COVID-19, I thank the Most High for allowing me to be able to breathe,” he said. “People take that for granted: the ability to breathe.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.