Reflecting on 2020, Going Beyond in 2021

December 21, 2020 Ellen Buchman

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

Wow. What a year we are concluding.  

As I began December’s annual journey of reflection and holiday prep, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that if there ever was a year for seeing – and for so many, experiencing – the inequities of our country in real time while also hearing the calls for a better, more just future, 2020 was that year.  

For so long, millions of people have struggled under the fractures of our country’s woefully inadequate and unsafe systems, and those fissures were underscored and compounded this year. In the midst of a deadly pandemic and racial reckoning, our systems failed to provide safe and sufficient public healthcare. Failed to ensure economic opportunity and relief. Failed to provide equitable and effective K-12 learning opportunities. And failed to adhere to delivering respect and justice in policing. There were, and continue to be, so many other examples. 

I want to pause, reflect, and cap the year with some sorely needed rest and even a little cheer. But as much as we may want to close the book on 2020 with authority and punctuate the current administration’s tenure with a final explanation point following the words, “FINALLY OVER,” I can’t let myself do that before considering how this year changed the way we live our lives. And I certainly cannot close the book without again pronouncing my deeply felt gratitude for the thousands of workers, health care providers, and so many others who addressed those challenges every day.

We know that the experiences of 2020 will persist in many ways and that so many made it through the struggle because, in community there is strength. But hopefully, if we do the work, we can prevent these challenges from further expansion. After all, many of us were able to meet the difficulty and darkness of this year in ways we never would have imagined just nine months ago, but we did it. We did it by seeing, hearing, and meeting one another where we are, if even from a physical distance while connecting on Zoom or from across the street, or over a neighbor’s fence. We came together to challenge injustice through the determination, resilience, and commitment to one another’s safety and wellbeing.  

So, in this time of reflection, let’s most certainly reflect, and even exhale a bit. But let’s also mark the light of the holidays with an even brighter light for 2021. Let’s use the very light that shone on the once unfathomable tragedies of 2020 to starkly remember what we have overcome, and to rise up and go beyond these broken systems.  

All of this starts with a shared and articulated view of where we are, and a bright light held to where we want to go.  

Just imagine for a minute if:   

  • The pillars of our government were true to the promise that all men, women, non-binary, and genderqueer people are created equal and have the chance to contribute fully, without discrimination, toward the pursuit of happiness.  
  • A non-carceral state rehabilitates people whose worst act is treated as a learning experience through restorative justice, and that the families of people who are being supported in this way are cared for at the same time.   
  • Popular culture depicts dads of color as loving, contributing family members in the news, on television, and in magazines.  
  • Society redefines what it means to feel and be safe for everyone – in homes, on Zoom calls, in cyberspace, in places of worship, on the streets, and even in prisons and jails.   
  • Migrants are welcomed into our country and our communities with a government-sponsored tour guide to our culture, and to society.  
  • EVERY election WELCOMED AND ENCOURAGED the record participation of 2020!  

Now, I know that taking stock of 2020 can be tough and can get in the way of seeing the possibilities, especially with all that’s happened in the last nine months of this helluva year. But we will always hold those experiences of loss to fuel our drive for justice. All of this starts with imagining what’s possible and telling a new story.  

Last week, as I marked Chanukah and reflected on all that’s been experienced in this long year, I grew excited to think about the possibilities and to usher in the future – starting with 2021. I continue to think about how, together, we can consider the ways to reset our sights and strive toward that brightly lit vision of tomorrow. I am resolved to be hopeful and to consider the unimaginable becoming reality, if we let ourselves have the space to imagine the possibilities, and to go beyond.