Hannah Grabenstein (from left), Peggy McKenzie, Andrea Morales, Carrington J. Tatum and Wendi C. Thomas, all of whom are vaccinated, gather at Evelyn & Olive restaurant Thursday to toast MLK50’s latest national award.

This week, the Shelby County Health Department lifted the indoor mask mandate as COVID-19 cases here are thankfully falling. Most of the MLK50 team – and all of our reporters – came on board during the pandemic. Our interaction has largely been limited to Zoom and Slack.

That changed Thursday, when for the first time in person, two of our reporters met Peggy McKenzie, the editor they’ve worked with for about a year. The occasion: To raise a toast to Peggy and reporter Carrington J. Tatum for their award-winning coverage of the Byhalia pipeline, work that recently won the Institute for Nonprofit News “Breaking Barriers” award.

I’m a raging introvert (I know, no one believes me but ask my mom – it’s true), so the social isolation that the pandemic brought hasn’t been hard to deal with. But even my hermit heart was stirred by seeing team members greet each other. We’re all doing our best working remotely, but for me, there’s a cheery, joyous energy that’s only possible when we share space. (To be fair, my heart may have also been thrilled by the delish oxtails, rice and peas and beef patties at Evelyn & Olive, the Black-owned Jamaican restaurant where we dined.)

Wendi C. Thomas is the founding editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at wendicthomas@mlk50.com.

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