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A Year of Rage and Reflection 

A personal essay on the trials and tribulations of 2020.

click to enlarge Hundreds gathered at City Hall on June 2 to protest the police’s use of tear gas on protesters.

Scott Elmquist

Hundreds gathered at City Hall on June 2 to protest the police’s use of tear gas on protesters.

The year 2020 started off hopeful enough.

We’d welcomed our third son three days before Christmas 2019. The new year found me and my husband slogging through the newborn days bleary eyed, exhausted, but entirely enamored with our healthy baby boy.

In January, our family enjoyed “our” month as we always do. All of us except the baby – me, my husband and our two oldest sons – were born in January, my birthday last in the lineup. Our wedding anniversary is the third day of the month. For us, January sets a tone of love, celebration and unity that buoys us through the first part of the year, brightening even the grayest days of winter.

This year was altogether different.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna perished with seven others in a helicopter crash in California on Jan. 26, the day before my 34th birthday. Though far from a basketball fan, the dramatic death of the sports superstar – a tragedy like that so early in the new year – shook me. It felt like an omen.

I started hearing and reading about the mysterious new virus developing in China in February. Conflicting reports made it hard to discern fact from fiction, and, busy caring for our new baby and juggling parenting duties for our 5-year-old and 2-year-old boys with my husband, I didn’t dig too deep. I wanted to tune out of the news for a bit anyway, honestly, tired of hearing about the president’s latest capers and his impending impeachment. I told a friend around that time that many Americans, including me, probably have political post-traumatic stress disorder from the horrifying clown show that is our presidential administration.

Over the last four years, we all witnessed the White House erupt in scandals, again and again. We all witnessed at least 26 women accuse the president of sexual assault over a span of several decades, and we witnessed the president deny, dodge and ignore their claims. We witnessed thousands of brown-skinned children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico and dumped into cages inside detention facilities, at the direction of our government. We witnessed the president call violent white supremacists “nice people,” and we witnessed his administration’s dismantling of hard-fought civil and human rights protections. There are too many taumas to name. Even so, what I could not have known in January was how much more trauma was to come.

In February, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, while jogging, was chased down and shot dead like a rabid dog in the street. His killers, a white father and son, would not be arrested for months. Meanwhile the untimely death of another unarmed Black man enraged me and millions of other African Americans. We are tired of seeing Black people die like Ahmaud Arbery, like Phildando Castile, like Michael Brown, like Botham Jean, like Bronna Taylor, like George Floyd, like Marcus-David Peters – these terrifying, sudden, violent deaths, wholly undeserved. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time. ...” Never have the words of writer and intellectual giant James Baldwin felt more real to me. When the coronavirus bloomed full force in March, I was indeed enraged and exhausted.

It didn’t take long to realize that the virus was disproportionately impacting Black and brown folks in America. Five cousins on my dad’s side of the family contracted COVID, two dying from it before the end of the summer. Several members of my small, rural Hanover County church caught it; some were hospitalized, and some died. It seemed like every Black person I talked to knew someone personally who died from COVID-19. In Richmond, as of April 15 every person who died from coronavirus was Black. The pandemic became a singular challenge for Black people, already daily navigating systemic racism in every sector, limited socio-economic opportunities, and a justice system that left us with no justice, just us. Is it any wonder, then, why thousands of organized protests nationwide demanded justice for us this year, louder than ever before?

As coronavirus spread like California wildfire this spring, schools and day cares shuttered, along with most offices and nonessential businesses. With all three of our young children at home full time, it was impossible for me and my husband to work at first. All of us felt a bit adrift, untethered from the routines of our life. Those spring days were long and hard for everyone. It always seemed to be mealtime, and I felt like I was cleaning constantly because the kids’ messes only added to our household’s stress. The government’s botched deployment of pandemic relief measures left many families without recourse when it came to education and child care. I was one of the 2.2 million women who left their careers this year, many of us forced to care for our children full time. I feel fortunate that I was able to start writing again in the summer, my boys often interrupting my phone interviews or Zoom meetings with editors. Some moms will never return to their careers, the effects of which remain to be seen.

By autumn, our family had gotten our groove back, settling into a new normal that included home schooling, socially distanced play dates and virtual events galore. I didn’t get my stimulus check until the day before the presidential election in November. Our family has been financially secure this year, thankfully. Staring at that measly check emblazoned with the president’s signature, I wondered how other people who’d lost their jobs or racked up medical debt during the pandemic would make it on a one-time payment of $1,200? Experts agree that the pandemic’s economic fallout is unprecedented.

This is usually the part of the essay where the writer ties everything together and points out the silver lining. Though I’m not inclined to gloss things over, 2020 hasn’t been all bad, surely. In my hometown of Hanover County, leaders finally, if reluctantly, changed our racist school names. I am heartened by community-driven efforts to heal and help, like the Resiliency Garden Initiative, which builds raised garden beds and supplies them to Richmonders who may be facing food insecurity, at no cost. We’re learning hard lessons about health disparities here in Richmond and how the coronavirus exacerbated the unequal care Black and Latino people recieve. I’m hopeful these lessons will transform into action. 2020 was a year unlike any we’ve ever seen, but with its end comes a familiar, fresh beginning.

The new year, as always, offers us the chance to learn, to grow, to change as we must. When 2021 comes, I’ll be ready.

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