CLEVELAND — 2020 took so much away.
For three recent graduates who saw their futures reimagined, it all happened on top of the racial turmoil playing out in the headlines.
“I just feel like we live in a society where we still aren’t accepted,” said high school graduate Kyah Leshay Crenshaw.
For Tommie Johnson, who missed his graduation, his prom, and months later still feels like he hasn’t been able to move beyond high school, “it’s just…. It’s tough. It’s tough.”
When, for 8 minutes and 46 agonizing seconds, George Floyd pleaded for his life and ultimately died under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee, it was a breaking point for Black Americans.
“I was honestly, I was very devastated,” said Crenshaw.
It was also a waking point for some white Americans, some just waking up to the reality that racism is alive and well in 2020 — racism that permeates every day.
“It just hurts me,” said Crenshaw. “To be a Black woman personally, like some days I go out and I’m just nervous to go out because I don’t know what could happen. Like, I could be the next Breonna Taylor.”
This summer an Associated Press/NORC poll found 39% of white adults said police violence is a very serious problem. It’s up from 19% in 2015. The sale of anti-racism books like "White Fragility" soared.
But Danielle Sydnor, head of the Cleveland NAACP, made clear white America’s work is just beginning.
“I think white America has to understand that there are many people in this country, especially white people, that ultimately don’t even understand the gravity of what racism does to families, to households, to communities.”
Part of that work is building trust with Black communities, who saw higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths than their white counterparts this year and are less likely to trust a vaccine.
“It’s hard to explain,” college graduate Chanel Spencer told News 5. “My parents wouldn’t take a vaccine, so I wouldn’t take one.”
Dr. Amy Ray, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at MetroHealth said there’s a reason for communities of color to believe in the process.
“For…Pfizer and Moderna, the inclusion of people of color is upwards of above 30% I believe in each of those.” More specifically, she says black representation in the trials for the Pfizer vaccine was around 10%.
And after the 40-year trauma of the Tuskegee Experiment, she stressed: “When the vaccine becomes approved under the emergency use authorization or traditional approval, it is no longer experimental."
After a year spent battling racism, disease and mistrust, November brought change.
Historic voter turnout brought our country its first Black woman and South Asian-American Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris.
And our future nurses, audio engineers and business owners found reason to hope.
“I don’t think you have a choice but to be hopeful," said Spencer.
“2020 has taught me to…push through the dark times,” Crenshaw said.
And Johnson assured us “I’m always hopeful, I don’t ever lose hope.”
Because despite all the bad, 2020 did bring momentum to the movement for a country where all men, and woman, are truly created equal.
“Until everybody in America, and especially white people because they are the majority, can acknowledge that we as a country have not gone through any type of wholesale systems change, we cannot expect that Black folks especially, and other marginalized communities really do have it fair and equal in this society," Sydnor said. “We cannot take our foot off the gas.”
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