North Memphis

Back to School: A Memphis bus driver shares her struggles and fears

“It will be rough for me if SCS decides to go completely virtual for the entire school year,” said Geraldine Williams just prior to Shelby County Schools' announcement that families could opt for in-person schooling again beginning in January 2021.

Williams lives in North Memphis and works for Durham School Services, which is the company contracted by SCS for their busing services.

Williams has been a bus driver for the last 13 years. When Shelby County schools shuttered in March, Williams’ job was put on hold.

“Gone was my reliable source of income for shelter, food, and utilities,” said Williams.

Beyond that, Williams said she loved her job as a driver.

As a widow, shuttling kids back and forth to school provided her with socialization. Break time with her co-workers also provided a space to mingle. They played card games, Williams said, for a chance to relieve stress and have some fun in between routes.

There’s been ample focus on teachers, students, and school administrators throughout the pandemic. Williams said she hasn’t noticed much discussion about bus drivers and how the pandemic has denied these professionals a means to a living.

“There should be a resource for drivers to offset not working because we cannot pay our bills, but they act like they have forgotten about us,” said Williams.

Williams is not alone in her uncertainty. She’s one of more than 77,400 Tennesseans filing for unemployment as of October 17, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor. Shelby County has the highest number of any county by far, including almost twice Nashville's total.

Williams unemployment assistance, approximately $247 a week, hasn’t kept her bills paid, it only covers utilities.

She has reached out to public assistance agencies in an effort to bridge some of these financial gaps. Cathedral of Faith Church put her in touch with resources like CSA to help her navigate the process.

Williams said she has also battled with bouts of depression and grief because she can no longer see her family or co-workers. At her age, she is considered high risk for contracting the virus so Williams strictly follows the safer-at-home guidelines.

Williams said when Shelby County Schools opens their doors for students she will return.

“I can finally catch up on my rent and my car note, but I have concerns about safety,” Williams explained.

She's is worried about having enough space for social distancing on buses and keeping them clean throughout the school day.

“Being a 63-year-old widow, I don’t have a lot of options or time to start a new career so I have to return to my job as a driver to survive,” Williams said.
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Read more articles by Tafui Owusu.

Tafui Owusu (formerly Shelia Williams) is a resident of the Bickford-Bearwater area of North Memphis and a graduate of the second High Ground News Community Correspondents program. She is also a board commissioner for MATA.