I do not think that I am alone in sharing my gratitude that the calendar page has turned, and we have left 2020 behind. That being said, of the many lessons learned over the last 365 days, one that has left its mark on me is that I have realized I don’t HAVE to do things, I GET to do things. I’ve been watching and seeing many of you take advantage of what you get to do too. And it’s really beautiful.
For example, last spring, the pandemic was still very new, very scary for what we didn’t know, and very unsettling in a zombie apocalypse kind of way. Many of us, or our friends and family, lost our health, housing and homes or had relationships turn volatile because of the stress and uncertainty of what could happen next. I remember being home and isolating in my house with my husband and our son, thinking about all the things I couldn’t do or suddenly had to do more of, and it felt overwhelming.
I’m not going to lie. That feeling lasted a very long time. But it was you, dear reader, you and your friends, family, neighbors and community that helped turn it around. I remember learning that I would HAVE to wear face coverings. It was immediately stressful. We had an almost 2-year old at the time. I could barely make him do simple things I wanted, but wearing a mask? How could I make him do it? How could I make me do it? Sigh. Where would we even get masks? It all felt so impossible.
And then it happened. In April, Project Protect was launched in partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health Care, Latter-day Saint Charities, Utah nonprofits, institutions of higher education and volunteer sewers across the state to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our front-line caregivers. And it didn’t stop there.
Our community stepped up for each other — turning our homes into sewing centers, sharing fabric and elastic to create life-saving face coverings for ourselves and each other. My sister Jamii Piersanti made us our first masks. My dear friend Jennifer Carleston literally made hundreds of masks that she gave away, along with so many others, to fill the demand. They both told me they were glad they got to do it because they knew it would make a difference — and it did.
As a board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis, I couldn’t begin to fathom how we could serve our students and our communities with exceptional programming while we were all at home. Yet, our fearless leader and Executive Director James Ebert reminded me that we didn’t have to fill the gap between school and home, we got to. With his leadership, our amazing staff and volunteers figured out how to provide welcoming, positive, life-changing events and activities virtually, stepping in to find access to computers and technology for our participants, developing training and support resources for the team. He was right. We got to do that work and we continue to get to do it!
Summer was filled with social unrest and racial tensions across the globe. Racial discord grew as deaths of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) continued. It felt like I was facing a fire in every corner and running out of water. I thought I had to address every issue on my own. Then I received an email from Meagan Thunell, Weber State University associate athletics director and senior woman administrator, that our student athletes, who had their seasons devastated by COVID, were concerned about their peers and community members dealing with racism. They made and shared a video expressing their stand for equality and justice.
They didn’t stop with a video. These student athletes, crossing all sports and club teams, then worked to register voters and to operate as pollsters during our fall 2020 elections. In addition to putting in hours of personal time to learn how to register voters, get people to register to vote and then work the polls, many of these students also committed to taking the 21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge created by the YWCA.
This challenge meant you got to set aside time in your day to learn about racial equity and social justice in ways that you would feel comfortable with while providing virtual opportunities for conversation and engagement. It’s not enough to see something, these students also said and did something, including running food drives for the campus and community pantries.
This is what I hope to see more of in 2021. So, what do we get to do next? I’m going to encourage everyone to become antiracist. This will require you to match your words to actions — even when it’s uncomfortable or you think it isn’t even about you. To learn more, join me as WSU President Brad Mortensen interviews noted author and lecturer Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To register, visit weber.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_an7QNVy-RmuykSUYysYUtQ. I look forward to getting to do more work with you!