Little Skylar Herbert was so precociously bright and engaging that her kindergarten teacher predicted she would become the first Black female president of the United States.
But Skylar was only 5 when she became the first child in Michigan to die from COVID-19. This daughter of a police officer and a firefighter is now a heartbreaking marker of history in these dire times.
It would be understandable if Detroit police officer LaVondria Herbert watched with interest as the Republican National Convention sought to cast President Trump as a hero right out of his own imagination, while largely ignoring the pandemic he failed to address.
But Herbert did not watch the RNC on Wednesday night, even though her husband, firefighter Ebbie Herbert, was at work and her own shift did not start until midnight. She did not watch it the first two nights, either, and she does not plan to watch the final night on Thursday, all for the same simple reason: She does not want to add to the audience numbers.
“They don’t get my ratings,” she told The Daily Beast on Wednesday night.
She has gleaned a sense of the event by catching a few snippets that ran on the news.
“Just to see some of the things they were saying,” she said. “Instead of letting them get ratings”
What struck her about the little she did see was how angry the speakers seemed.
“They talk loud,” she said. “Mad.”
With everything going on in the country, she would have liked tones of compassion, empathy, and support.
“I can hope and just pray that we get better leadership,” she said.
By not watching, she has missed how the GOP acted as if COVID-19 did not exist, even as the virus forced the convention to go virtual. She did not see Trump illegally use the White House and Marines in dress uniforms to stage the swearing-in of new citizens and make him appear as a champion of immigrants. She did not witness all the other ways two producers from The Apprentice generated the illusion of Trump the great leader, as they once did of Trump the great businessman.
Only this was a show where the reality was not just a string of bankruptcies, but almost 180,000 deaths from COVID-19.
As the mother of a child who numbers among the dead, LaVondria Herbert would have been of the same opinion even if she had not missed a minute of the four nights of the convention.
“I’m definitely against Trump.”
Herbert need only think back to the days before her daughter Skylar fell ill. Trump was telling everybody that COVID-19 was a hoax, no more dangerous than the flu, despite what his own scientific advisers were telling him. There was no coordinated national effort as Herbert and her husband sought to protect their daughter by making sure she washed her hands with extra attention.
“We wash hands a lot anyway,” Herbert noted. “I would just explain to her, ‘You don’t want to get sick. Sing your ABCs washing your hands.’”
On March 23, Skylar complained of a headache that persisted after she was given pain medication. Her parents took her to the pediatrician, and she tested positive for strep throat. She was sent home with a prescription.
But the headache was unrelenting and so severe that Skylar was in tears. The parents took her to an emergency room. She was tested for COVID-19 and it came back positive the next day. She was admitted overnight, but then discharged.
Six hours later, the family returned to the hospital, this time because dad Ebbie was coughing and suffering shortness of breath. Mom LaVondria remained outside, in the car with Skylar, who began complaining that her headache had returned.
Just as Ebbie was emerging from the emergency room, Skylar suffered a seizure. Her parents rushed her inside, and she was admitted.
That was on March 29. Skylar seemed to improve briefly, but in what doctors were learning is the way of COVID-19, she took a sudden turn for the worse. She was intubated on April 4.
Meanwhile, Ebbie tested positive, as did LaVondria, who experienced only loss of taste and smell. Skylar’s grandmother also caught the virus, but only suffered a cough. All three adults recovered, and it seemed Skylar might, too.
“We didn’t know it had impacted her so bad she was going to die from it until the end,” LaVondria said.
Skylar died on April 19.
Due to COVID-19, the funeral was limited to immediate family. But many other relatives as well as friends were able watch it live streamed. They could see SKYLAR spelled out in pink flowers, set to the right of the child-sized white coffin. A note was read aloud, from mother to daughter.
“You were the best thing that ever happened to me, Skylar,” the note said. “I remember looking in your eyes when you were born… I had so many plans for us, baby girl. You always showed me love and loved me more than anything.”
Her father described one of Skylar’s many gifts. “She had her own special connection with everyone and made you feel like you were the only one in the room,” he said.
He also said, “You were my princess.”
Other speakers included Skylar’s kindergarten teacher at University Prep Academy, Ida Simpson. The teacher described a tiny math whiz with a winning smile able to do 100 addition and subtraction problems in five minutes.
“Without any incorrect,” Simpson noted. “She could multiply and divide fractions. She understood history and politics.”
Simpson added, heartbreakingly, “She would have been our first Black female president.”
The Skylar the teacher described possessed many of the qualities that are essential in a president, particularly in a pandemic.
“She was kind and concerned about her fellow classmates. She wouldn’t just master her own assignments, she would get out of her seat to help others understand them, too,” Simpson said.
This child was buried at Grand Lawn Cemetery. Meanwhile, the man who is our current leader continued to prove himself to be someone who made you feel like he was the only one in the room.
Unlike Skylar with her classmates, Trump showed little actual concern for his fellow Americans, seeing everything in terms of himself. The only future that seemed to matter to him was his own, and he repeatedly said that the virus would just disappear. He acted as if one plus one plus one plus one were not not adding up to thousands upon thousands upon thousands.
Our president did not wear a mask because he did not like the look, and because it gave the impression that things were not returning to how they had been in time for the election. The message to his supporters was that you do not have to wear a mask if you do not want to, even if it puts others at risk. He didn’t wear one, and his example encouraged his base to be as heedless of others as he is himself. He further inspired them to perceive a challenge to their freedom when Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a mask mandate, along with a shutdown order.
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Trump tweeted as Skylar lay intubated, two days before she died.
One of Ebbie Herbert’s fellow firefighters gave LaVondria Herbert a mask bearing Skylar’s picture. She had it partly off when a man approached, and she made sure to secure it in place. The man scoffed, and said something to indicate that he was among those who somehow still believe, after nearly 180,000 deaths, that the threat of COVID-19 is exaggerated.
“Trump was right,” the man declared.
“Wait a minute,” Herbert told him. “You see the picture on my mask? This is my daughter. She was 5 years old. She never had a chance against that virus.”
“If you don’t talk about it, you don’t know if somebody will listen,” LaVondria told The Daily Beast. “I just speak about it. I have a friendly face, I’m a friendly type person. I’ll just say, ‘My daughter was 5 years old, the only child to die from the virus in Michigan.’ Once you say that, ‘Oh wow, okay.’”
She seeks not to shame, but to appeal.
“You have to find the good from it,” she reasoned. “If everyone is doing their part, we can get past it.”
A future without Skylar remains a struggle against despair, and both parents have gone back to work as first responders.
“It’s really hard, but we’re learning to cope,” she said.
“We’re just living day by day, minute by minute.”
On Wednesday night, this cop of 26 years was getting ready for a midnight-to-3 p.m. double shift as Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech pledging that the Trump administration would always stand by those on “the thin blue line.” Pence also praised the “heroic” first responders in the front lines in the fight against a virus that “no miracle” will defeat.
Along with not adding to the ratings, Police Officer LaVondria Herbert was spared seeing that Pence was saying all this in front of a largely maskless crowd, packed into Fort McHenry as if there were no such thing as social distancing.
“Sometimes, you got to get past the politics to what’s right and what’s not right,” said LaVondria, the mother of a child who might have lived to become president—if only our current one had been anything like her.