Sixth-grader Ralph Richardson III, “Ralphie” to his mom and dad, lives in Fort Greene. The 11-year-old student attends Brooklyn Friends School, an independent Quaker school in Cobble Hill.
In many ways, Ralph was a typical pre-teen before the COVID-19 pandemic. He enjoyed gaming on his XBox, shooting hoops and playing outside with his friends.
In the weeks before COVID-19, Ralph was a member of his school’s jazz band, preparing for his second concert. There was an overnight school trip on his agenda, as well as a fun-filled summer of basketball camp and a family trip to Bermuda. The pandemic brought a sudden end to all those plans.
The state-ordered school closures forced Ralph and other students across the city to sit in front of a computer screen for several hours of virtual learning. He practiced from home with the band for a possible virtual concert, which never happened. Instead of slam dunking a basketball, or playing lacrosse, his second favorite sport, he was now doing most of his physical activities virtually.
“I was most afraid I would lose my basketball skills,” Ralph said, “because I didn’t go outside for three months during the quarantine.”
COVID-19 created another problem for Ralph. His asthma made him vulnerable to the deadly virus. He had to make multiple trips to the hospital during the pandemic, which traumatized Ralph and his parents.
Ralph’s Xbox was pivotal to helping him cope with the lockdown. It enabled him to keep in touch with his buddies and to make new friends. His cat also was a calming presence at that time, he recalled.
The pandemic experience was transformative in other ways. At an early age, Ralph found his activist voice during the George Floyd protests.
“It was painful to watch the video,” the middle schooler said about the shocking footage that news outlets played endlessly and was shared worldwide on social media outlets.
Ralph not only marched with Black Lives Matter against police brutality but also led chants at demonstrations.
“I am a black boy growing up in America. I want to be free. I don’t want to be treated differently because of the color of my skin,” he said.