by Danielle Sanders, Interim Managing Editor
The Chicago Defender
Black people found themselves hit on every side this year. A global pandemic was disproportionately affecting our communities. The number of police-related shootings of unarmed Black people continued to break our hearts and anger our souls. Racism and racist behavior were more exposed than ever, and our communities continued to suffer from gun violence.
With everything that happened this year, Black people still made lemons from lemonade. From birthing new businesses and partnerships to making self-care a new priority, Black people did what we do best; create, innovate, and pivot, making this year an incredible celebration of our resilience.
BLACK PEOPLE ARE ESSENTIAL
The pandemic proved the value of essential workers. With Black people making up the majority of essential employees, this year, we learned that the ones paid or recognized the least were the most important.
Our restaurant workers, grocery store employees, retail workers, CTA and Rail service workers, firefighters and Police officers, postal and delivery workers, educators, and bank tellers provided much-needed services under incredible stress this year.
Black doctors and nurses were the first to jump into service when the pandemic hit. Often working incredibly long hours, they were surrounded by sickness and death in their workplaces. With many separating from their families during the pandemic to keep their loved ones safe, medical workers often made superhuman sacrifices to ensure the public’s safety. They were on the front lines of this pandemic and witnessed firsthand its devastation. For many who lost loved ones during this time, they were also the people who held our loved ones’ hands and made sure they knew they were not alone as they faced death. They held the hands of women giving birth alone and comforted the sick when the family could not be present. The physical, emotional, and mental toll taken on by medical employees this year remains great as they continue to fight the virus from the frontlines.
The country owes them all a debt of gratitude because they kept us healthy, kept us fed, ensured our safety, delivered our packages and mail, got us to our required destinations, made sure our money was safe, and educated our children. The country continued to run because of the tireless work by these incredible citizens.
LET THE DOLLAR CIRCULATE
With a focus on everything Black this year, the Black community responded with a newfound push to support our own. Fueled by social media and grassroots organizations, black people began to organize and gather information on Black-owned businesses. Consumers shared databases and Black-owned directories with the community. We shared information on black-owned service providers such as landscapers, electricians, plumbers, and contractors. We challenged one another to “buy Black” and “shop Black.”
We needed to support our businesses, many of which never received help in the form of PPP loans and federal assistance. We sought out more Black businesses, especially restaurants hard hit by the pandemic, to support and patronize. The importance of the Black dollar was in the spotlight this year. Black people would spend their dollars with businesses that valued their money and their presence.
The importance and power of the Black dollar was not the only thing exposed this year. The pandemic and racial unrest exposed some big banks and their unfair and racist practices. We learned where we hold our money is just as important as where we spend our money.
The #BankBlack movement was born after learning many black business owners could not receive financial assistance during the pandemic. Black consumers began moving money to black-owned banks or smaller community banks that would ensure they received help in the form of PPP loans or other banking services.
This year saw many of our communities impacted by riots and looting. Our communities were ravaged with looters, completely wrecking essential services such as pharmacies and grocery stores. After the initial riots in late May, the Black community sprang into action. Organizing primarily on social media, residents joined one another and gathered to clean up the wreckage. While most mainstream media covered the devastation from these events, they did not report the aftermath and the outpouring of help from the community. Over the next few weeks following the riots, residents of all ages at various locations gathered to help clean up debris, some bringing brooms and dustpans from their own homes. We were people who valued our property and our community, and it showed in the hundreds of people who returned to looted businesses to help board up windows, pick up trash and sweep up debris.
Losing essential services such as grocery stores and pharmacies also brought the community together as we searched for resources to help one another. Leaders formed groups to get groceries and much-needed prescriptions to the elderly in our communities. Carpools to take others to banks and ATMs and even groups on social media who dispatched volunteers to sites that required board up or clean up. Black contractors and other tradespeople volunteered their time and services to help other Black business owners who could not afford board up services protect their business from further damage.
We pooled our resources. Whether it was a service, trade, or time, Black people gathered to help one another in a time of crisis. Every day, people initiated these acts of service and kindness. This was the best of who we are and the epitome of what it means to be a community.
BLACK CREATIVES PIVOT
The pandemic hit the creative community hard. With their livelihoods dependent on gigs and performances, their incomes dried up in a matter of days. With theatres, movie houses, nightclubs, and event venues closed, artists found themselves struggling to survive this year. Artists, Actors, dancers, DJs, musicians, producers, and more dug deep and jumped into virtual programming. Determined to create and connect, artists delved into the virtual world and kept many of us stuck at home entertained. This year we saw our favorite actors on virtual stages, enjoyed concerts from home, and danced in our living rooms with our favorite DJs instead of nightclubs.
Streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix gave us new movies and series to watch. The Last Dance, Godfather of Harlem, Lovecraft Country, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sylvie’s Love, Soul, Jingle Jangle, and more provided hours of much-needed entertainment and sometimes escape from the news. We even enjoyed discussions on social media about them, all often gathering via hashtags to discuss.
We witnessed the rebirth of the Drive-In Movie, with many enjoying movie nights from the comfort of their cars. Black-owned PR Pop-Ups provided many fun movie nights and drive-in concerts in the south suburbs this year, taking us back to Wakanda with Black Panther or allowing us to sing along to our favorite Prince songs while watching Purple Rain.
Black Business owners created new ways to keep us entertained and connected this year.
With our favorite time of year, #SummertimeChi, canceled, many of us continued to enjoy the sounds of summer from our homes and backyards. The Chosen Few DJs went virtual this year with their annual festival. Chicago DJs, such as Vince Adams, Alan King, Terry Hunter, and more, entertained audiences weekly with live shows on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch. We enjoyed playful battles with our favorite musicians, such as Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, thanks to Verzuz. Audiences tuned in around the world to listen to our favorite artists “battle” it out, musical catalog vs. musical catalog.
2020 was the year when Black creatives explored new ways of connecting and creating. While stuck at home, artists kept us entertained. The amount of art made this year by Black artists proved that not even a pandemic could stop the creative process.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
With the world stuck at home, many of us decided to make our homes our sanctuaries. People filled home improvement stores such as Loews and Home Depot, focusing on creating soothing spaces to enjoy. Grabbing hammers and nails, paint, and paintbrushes, homeowners began working on, or finishing projects once put on hold.
There was a focus on nature and serenity. Some became plant and gardening enthusiasts finding solace in creating peaceful spaces in their backyards, patios, balconies, and homes. Some brought the movie experience outdoors, with outdoor screens and Bluetooth connections. We upgraded our offices and workspaces to make them more comfortable as we worked from home. We created study spaces and colorful learning environments for our children.
Forced to stop, slow down, and stay home, living environments became a source of peace.
CELEBRATING AS A COMMUNITY
With new social distancing guidelines, we were all faced with new ways to celebrate important milestones. This year saw the birth of the “drive-thru” and virtual celebrations. Neighborhoods were filled with “drive-thru” celebrations honoring our graduates, expectant mothers, and those celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.
Neighbors joined one another on their front lawns to celebrate their fellow neighbors and friends.
Family, friends, loved ones, and even organizations gathered virtually via zoom and Google meet for conversations and laughter. It was a new way to stay connected with our friends and loved ones safely.
We changed how we gather and connect, enjoying more intimate and smaller gatherings. Whether at home or a local park, we held small BBQs or picnics with family and friends that allowed us to be together. These smaller gatherings allowed us to reconnect with those in our “Inner circle” in ways we have not done before.
THE LOSSES OUR COMMUNITY FACED THIS YEAR
This year was filled with an enormous amount of loss and grief. The Black community lost some giants this year. NBA Star, Kobe Bryant, King of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman, Congressman John Lewis, Music Mogul, Andre Harrell, Country Music Pioneer, Charlie Pride, Civil Rights Leader, C.T. Vivian, Joe Clark, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, David Dinkins, Betty Wright, Jas Lewis, B Smith, Ja’Net DuBois and most recently, Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones, Whodini Rapper, John “Ecstasy” Fletcher and so many more made their transitions in 2020, leaving behind incredible work and remarkable legacies.
2020 was a year, unlike any other. This year forced the world to stop, slow down, and go inward. It was time to re-prioritize what was important in our lives. With so much bad news in the atmosphere daily, practicing self-care became more crucial than ever. For many, this year was a year of reconciling old hurts and issues to begin the healing process. It was the year to take better care of our health by working out, eating right, and taking vitamins. It was a year to reconnect with our loved ones in different ways and to take stock of all of the things we took for granted, such as the sound of live music, a hug from friends, or a lovely evening out at your favorite restaurant.
This year was terrible in many ways. However, despite it all, 2020 saw some beautiful things come out of our community. Young people engaged in the political process in larger numbers than ever before, activists and community leaders were born. Black entrepreneurs birthed new businesses and initiatives this year, and communities connected in new and exciting ways. Artists and creatives were innovative and gave us new ways to enjoy music, art, and film.
Black educators explored new ways of teaching our children to keep them engaged virtually. Black doctors and nurses served our communities heroically.
This year, we made history with black doctors and scientists who were members of the team that created a vaccination for COVID-19.
A Black woman will be sworn into the office of the Vice-Presidency in less than 20 days, and we can finally kiss the Trump presidency goodbye after four excruciating years.
Many of us were challenged in every way yet, as we sit on the eve of a New Year, we are still here. We made it. We survived. As a people, resilience lies in our DNA. With over 400 years of injustice, inequality, and uphill battles in every area of our lives, we still manage to get through it all. This year hopefully, we opened our eyes to what really mattered.
Let us hope we take the good from 2020 and carry it into 2021 and beyond. Happy New Year from the Chicago Defender Family! Cheers to a better year ahead!
Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.