Today we are experiencing an opportunity like no other. Think about it, we are emerging from a once-in-a-century event. Before we resume our ‘normal lives, let’s stop and evaluate what and who we want to be as we move forward. I’ll start with a shortlist of my own observations and visions for the future.
Education scrambled to recreate the schoolhouse and universities as virtual platforms. The kitchen table became the classroom. Parents and grandparents became the principal, cafeteria worker, and janitor. The computer and internet service broadcasted the classroom teacher over Zoom. The students, our nation’s future workforce, success, or failure this past year will ripple over the course of their lifetime. How or what should we do to address the educational, mental health, and socioeconomic scars?
Our nation’s teachers developed new ways to reach out to students. Like the science teacher who broadcasted home science experiments for anyone who wanted to join in. And the music teachers who made virtual choral concerts or band practices. And the public places that enabled kids to join their internet so they could participate in virtual school.
Moving forward, education should be less about the place and more about participation. Broadband access should be as reliable and pervasive as electricity and drinking water. Educators need the tools and resources to reach all our children.
The shutdown felt so surreal. Reduced traffic and public transportation. Childcare centers closed. Government offices closed. Nursing homes and hospitals went into crisis mode. Businesses failing to survive. Restaurants, museums, local events all but vanished in the blink of an eye. The oxygen drained from our communities so fast.
Then something started to happen that was so amazing. Kids playing impromptu concerts on elderly neighbors on their porches. Young adults started to gather grocery lists from vulnerable neighbors and shop for them. Food distribution centers sprang up all over the nation as families struggled to survive. Drive-by parades to celebrate all kinds of life events turned front yards and neighborhood streets into celebrations.
Home and community-based services stepped up to meet the crisis head-on. Volunteers emerged as the glue that held us together. Let us build more campaigns that unite rather than divide us into the “us and them” groups.
Nurses, physicians, certified nursing assistants, home health aides, and countless other healthcare workers braved the front lines of this battle. One-quarter of the workforce had no alternative, either return to in-person work or lose employment. Grocery store, transportation, public servants of many stripes just to highlight a few of our nation’s heroes who kept us alive.
Employers are re-evaluating priorities and practices as businesses try to ramp up again. Millions of women left the workforce during the pandemic. In fact, 30 years of women in the workplace progress was erased in nine months of the pandemic. As the dominoes of life continued to fall, it was mothers who held us together. Too often, that meant reducing hours or withdrawing completely from the labor force. The expansion of unemployment benefits and the eviction ban came just as so many were on the brink of disaster. Restarting employment today may mean retraining or relocating.
The issues of livable wages and workplace safety were exposed during the pandemic. Our national preparedness and infrastructure need our immediate attention. How and what we build back is crucial for the world we leave for future generations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “two out of every three caregivers in the United States are women, meaning they provide daily or regular support to children, adults, or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Women who are caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic can add even more stressors to caregiving.” The stories of mothers who lived on three to five hours of sleep because 24 hours was not enough to fit full-time employment, virtual schooling, and childcare into one day. This is not sustainable.
Prior to the pandemic, the nation had 53 million unpaid family caregivers. This statistic needs recalculating as parents quit working as childcare centers and school closed their doors. And families moved those who could leave the nursing home to move with their family. Not to forget all the family caregivers who provided extra assistance to family and friends susceptible to the virus.
The reality is none of us came into this life alone and we hope not to have to leave it alone, right? That means we are family. You can create a family of choice or stick with the family of birth. As a collective family, we need to support and train those who willingly and unselfishly care for our most vulnerable family members.
The Future is Up to Each of Us
Life is coming back for all of us as more vaccinations are administered and fewer new cases are reported. Our communities are alive again. The anticipation for renewal and progress is palpable. Before we resume of hurried pace, let’s stop and learn from this once-in-a-century event. I have outlined only a sliver of the impacts and responses that we experienced. What’s missing from my list?