Letting Go of What Was and Creating Space for What Could Be
Coming into 2020, I hoped that the year would bring change and clarity, but I couldn’t have fathomed all that would transpire in just five months. I’ve been conditioned to accept incremental change as a given, that progress comes in ebbs and flows, and that there is a time and place for everything. Then, Covid-19 arrived in America, and like the indigenous tribes that greeted the first settlers 400 years ago, we had no idea what was about to hit us.
I’ve watched as the United States, the only country I’ve called home, was brought to its knees by a virus that had already swept through other parts of the world in nations that I was taught to see as less sophisticated, progressive, or developed than my own.
And yet, at this juncture, the United States has the fifth highest number of deaths per capita and the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world.* And while other countries proclaim victory over the pandemic and start to reopen, our number of new cases continues to climb with no clear ending in sight.
How does one reckon with constant death, high unemployment, and business closures, yet hold on to the ideal that America is “the land of opportunity”? It creates a cognitive dissonance, that if unresolved, can only lead to a breaking point. And, as I look at the current news cycle and receive bad news about people I know, it is hard not to feel like the world, my world, is breaking.
We are witnessing the breaking of our systems, our politics, our ideals, our naivety, and our lives as we knew them. We are becoming aware of, and bearing witness to, incidents of violence and injustice that are breaking our hearts. And, while for some of us, this level of awareness and despair is new and raw, for others, it has long been a reality of life.
It’s having to demonstrate proficiency in how to interact with a police officer before you’re allowed to take your driver’s test.
It’s saying goodnight to coworkers then being pulled over five minutes later and praying this isn’t the night that a new hashtag is born.
It’s closing deals with a firm where a managing partner once told someone you love that he would “show (them) what it was like to live in a white man’s world.”
It’s working to create opportunity in diverse, thriving communities, while the neighborhood where you grew up declines towards dilapidation.
For the first time in my life, I work for an organization where I’m encouraged to speak up and share my ideas, yet due to past experiences, I still worry that my truth might be too much for some. As spaces are created for staff to express their feelings, I can’t help but wonder if, once society returns to some semblance of normalcy, we’ll quickly move on to something else and slowly fall back into old patterns.
Instead, I hope the lessons we’ve learned will continue to heal us like antibodies after fighting off an infection. I hope the affordable housing industry is prepared to confront the ways in which our own complacency and good intentions might at times contribute to the very issues we’re meant to resolve.
As Enterprise strives to confront these uncomfortable truths, if we do so with the same vigilant earnestness that we did a global pandemic, we could easily lead our industry in imagining a better normal as we have since our inception.
*Statistics from Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus Resource Center
Amber N. Jones is an associate development manager with Enterprise Community Development. She is based in Baltimore.