First of two parts
We finally made it to 2021.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a blank slate.
Although there’s plenty we’d likely rather forget, 2020 offered many valuable lessons.
So we asked community members to reflect on the past year and their intentions for the year ahead.
‘Healing is possible’
Jamila Dawn Mitchell is a trans woman of color who’s been an activist, author and organizer for over a decade. She’s started nonprofits to service the mentally ill and has made a career as a health care systems administrator.
My greatest lesson this year is that there is plenty of work to do at home.
Pre-COVID-19, I was hardly ever home. I worked eight hours for my full-time job, then spent another unmeasured amount of time on extracurricular work, socializing with friends and trying new restaurants. Honestly, I only went home to sleep.
Then, the stay-at-home happened.
I realized how much I neglected my home and myself. I began with sanitizing everything, which turned into a complete deep cleaning of my home and my own self.
I discovered time to organize my furniture, to cook home meals from scratch and to enjoy the aroma of candles after a productive day at home. Cleanliness suddenly enabled me to be mindful of the details of the present.
Due to my mental illness and lifestyle, I struggled with mindfulness. For years, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. Instead of coping, I found every reason to be too busy to focus on my internal well-being. Like the disarray of my home, my mental health had been neglected.
Honestly, I would not have believed that time cleaning my home would be when I’d begin healing from past trauma. The calmness and stability of my home had become the place where I’ve both taken care of myself and learned to love myself. I have created a schedule to wake up, clean, journal, read, cook and meditate to create internal joy.
My work turned inward with guidance set by my supportive psychologist that I see once a month and my therapist who is basically a fixture of my day. 2020 has taught me how to excel in taking better care of myself to resolve things like bad sleep and anxiety.
Thus, I am bringing this “self-work” into 2021. 2020 has forced me to pay attention to all the ways that trauma was driving me. For years, I neglected myself to receive recognition from others due to work achievements and social entertainment.
The “homework” that I began in 2020 has become a blueprint for self-improvement and trauma healing.
Certainly, through social media, I have learned that I’m not living through trauma alone. Thus, my goal for 2021 is to not only continue my homework, but also to teach others that have faced trauma how to use our time alone to heal.
2021 will be the year I show others how healing is possible.
‘I’m here for what is necessary for systemic change’
Andrea Rodriguez is an educator, community organizer, civic engagement manager for Los Brown Berets of Milwaukee and owner of Thrive Service Learning.
I actually don’t want to forget any moment of 2020. I hope I remember each day, each call for help, homeschooling while working and each claim for rights or denial of responsibility as we tried to survive COVID-19 as a city.
Pandemics are a potential risk of a global economy and the odds are this will not be our last one. While COVID ushered in many tragedies, I believe it also can bring many case studies and opportunities so we can survive future pandemics.
The caveat is, will humankind unite and do what right for all of us or will corporate greed continue to lead us to our own demise?
Our outgoing commander in chief was the catalyst of confusion for the American people, and sadly, we are more divided than ever. However, we also have more historically marginalized groups of people uniting and demanding a new standard by any means necessary. As a community organizer, educator and newly inducted Brown Beret of Milwaukee, I’m here for what is necessary for systemic change, and I’m thankful we have more activated residents that are uniting and embracing strategic planning.
And I don’t want to forget one second of it.
My intention each new year is to improve my life and my children’s lives in some way. This year, my goals are more purposeful as I’ve spent a lot of 2020 building capacity on goals to improve Milwaukee and empowering residents to embrace leadership.
I’m grateful for the conversations and plans I’ve been a part of in 2020, and I plan to stay the course to bring more of these goals to fruition in 2021.
‘Community organizing will be necessary’
Malik Pitchford, a Milwaukee native, studies political science and the African & Black diaspora at DePaul University.
2020 felt both mundane and overstimulating.
Mundane because the days seem to mesh into one long continuous experience. It seemed like bad news, some slight hope, night and day, grief and a general exhaustion were to be a common occurrence every 24 hours. 2020 was chaotic, so consistently chaotic, that it became normal.
The inadequacy of our political and public health infrastructures, and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in some of us truly not understanding just how much was lost last year. Not only in terms of death, but of “normal” ways of life.
It’s become played out at this point, but we should come to acknowledge the “new normal.” I think this reflects an understanding that our comfort can no longer come from envisioning a return to our “old” normal. Embracing the fact that our lives are forever changing—not just because of the virus or our political culture—embracing the fact that our lives will generally be dynamic is beneficial.
I have no idea what to look forward to in 2021. If 2020 is of any use, it shows us how difficult it can be to chart what we can hope to accomplish in the next.
Community organizing will be necessary if we as individuals care about others. Our communities — geographical and otherwise — depend on each person embracing change. We do this while helping those we care about adapt, learn from and cope with whatever changes we are met with.
Being responsible to a community ensures that we aren’t complicit with change, reveling in the uncertainty and exhaustiveness of life. Rather, while life can get exhausting at times, working toward building stronger communities ensures that we are never content with our hindsight.
Contributing to something larger-than-oneself might work as a means to accomplishing our individual goals, but it can also be a goal in itself. Establishing strong and fruitful connections with the people we care about and share beneficial values with is rewarding even when our lives are thrown out of order.