No one escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past year, the Coronavirus has dominated discussions, affected our politics and restricted our social interactions. While coping with the palpable fears and harrowing realities, communities had to find, discover and reinvent ways to adjust and thrive as best as possible.
The mounting, shocking deaths numbed our hearts and minds, prompting intense disbelief that a pandemic of this magnitude could even occur. It did and still does. Yet, within the realms of sorrow and anger, the driving human spirit persisted.
Consciously or unconsciously, the pandemic taught various lessons of survival, enhanced core beliefs and provided valuable insights going forward.
For most people, the pandemic perspective opened pathways to resiliency, adaptation, creativity, and renewed spirituality. Many people — the frontline workers — persisted at their own peril to serve. They emerged from invisibility and obscurity to highly visible heroes whose necessary service has been taken for granted.
Given the context of the pandemic, the Carolina Peacemaker asked several community leaders to share insights, personally and professionally, on what they felt, learned and shared during the past year, and how these so-called lessons will guide them in the future.
The Peacemaker spoke with Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston, community leader Penny Smith, Providence Baptist Church Pastor Darryl Aaron, UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam Jr., Annie Penn Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alvin Powell, and Bennett College Chaplain Rev. Natalie McLean.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan
In the past year, my appreciation has grown immensely for all the people performing essential work in service to us all. They have made significant sacrifices in their lives for our lives for which we are grateful.
These frontline workers encompass more than law enforcement-first responders, health services providers, crews of city-county field services of cleaning streets, retrieving and hauling our refuse and everyone keeping government and essential businesses working. They are teams working in grocery stores and pharmacies, plus people driving buses and so many volunteers rising to the occasion.
Hey, these valiant servants of all kinds did it and are still doing it while tending, as best they can, to their families’ needs, especially parents with children out of school and dealing with the remote learning challenges.
All of us in this challenging pandemic have had to be adaptive, flexible. That means we take our new skills and practices learned from acknowledging our strengths and weakness and capitalize on them to address community needs to achieve equity and access to greater public services.
Melvin “Skip” Alston, Chair, Guilford County Board of Commissioners
If anything, this pandemic means being prepared for the unexpected, to have the tools and resources for self-responsibility, yet knowing we are commanded to serve others, especially the least amongst us.
We know adversity will strike again, perhaps another pandemic. As a caring community, we have to address causes of poverty, which this pandemic has intensified with business closures, reduced services and lost jobs.
All politics is local no matter where we are on the political spectrum. Our security is only as good as our ability to serve the least among us. As we move out of this pandemic, my public focus is acknowledging how government has helped, but finding ways to increase self-sufficiency wherever possible.
Dr. Frank Gilliam Jr, Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
At UNC Greensboro, the impact of COVID-19 has made an indelible mark on our campus. It has tested us in so many ways. We had to stay flexible and nimble as we shifted from face to face to online courses with a week’s notice last Spring to writing and executing a playbook for an academic year like no other.
More than anything, this year has shown that Spartans, students, faculty and staff, are resilient. We persevered because of what I call our shared fate. We individually and collectively did the right thing on behalf of the broader community.
Together we have embraced the challenge, and our tenacious commitment to success has laid the groundwork for a brighter future as we head into the Fall 2021 semester. I am so proud of our determination and teamwork.
Because of this commitment, we’ve been able to keep campus open, offering more in-person classes than most other North Carolina public universities, while experiencing limited spread of the virus among our student body.
Rev. Natalie McLean, Chaplain, Bennett College
The pandemic has been an inconvenience that has provided us with perspective and introspection better equipping us for the future. In the midst of COVID, we’ve had to adjust as a community, meaning creativity met opportunity, forcing us, demanding of us, to think of ways to interact and relate, we hope, giving us social skills to use going forward.
Wearing masks out of concern for others helps maintain decency and courtesy because those masks acknowledge a shared humanity, which is really teaching us the need for patience, compassion and understanding.
At some future time, we hope soon, when we are not wearing masks, we can extend our unmasked hearts and souls to minister to others acts of kindness and responsibility.
Dr. Alvin C. Powell, Chief Medical Officer, Annie Penn Hospital, and Chief Health Equity Officer, Cone Health
Physicians and health care workers were challenged to be flexible and fluid in their response to the greatest public health emergency of our lifetime. We were wondering if we had enough ventilators, enough personal protective equipment, but with the help of our community and a lot of creativity, we came through. It really shows how we all depend on one another.
When we first opened our website to register for COVID-19 vaccinations, marginalized communities fell behind in signing up. We realized we needed to work with people in communities to reach everyone in those communities.
That is a method I hope we use more in the future. The pandemic spotlighted the inequities in health care. As a society, I hope we have the will to begin addressing those inequalities and many others with the level of attention they each deserve.
Penny Smith, Community Leader
More mindful of the simple things is the best lesson I have learned and will use moving forward as this pandemic subsides. More than ever, I will be more aware in the moment and not wait. So, saying hello to others more often and expressing gratitude keeps us alive.
This pandemic has shifted my thinking for taking too much for granted. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. As things open, we’ve got to see those in need, family and friends, in the hospital or nursing home and give them love they have not had the opportunity to feel in person for the past year.
Who doesn’t miss the embrace of family and friends? As restrictions ease, be sure to hug, laugh, and deliver that human touch we all need so much. I know the joy because I have reunited with my granddaughter, who is with me now for a while.
Go forward from this pandemic with mindfulness, help where you can and listen to medical authorities and your heart.
Rev. Darryl Aaron, Pastor at Providence Baptist Church
This past year has reminded me and my congregation about the majesty of caring. That spirit has carried forward because isolation is a calling to build on the foundations of our core values.
Because people care, my congregation, and I believe others, too, have actually done as much and more had our doors been open as if no pandemic existed.
Yes, we were called. We still feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick with caring acts of active passion. Why? The pandemic was that proverbial stone tossed into the community pond of tranquility, causing ripples of discomfort that pushed us to fall on our values of caring and serving.
Going forward we are clear that the pandemic helped us understand that we counted on what really did matter, causing us now with vision to count on what matters. Sure, we all had our down days in the past year. Use those moments to see opportunities to care in the future, to address the other pandemic of poverty, racism and disparities wherever they exist, to be accountable to one another, to hold us together.
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