Jamie Hand, Director of Research Strategies for ArtPlace America, met Hannah several years ago at symposium in Louisville, hosted by IDEASxLab. "She performed her poem 'Spaces' – which has since been selected by the National Academy of Medicine to be featured in a national exhibit that speaks to visualizing health equity – and it blew me away. It was a reminder that an artist’s choice of words, her lived experience, the cadence of her VOICE was more powerful than any traditional dataset or evidence that ArtPlace or its partners at the University of Florida might generate as we work to build a case for the arts in public health. Fast forward a few years, and Hannah has been a vital participant in so many aspects of the Creating Healthy Communities initiative – she has presented as a plenary speaker and on webinars, her work in Smoketown was a key case study in the white paper, and her voice and vision as an artist advocating for racial equity in America remains a powerful north star."
. . .
The moment is still imprinted in my mind. It was Thursday, March 13, 2020, when Josh Miller and I ended our weekly meeting and said goodbye in the parking lot, never knowing what was awaiting this nation. In just a few days, the Coronavirus, first detected in the United States, January 20, 2020, started spreading like wildfire from state to state, and governors begin calling for mass shutdowns of non-essential businesses. In Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear asked residents to stay home unless it was to go to work deemed essential, the pharmacy, or grocery store, and to cease gathering in large groups. Leaving my home was now primarily regulated to going to our local store for groceries. I remember thinking, “If I had known standing in the parking lot that would be the last time I saw Josh for a long time, I would have given him a hug.” It hit me hard as I thought about the plans that I had for this year. I started off this year, calling it the Year of Vision 20/20, hosting a vision board party encouraging women to set clear, concise goals for what I knew was going to be a spectacular year. Just a few months into the year, all of that changed. Plans were canceled, stores shut down, schools closed, and life as we knew it ceased.
Many should take this as a moment to grieve, but to me, America simply adjusted. There was no moment of pausing to recognize that what America is facing will shake this nation to its very core. Instead, seemingly overnight, going into the office shifted to online video conferencing. Students going to school or classes quickly moved to online learning. Restaurants immediately adjusted to curbside service.
And the world just keeps turning.
America needs to take a moment to process the enormity of the devastating loss we have faced and will face. There needs to be a moment to pause and reflect on the insecurity and instability many of us are feeling as we face recent joblessness, as we wonder how we are going to pay our rent/mortgage and put food on the table. America needs to take a moment to grieve for plans we had, trips, weddings, graduations, proms, holiday dinners, and gatherings that will not happen.
America simply needs to pause.
I have learned, when you are driving your car, and you hit a massive pothole, it is essential that you get out of the vehicle and assess the damage. You do not continue driving because the more you drive, the more damage you will do to your car. Similar to that car, America has hit an enormous pothole, and we have not gotten out to assess the damage. America just keeps going, not realizing that we can’t Zoom ourselves out of this crisis. We are not just casually working from home. We are going through a crisis while working from home.
However, there are far too many people that believe that in a few months, America will go back to normal. We will all go back to catching our Ubers and Lyfts, sipping our lattes, chatting for hours in downtown restaurants, attending Broadway shows, traveling to amazing destinations and laughing as we take Instagram pics, hanging out in bars sipping bourbon and listening to cool 90's music playing in the background over a speaker. Those days are over. America, as we knew it, has changed. And similar to the USB port on my MacBook, it is not coming back. We can point at moments throughout history where our nation has shifted, incidents that have defined our country. This is one of those moments- a moment that will be carved into history. A moment so significant, I believe we will define things as pre-coronavirus and post-coronavirus. What emerges after we face and deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus will be what we as a society create.
If we continue going and going, I fear we will miss the lesson this moment is teaching us, which is why we continue to repeat history. We are not going to Zoom our way out of what is happening. This is not a moment that we can overlook. For far too long, America ignored so many things such as racism, failing healthcare, food insecurity, and now a huge spotlight is shining on people and systems that we have neglected. Perhaps had we paused and cared before this virus, things would not be this devastating. I fear we are not taking this moment to simply pause and ask ourselves, "What is the moment teaching us?" I challenge you to ask yourself, “Have I paused in this moment to listen to what lessons are being taught? Have I allowed space for my spouse, partner, children, or coworkers to pause in this moment and grieve for things they have lost? Am I extending grace to myself and others as we wake each day to the unknown and uncertainty?”
Will America emerge from this pandemic? Yes.
How we emerge from this is yet to be determined. Will America come out of this virus better? More compassionate and understanding? Will America emerge from this caring about the least of those? Will America understand the importance of people having a fair and livable wage? Will we have learned why healthcare is essential for everyone? Will we look at policies and systems that have made this virus disproportionately impact Black people? Will we look at how racism is still an issue when it comes to the healthcare system?
Or perhaps we will ignore all of these questions and video conference our way through it.
The choice is ours.
. . .
As a writer and public speaker, I have often told my audience, I am not writing or speaking to entertain you, I am writing to shake a nation. I understand that my words are often viewed as challenging and, at times, can make people uncomfortable. However, I am a firm believer that change dwells in the realm of the uncomfortable. We do not begin to challenge systems that contribute to trauma unless we start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. That is why it is has been a pleasure to work with the University of Florida- an institution that is not afraid to have difficult conversations. Universities need to be at the forefront of discussions that center injustice, marginalization, oppression, and systemic racism, all of which impact trauma. As this nation is collectively facing one of the most traumatic times many of us will ever see, we must not overlook the data and how the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Black people and what has contributed to this disparity. It is welcoming that the University of Florida has allowed me a platform to share my words, my voice, and my truth. I hope in this time of transition as we start to think of how this nation will rebuild itself, more institutions will follow suit, and not be afraid to face the past in order to build a more equitable future.
Hannah L Drake is a blogger, activist, public speaker, poet, and author of 11 books. She writes commentary on politics, feminism, and race. Hannah was selected by the Muhammad Ali Center to be a Daughter of Greatness which features prominent women engaged in social philanthropy, activism, and pursuits of justice. Recently Hannah was selected as one of the Best of the Best in Louisville, Kentucky for her poem Spaces. Hannah’s message is thought-provoking and at times challenging, but Hannah believes that it is in the uncomfortable spaces that change can take place. “My sole purpose in writing and speaking is not that I entertain you. I am trying to shake a nation.”
www.hannahldrake.com or on Twitter & Instagram @HannahDrake628