Last month, my original plan was to write a series of stories about my campaign experiences based on the emotions I felt throughout the campaign. My plan was to reflect on and process my campaign experience after I got some rest and felt a sense of normalcy. The thing is, that plan is not possible now. Election day was March 3, 2020. On March 3, 2020 the first known case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in North Carolina made an appearance. Ten days later, Durham Public Schools closed for an indefinite amount of time. I packed up as much as I could from my office at school, threw it in my car, and then threw it in my home office. It became painfully clear to me that there would be no sense of normalcy for me to return to now, or in the foreseeable future. So many thoughts swirling through my head, the rug pulled out from underneath us. I don’t see much rest ahead, at least not for me. My brain is bursting with thoughts during normal times, but now, now it is overflowing and jumbled. Definitely not resting.
So here I am, finding it difficult to focus on anything, let alone, writing about my campaign experiences. It seems somewhat irrelevant compared to a global pandemic. Yet, I do think it’s important for me not to lose what I experienced. It was much too big a part of my life to just let it fade into the background. What I am realizing, is that many of the issues, questions, and concerns that I was passionate about during my campaign, have almost seamlessly morphed into the emotions I am feeling now, with all that is happening during the pandemic. It’s almost as if my campaigning was preparing me for this unthinkable health crisis that would not only bleed into the lives of everyone, but would also pour over our most vulnerable populations. The driving forces for my running for school board are now being magnified. The children and families, the teachers and schools who I referred to as “invisible” and pushed aside so that others can live their lives more comfortably, are even more marginalized now.
Hunger: 1) Must have the determination to make change happen. 2) A feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat.
I originally planned to write about my experiences based on emotions. As I looked through my list of emotions to see where I might begin my reflections, one stood out above the others. Hunger. It was the obvious one.
Honestly, I never really thought about hunger as an emotion, but after reading the definitions, it was clear.
I knew my “hunger” and determination to make change happen was definitely a major driving force in my decision to run for school board, but I had no idea in December that my days in March and April would literally be centered around families facing hunger. While the children and families I was most concerned about in Durham had already faced hunger due to lack of food and resources, now, due to COVID-19, they are dealing with it in a way I could not have imagined a few months ago.
I have always considered myself a glass half full kind of person. Someone who gives off positive vibes and hope to others. That’s a tough role to play in the world right now. After my campaign experiences, I find myself feeling more skeptical. I hear people talking about how this pandemic is going to change things. It will make the world a better place to live. People will treat others better once we make it through all of this. Teachers will be respected. People will want to help those less fortunate than themselves. They speak as if it is magical, this pandemic. This optimist is not convinced. I have worked at trying to change systems, many broken systems, over the years, and it is hard, beat your head against the wall, work. There is not a quick fix. I fear, not even hitting rock bottom is going to fix the mess we created. I am not convinced that having all of the “divides” ( economic, digital, …) in our society being magnified during a pandemic will mean that they will magically go away. From what I witnessed and experienced, while intensely living in the world of politics during my campaign, we have much to overcome before we see change happen that will actually move us toward equity for all.
In our own, supposedly “progressive” city of Durham, NC, I am now watching the most needy families being left out of the panic driven, knee jerk reactions to the pandemic. First, the people who have what they need and the means to get what they need, continue to put themselves first. They plunge into doing something “good for others” , but it only hides the real needs in our community. An example would be that our school system, with the best of intentions, devised a program to provide lunches for students when schools closed. They, however, neglected to ask those of us who actually work in the schools with the students who need access to food, what might be the best way to do that. They plowed forward, making sure that they received accolades all over social media to say what a great job they were doing. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, some of us were scrambling to find students (families who live in poverty or who are homeless don’t always stay at the same address for long periods of time) to make sure they knew where and when they could get free lunches each day. The placement of the buses bringing food was well thought out; however, the communication to families…not so much. Some of us were more than willing to pick up lunches and drop them on doorsteps to children we knew would not step foot outside their door, per strict instructions from their parents (while they were at work). We were told we could not do that. Therefore, lunches were thrown away, while children who needed food did not receive lunches. The safe distancing rules were not adhered to, which put the DPS workers and the children at risk. I could go on and on. I do not understand why we, the teachers who know the students and families, were not consulted to help make these crucial decisions. This type of change costs nothing. It requires only a willingness for people in leadership positions to stop and think and ask for help from the experts in the trenches.This was something I said often during my campaign.
As part of the new normal as a public school teacher, we are asking teachers to reach out to parents weekly to “check-in” with them remotely during this global pandemic. They are to ask how they are doing, do they need anything, have they gotten recent announcements and information about school work and food distribution, etc. As soon as schools closed, several of us went into action without even skipping a beat. We went to find children and families to take them books, food and gift cards for food. My friends and church members, who have always been extremely responsive to me when I ask for anything for teachers or students in the schools I work in, were there for me again. Within a few days, I had collected over $3,000 that I used to purchase food and grocery store gift cards that could be given directly to families, immediately. No questions asked. There were families that we knew would need extra help, especially the first week schools closed, because no food was being provided for lunches or breakfast. The teachers and staff at our school knew that meant that some children would have no food. But then, the teachers started to let me know that other families were already letting them know that they were laid off or lost their jobs. They would need support too, even though they were not on our original list of families with immediate needs. So, we added them to the list. (*there are 40 families and over 75 donors on the list now, and it is growing daily)
Fast forward to mid-April, 2020. According to my school district, I am to be working from home, 8 hours per day. I submit an electronic form every day to give a brief description of how I filled those hours daily. Truth be told, when schools were open, I, like many of my colleagues in education, rarely worked less than 10-12 hours per day. That has not changed for me during this unprecedented, unpredictable time in history. The structure of my days is gone, but the work is still there.
In between required online meetings (that entire experience is an entire blog entry in itself), zooming, chatting, googleing or hanging out, I am coordinating finding donors to help to feed hundreds of children and families. This is by choice. It is only possible due to the kind, caring, generous souls who are in my life during this pandemic. I will write separately about those experiences, as they are worthy of individual attention. I don’t want them to get lost or be forgotten in any way.
Just as the hunger facing marginalized families in Durham has been magnified, my frustration with systems has intensified. I have channeled those frustrations into action. That is how I feed my soul. My hunger. My determination to make change happen. I may not have won the election for school board, but that doesn’t mean that I will stop trying to make sure that all families and teachers are seen. My campaign slogan, Equity For Families, Equity for Educators, Equity for All, is etched in my overflowing brain. And more importantly, it is etched in my heart. I may have lost the election, but nobody can take my hunger for equity away from me.