Sherman Park family mourns loss of brother, friend to COVID-19

Posted at 10:24 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-25 09:59:17-04

Week after week, data shows the coronavirus continues to impact minority communities in Milwaukee County, especially.

As of Friday, African-Americans accounted for more than half of Milwaukee County's 145 deaths.

One of them is Pamela Redmond's only brother, Billy Ross.

"Billy and I were really close," Redmond said. "Our cousin used to call us Pebbles and Bam Bam when we were growing up."

Ross, 53, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee after family says he collapsed at work on April 8. According to a report from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, Ross spent several days in the ICU until he died on April 13. He leaves behind his parents, three children, and dozens of close friends.

"I will always remember his smile, and I will always remember his voice, he had a way of just consuming the room," Redmond said.

Ross grew up in Sherman Park and went to Washington High School, where he was part of the team that won the 1985 state basketball championship. In March, the school lost a beloved coach, Ralph Davis, to the virus as well.

The family says Ross turned his life around through Milwaukee Rescue Mission, where they say he worked for about ten years. He spent many years helping mentor kids through the Mission's Cross Trainers Academy. He also spent much of his time with the Boys and Girls Club, COA Youth and Family Centers, and his church.

"He took pride in that job and really liked ministering to the people," Redmond said.

According to Dr. Ben Weston, the medical director of Milwaukee County Emergency Management says an African-American person is three times more likely to die of the coronavirus in Milwaukee County than a white person, and seven times more likely in all of Wisconsin. Weston and other local officials say this is entirely due to constitutional racial disparities within the city and county.

"I saw a comment that we are not measuring race or ethnicity, that we are measuring racism. And I totally agree with that," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Dr. Jeannette Kowalik. "We are seeing this play out time and time again, and it's exhausting to be able to even talk about this over the weeks. There's so much work that needs to be done."

Dr. Kowalik says Milwaukee is one of the only cities worldwide to track the demographics of the virus in this way. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) says she is working to bring forth legislation that would require the Centers for Disease Control to track the data in the same way nationwide.

In the meantime, Redmond will always remember her big brother as her protector.

"A lot of people still holding on to those memories," Redmond said. "It's what gets them through, our memories, of him being just a great person, you know."

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