It’s been quite a year, and I feel it in every part of my body — physically and emotionally. It’s hard to believe that it was just a year ago I was trying to decide if we should travel to Fresno for our annual board retreat. We didn’t want to disappoint our Fresno partners, nor overreact to the early COVID warning signs. In the end, I went with safety first, my most dependable decision-making guidepost all year when faced with tough decisions. We postponed the retreat. And then later on March 13, 2020, when we closed our Cal Wellness offices, I remember thinking as I turned off the lights, “Take a deep breath, Belk. You and the team can make this work for two weeks.” And we did…not for two, but for 52 weeks.
My brain has also had a workout over the past year, grappling with a myriad of questions. How to fulfill our mission in a remote work environment? How to get the work done, push $54 million out the door well and where it was most needed, implement a rapid-response plan, and keep up morale? How to stay connected and engaged with each other and the communities we serve? I used every tool I could muster to communicate with community partners, inspire the team and myself: backyard chats, hiking chats, virtual tea chats with grantees, and even chats featuring my dog Beau.
My tear ducts have been in overdrive, too. I have cried more than ever this year. I mourned the loss of my cousin Dino, among the first wave of COVID casualties. And I was saddened by the losses experienced by others in the Cal Wellness family and throughout our communities. Everyone seems to know someone who has lost a friend, relative, or co-worker to COVID. I cried while watching a White policeman hold his knee on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, calling out for his mama as he took his last breath. There were tears of joy too, as I watched our son kiss his new wife for the first time as a married couple. And there were angry tears as I watched domestic terrorists flaunt the Confederate flag throughout the US Capitol, my hometown landmark. Two weeks later, hopeful tears flowed when the first Black woman was sworn in as our vice president. Sometimes, I found myself crying for no reason at all while watching a “Law and Order” episode for the fifth time or remembering how long it’s been since hugging or touching close friends and family.
But it’s my heart that’s experiencing both despair and hope as we mark this “COVID anniversary,” a full year dealing with this pandemic. My heart breaks for the 500,000 American lives lost and those who’ve lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and were pushed further down the economic ladder. All while the stock market and our endowment at Cal Wellness have ballooned, spotlighting the growing inequality in America.
I do see hopeful signs. I hope this time, our nation’s moment of “race reckoning” will stick and become a transformative time in which America faces and makes amends for its history of racial injustice. I’m hopeful because we have new national political leadership. I hope that others will step up and join us in sharing their wealth and resources, including our government which has approved a massive and much-needed COVID stimulus bill -- a lifeline to desperate families across California. There really is enough to go around!
I hope that more Americans will embrace and follow science by getting vaccinated – I got mine and want to see shots in the arms for all, especially for Brown and Black communities who have been disproportionately impacted by this virus. And as always, I’m hopeful when I see the actions of the real heroes of this past year – the essential workers providing health care and those who risk their lives growing our food, teaching and caring for our children, cleaning our homes and offices, and staffing our community-based nonprofits.
So, yes, my body is weary, but my heart is full. Hope is in abundance, as we were reminded on Inauguration Day by poet Amanda Gorman, who challenged us to remember – “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”