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Heroes earn low wages and high praise – and ours show up in Grand Rapids

The heroes of the covid-19 pandemic wear scrubs and stethoscopes or care for frail seniors. They carry a megaphone, cook eggs and work overnight to refill grocery shelves.

And they show up in the paintings Mint Artists summer workers created last year, which formed our first traveling exhibit Heroes; Now & Then. That exhibit will be on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through May 22, with timed ticket entry.  The Heroes show debuted last year in Detroit.

Like many of our Heroes who come from around the globe, America’s heroes are everyday workers who earn a median wage of $10.93 an hour as grocery cashiers or $13.48 an hour for health care jobs including orderlies, health aides and housekeepers. They are considered “essential workers” and lauded by politicians and people who rely on their labor.

Health care workers protest low wages last year. (Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona / Unsplash)

And yet these heroes and essential workers face common issues: 55 percent of them live paycheck to paycheck and some 60 percent are taking steps or see others speaking up to improve health conditions at work, a Harris Poll found.  Almost one in four health care workers report reduced income during the pandemic, especially for doctors, paramedics, health technicians and others.

Heroes face distress, stress and fears for themselves and their loved ones as they do their jobs. Many in health care do not believe the hero label will last long.

Yet Mint prefers to believe that heroes – and our hero paintings – will inspire and endure. We hope they encourage valor and thoughtful consideration of who is a hero as well as greater appreciation of the heroes who live among us.

“If enough people hear about their actions, they can inspire others to do something heroic too,” philanthropist Bill Gates wrote in a blog post about seven unsung heroes of the pandemic. One of them is Laxmi Rayamajhi, health care worker in Nepal who hikes for hours to provide contraceptives to women in remote villages.

So take time to read some books about everyday heroes. And please visit our heroes in Grand Rapids or on our website in a booklet Mint prepared.