Hundreds march in Newton to raise money for Wuhan amid coronavirus crisis

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and comedian Jesse Appell welcomed the crowd to the Walk for Wuhan march on Feb. 23. Seven Wu (custom credit)/Seven Wu

From Newton City Hall to Grant Avenue, hundreds of people marched 2 miles on Feb. 23 for the Walk for Wuhan event organized by the Newton Chinese Language School to support those affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Every participant, even the dogs, wore a white t-shirt printed with “Be Strong Wuhan” to show their support for the people who are affected by the novel coronavirus. Money from the fund-raiser will be used to buy medical supplies for Wuhan University Hospital.

Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, is one of China’s megacities with a population of 11 million, according to the Wuhan Bureau of Statistics. The city has been under strict lockdown since Jan. 23 to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As of Feb. 29, the novel coronavirus had infected over 85,000 and killed over 2,900 people globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Hundreds of participants who donated $10 each received their Be Strong Wuhan t-shirts outside City Hall. Walkers signed their names on a Be Strong Wuhan banner hanging on the stairway of City Hall. A group of Chinese singers sang traditional Chinese songs while children held balloons in their hands. No one wore a mask.

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller in a Be Strong Wuhan t-shirt kicked off the march by giving a welcome speech.

“This is a difficult time for the Chinese community, and it is spreading to the other parts of the world,” she said. “As mayor, I stood with you yesterday. Today I walk with you. I promise you can count on me to link arms with you tomorrow as well.”

She held an orange balloon in her hand as she started marching. Participants followed behind her and walked along Commonwealth Avenue.

Kuan Zhou, a Newton resident who used to live in Wuhan, walked next to Fuller and told her about the current situation in Wuhan. He traveled to Wuhan in December 2019 when no cases of the novel coronavirus had been reported.

“In my parents’ neighborhood, there are more than 20 people who are diagnosed with the coronavirus. Even on the same floor, some neighbors are infected,” he said. “I am really worried about them. My parents don’t dare to go out anymore.”

Zhou said seeing hundreds of people who are supporting his homeland is encouraging and touching for him and his family.

In the marching crowd, many participating parents walked along the carriage lane with their children. Tracy Lin, a mother of two, held her 6-year-old son’s hands and explained to him the meaning of this march while her husband pushed the baby carriage that held her 2-year-old daughter.

Lin’s family came back to Newton from Guangzhou, China when the novel coronavirus had just broken out in China. The whole family, including the two children, quarantined themselves at home for 14 days.

“They are young but they are curious about what is going on,” she said about her children. “We want to participate in the walk to teach our kids that the meaning of life is not just about playing and watching TV, but also helping other people.”

Jesse Appell, a Newton native who won his fame as a standup comedian in China, walked in the march with his father. Three weeks ago, Appell performed his charitable comedy show “Comedy for a Cause” at Newton North High School, raising over $10,000 for the outbreak.

“The virus is a very extreme situation, so you get extreme responses. There are definitely some people who are responding to it badly,” he said. “But you also see there are hundreds and maybe over a thousand people here, who are responding in an extremely good way.”

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, social media has documented a wave of racist and violent incidents against Asian people in the world. An Asian woman was attacked by a man in New York City’s subway because she wore a mask, according to the NYPD Hate Crimes’s twitter account. Asian people from different parts of the world launched an anti-racism social media campaign by posting the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus on Twitter and Instagram.

Chelsea Yan, 13, an American-born Chinese middle school student in Newton, took her parents to march with her. She said she wanted to help the affected people in Wuhan as well as call attention to the racism against Asian people.

“At my school, a lot of students are making jokes about the coronavirus,” she said. “I don’t think the sickness is an excuse for people to be racist.”

“When something is happening, we need to help them because we might need help in the future,” she added.

The Newton Chinese Language School, the biggest Chinese Language School in New England, suspended its classes on Jan. 26 until the end of February as a precaution to the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to Xiaoyi Zhang, the school’s Chinese teacher and the organizer of the Walk for Wuhan. She said people who have recently returned from China have already passed the 14-day incubation period; therefore, the school believed that it was safe to hold a march at this moment.

“The school organized this march because it is important for us to spread not only awareness but also love to the whole Newton community and the thousands of people who are affected by the virus in China,” Zhang said.

Fuller walked the whole march with the participants.

“It is very important to dispel rumors and educate our children as well as our adults. American leaders can be hand in hand and arm in arm with the Chinese community at this time,” she said. “First to show our support, but secondly to show that this is a safe community. We don’t need to wear a mask and we can shake hands and hug each other.”

Seven Wu can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.

A participant signed her name on the Be Strong Wuhan banner on the stairway of the City Hall on Feb. 23. Seven Wu (custom credit)/Seven Wu
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