In a poem titled “Mother to Son,” Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes penned these words:
“Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor — Bare. But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light.”
2020 “ain’t” been no crystal stair either. We have been put through the ringer this year, folks. The initial shutdown related to the impact of COVID-19 introduced widespread panic and feelings of uncertainty. Everyone wondered, when will this end and allow us all to get back to normal? Since the start of this year, the United States has suffered more than 250,000 COVID-19 related losses, more than four times the death rate of U.S. soldiers over the entirety of the Vietnam War (58,200 casualties).
As if the pandemic was not enough, we have also had to confront the plague of systemic racism that continues to impact our nation and our relationships in profound ways. Our economy has been hobbled. People have lost jobs and have been forced to change career paths. Families are struggling to feed, clothe and maintain adequate housing for themselves. Businesses are going under, and even charitable organizations are having difficulty providing assistance in these overwhelming times of need.
And just when you thought it could not get any worse, we had an election. Not just any election, but one that laid bare for all the world to see that we are actually the Divided States of America. President Donald Trump and 72 million voters feel robbed, while President-Elect Joe Biden and 77 million voters feel relieved. The republic seems to be crumbling, and none of us feel particularly thrilled about the state of affairs in which we collectively find ourselves.
2020 has been hard for so many reasons. Schools are trying to figure out how to operate and educate in this new environment. Employers are constantly revising policies in an effort to meet the new demands that have sprung up. Hospital and health care providers are doing their best to care for and cure so many of our loved ones. The circumstances of this year have disrupted our lives, regardless of our race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age or ability.
However, we are still here. We still have something that we can be thankful for, in spite of the circumstances we are currently navigating. My grandmother would often remind me during particularly difficult times that, “Any day on this side of the dirt is a good day.” I also remember how an older church deacon would respond when someone would say, “Good to see you.” He would say, “Better to be seen than viewed!” In other words, we have the gift of life coursing through our bodies. Let’s not squander it by giving up and resigning ourselves to the belief that things are never going to get better.
We have to hold on to the idea that this moment in time is just that, a moment. We must not let our outlook on the future be wholly shaped by a moment. One down year, or several for that matter, is not reason enough to lose hope. One can acknowledge the circumstances and still not be defined by them. Yes, times are hard. It is called life. It has its ebbs and flows. Some days are good, and some are bad. The beauty is, as long as we are still here, we have an opportunity to contribute to making the world better.
Positivity and optimism are critical right now, as there are students working remotely once again because of the ravages of the pandemic. They need us now, more than ever, to provide a sense of stability for them.
I had the privilege of recently moderating our open mic event themed, “I See Your True Colors.” I must share with you that I was, and am, deeply moved by the resilience, strength of character and sheer will displayed by our students. In the midst of dealing with everything that is going on, for that hour and a half, the students created a sense of community. They were thoughtful, nurturing, concerned, empowered and empathetic. It was a joy to see and hear their contributions in our virtual space.
Some spoke of the challenges they have faced and overcame, while others spoke of ongoing battles they refused to succumb to, no matter how difficult things seemed. Watching the students interact with each other, as well as the faculty and staff on the call, was a huge pick-me-up! Though our differences were on full display, our shared appreciation of our diversity was on display, too. This served as the foundation that allowed us to build a deeper sense of community by choosing to be vulnerable enough to let someone into our world. During that call, nothing had changed about any of the pressing needs that were confronting us. Yet, we were able to influence one another to see the good in all the bad.
Whether we are in a yellow, orange or red zone, let’s commit to embracing a mindset that says, together, we can get through this moment. We are in the home stretch; we have almost made it through another semester. Hang in there. We are so close. Let’s finish strong.
As I reflect on the students’ stories and words of encouragement to each other, I am reminded of the final lines from Langston’s “Mother to Son” poem:
“…don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now — For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”