It's a simple premise: After one year of living with COVID-19 and coming to terms with our nation's legacy of institutional racism, we wanted to know, what have those experiences taught us? And beyond that, how have they changed us?
The Source Weekly reached out to a host of local leaders and community members to get their takes on these two simple questions.
- Jason Lind
Joanne Mina, Volunteer Coordinator with Latino Community Association; Indivisible Bend steering committee member
The coronavirus pandemic brought us into the beginning of a collective reckoning, yet the messaging from our leaders to prioritize economic wealth at the expense of our community health made the work of caring for our collective and individual health much more difficult. During the past year I learned to prioritize my health and the health of others because true wealth is found within the people we love. It is the love we have for one another that has prevailed over hate or sickness, and it's because of prioritizing people over profit that we have seen the rise of mutual aid and solid support for "socialist" programs like PPP, stimulus checks. the Oregon workers relief fund, Unemployment Insurance, etc.
To come out of a crisis, whether COVID or racism, it is the people loving and caring for people that will get the change done. Now I more deeply understand the importance of removing myself from spaces that do not have a praxis that matches my values. The importance of moving to connect with people and teams centered on common values and grounded on restorative and affirming practices feels like a no brainer now. This is also true for organizations, partnerships with other organizations that share similar values, serve the community in a more equitable and just way than if values are disjointed.
After 2020 I no longer look for a bright future, I make my present worth savoring and for that the people you are with are everything.
Katy Brooks, CEO/President, Bend Chamber
Biggest lessons: Responding to a crisis takes a well-coordinated effort. While there was some early scrambling as Central Oregon leaders and organizations tried to provide information and assistance, we all learned pretty quickly the value of achieving much more through collaboration.
Personally, the isolation is a big reminder on the value of actual in-person relationships and the importance of staying connected. This year has felt like I'm a plant that is way under-watered. The long-term lesson for me is to nurture relationships—this is what makes life so much fuller for me.
Riccardo Waites, CEO/Founder, Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly
Personally, the biggest lessons I have learned is that there are people in power positions that truly want to make change. There are those that smile and say the right things and those are the ones that need to be ostracized. The ones that want the change simply just do not know how and thus allow fear or manipulation by the opposition and fail at what they really want to do. This is why we are trying to be a buffer for change.
How have those lessons changed me? It has made me even more hungry to succeed. More hungry to create programs that unite us all. It inspires me to push forward no matter what for all of us. 'We are all in this together' is so cliché. So monotonous. But it is also righteous. It's also the way we win.
Dr. George Conway, Deschutes County Health Services Director
It is both relieving and a reflection of the work of science and public health across the world that, a year after we recognized our first local COVID case, we are vaccinating residents to protect them against COVID-19. I want to recognize our county staff and community partners who worked tirelessly to adapt, to respond, and contain the pandemic. We thank residents who have sacrificed so much this past year for the safety of all. We know that many have:
• Missed holidays with family members
• Postponed special events
• With kids out of the classroom, balanced virtual learning with remote work
I encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated when it is offered to them and to continue taking precautions, like masking and avoiding large gatherings as we move towards herd immunity.
Derek Sitter, Owner, Volcanic Theatre Pub
I learned that I was not mentally or emotionally equipped to soak all this shit up this past year. All the closures, isolation, global pandemic, deaths, grief, sadness, election drama, riots, hate, division, memes and the lack of human-connection and self-expression are not ideal circumstances for a bipolar artist...or anyone. I could handle the financial burden of having Volcanic closed. I was not prepared for the loss of connection, honesty, integrity and live artistic expression.
How have those lessons changed me? I have become more present. I was forced to become more present. Self-awareness and presence of mind is absolutely necessary for me. I must live with a level of uncertainty as well. I thought I had this...but I got complacent. So, I'm becoming more peaceful. I'm better equipped to deal with myself and any shit that might come along. I've learned to express myself in different ways and stay productive. I've also learned to be grateful for what is here...now. There is happiness. There is always hope. I have my family, health, friends, art and my business. I'm doing good and looking forward to a better and different future. My daughter is my strength. She taught me that things are always OK and that people are generally good. Breathe and Take My Meds.
Dr. Jeff Abasalon, Chief Physician Executive and COVID-19 Incident Co-Commander for St. Charles Health System
For me, the past year has reinforced how fragile health and life are, and how fragile our lifestyles and livelihoods can be in the face of uncertainty and change. It has also really highlighted great opportunities for growth, both personally and socially.
How have those lessons changed me? They've allowed me to acknowledge how much I value the uniqueness and differences of each individual, and how much I have really missed spending face-to-face time with friends and loved ones. Certainly, I will cherish such time in the future.
Amy Warren, Co-Founder and Executive director, Kôr Community Land Trust
What I've learned over the past year:
• Survival of the fittest is not bigger, better, faster, stronger. It is the ability to adapt.
• It is better to have three dollars than 50 pennies. Friends are the same and COVID made that very clear.
• Every challenge is an opportunity for change. Often change comes with positivity and beauty.
• I LOVE THIS COMMUNITY! Kor's first homeownership community thrived through 2020 because of the incredible community support we received. I was/am humbled daily.
• I love hugging people. It really sucked not to.
• Although I have discovered digital meeting efficiencies that I will incorporate into my work life, the value of human connection cannot be undervalued.
• The social and economical effects of COVID are not equitable. I recognize my privilege.
• The right to vote is so important!
• The need for affordable housing in Central Oregon has never been more dire.
• How it has changed me:
• I drive a lot less.
• I spend a lot more time with my daughters and I am so proud of how they have navigated the past year.
Stewart Frichtmann, President, BELLATAZZA
Personally, I am very committed to the well-being of our community. With the added stress of COVID-19, and economic woes associated with owning a hospitality industry business, one would think philanthropy would have been the last thing on my mind. Since we have no funds to donate, me and my team of 'do-gooders' engaged in a dozen projects that took little to no money to pull off. Water For Warmsprings with COBLA, Pandemic Partners Smoke Shelters, Feeding Fire Refugees.... I took the available hours I had that otherwise would have spent working on business matters and directed those hours to people in much deeper need than I was. Deeper need than anyone could possibly imagine unless you've lived it or seen it first hand. I guess I am proud to say I saw my deepest belief in rallying behind our most fragile citizens to rise to the top. When there is nothing to obfuscate your essence, you learn what is at your core. And on the other hand, I am tired of streaming movies.
Professionally, is an odd one as it ties very much so to our politics and the way our society views local business vs publicly traded companies. Small businesses have been decimated. We have seen an endless stream of support for Bellatazza. Folks standing in line to ensure we come out on the other side, still standing. People who literally bought thousands of dollars of gift cards knowing there may not be a day to use these cards if the pandemic were to have lasted multiples of years. Here we are, a year later and thanks to the PPP, Deschutes County, our community members in City Council, COIC and others bringing constant news to small business owners about what funds were available. Our community worked hard to keep Main Street Bend afloat.
Then, there's the folks who make the statements about "free market" dictates and all these businesses should have been left to collapse. Those individuals would have rather allowed for an entire collapse of hospitality and all the impacts that would ripple outwards, likely leading to a full-fledged global depression. We are all connected, Main Street and Wall Street, Bend, Oregon, and Brooklyn, New York. We need to recognize this and make plans for our next pandemic. With 8 billion people on the planet and transcontinental air travel, it will happen.
When the next pandemic hits, we have two massive concerns we should have well ironed out in advance. Shutdowns, lock downs should have money already planned for relief for those businesses impacted. We need to have payroll met, loans/rents/mortgages either paid or suspended. Businesses need to be able to keep the money flowing to staff so staff can pay rent, mortgages, etc.
When it comes to the medical aspect of the next pandemic, I am afraid we have handled a few things very poorly. We have shown that pandemic-based orders/rules/laws have little to no respect other than to those who understand the importance of adhering to said mandates for the sake of the greater good. We saw coffee houses and restaurants willfully disregard the mandates. They did so for one of two reasons: Political or financial. Political also had a subcategory of disbelief that the virus was real or the thought that their science was better than the WHO/CDC/Peer Reviewed Masses. When the next pandemic hits, we will see MORE of these financial and/or medical problems that will lead to a potential disaster if we don't address it now. Imagine if we have a plague with the mortality rate of Ebola, Small Pox, Bubonic Plague. What we have shown our business community is they are welcome to stay open and apply whatever their political or medical belief is at that moment that serves their need. We need the financial element to be pre-solved so that's never an issue. We also need teeth in the Pandemic Mandates that will ensure people and businesses adhere to the order so we can get things under control.
Imagine what would happen if a coffee house went maskless as it was their constitutional right to do so. Imagine that and finding that place to be full of people who also exercised their constitutional right to gather in the way they saw fit. Imagine what would happen if that was 30% of the nation. Imagine what would happen if that 30% behaved that way for a year under conditions like the Bubonic Plague.... so they could make money and exercise their rights.
We have shown those folks that those behaviors are OK. In my book, it's not. We need to put community health and well-being over the prosperity of a business while also ensuring that business and its team is supported to come through on the other side.
We have shown a massive hole in our societal thinking that needs to be addressed. Maybe after COVID30 with a mortality rate of 30%, we'll understand.
How has it changed me?
Well, I've blown past putting on the COVID19 pounds that people talk about. I'm well into COVID21 pounds. As for internal changes, I hold an enormous amount of gratitude for all the people who rallied together to make Bend safe and livable. I am awestruck with the number of people at the Deschutes County Vaccination Center, where I also volunteer. More than a thousand people were needed to help make vaccinations happen on a mass scale. That call was put out and answered in days. We have a great community, but the level of selflessness when asked to help has been enlightening. My connection and level of gratitude to strangers helping strangers doubled in size.