'It's been tough': Twin Cities Black-owned funeral homes adjust to pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to hit communities of color harder, Black-owned funeral homes in the Twin Cities metro are struggling to adjust.  

Tracey Wesley, the CEO and funeral director at Estes Funeral Homes in Minneapolis, said he has been working seven days a week since the pandemic began. Wesley told FOX 9 the number of funerals has nearly doubled at his funeral home since 2019 as more and more families are impacted by COVID-19.  

"We have to work seven days a week just to be in front of things," Wesley said. "There are no days off. We've been able to maintain without totally being overwhelmed."

The pandemic has been especially challenging for Wesley, who primarily serves the African American community. More requests for services are a reminder of how hard COVID-19 is affecting people of color.

"Being a minority, [it seems] we’re always affected more," he said. "This pandemic has come around and we seem to be really dying at a rate that is different than other races."

The Centers for Disease Control reports that African Americans are more than 2.5 times likely to die than white people. Witnessing how COVID-19 is impacting communities of color is starting to weigh on staff at Brooks Funeral Home in Saint Paul.   

"Most weeks, I’m physically tired," said Runney Patterson, Sr., who serves as the chaplain for Brooks Funeral Home. "I’m emotionally drained and mentally challenged because I’m on a spiritual roller coaster dealing with the highs and lows."

While exhausting for the only two Black-owned funeral homes in the Twin Cities, the dedication to serve a community hit hard by the pandemic is why they said they’ll continue to push through.

"As a pastor, not weekly, but it’s daily [that] I’m getting phone calls and having to minister to people because of this deadly disease," said Patterson.

"We come to work every day with the mindset to help those families that have chosen and entrusted us with their loved ones, and that’s what our focus is every day," Wesley added.