We Survived 2020 & We Will Thrive in 2021

It is official 2020 has ended and we are in the second year of a new decade. As each day begins with a sunrise, each new year begins with hope and promise. We don't anticipate the trials and tribulations, nor do we know how strong, brave, and powerful we are as we persevere to reach another year and new hopes and promises. I was blessed to end 2019, start 2020, end 2020 and begin 2021 in the beautiful continent of Africa. In 2020, I celebrated the New Year in the West African city of Accra, Ghana as part of the Year of Return and 2021 in the East African island of Zanzibar, Tanzania as part of a personal renewal of mind, body, and spirit.  A lot has happened between December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2021.

We officially launched the Diaspora Collective on February 29, 2020, by throwing our first-ever event, a Diaspora Collective Dinner Party where we shared our favorite food, music, and memories from our trip to Africa with friends, family, and neighbors. It was an amazing night where most people were strangers to each other but connected during the night over a common experience, sharing new foods and discoveries about a continent most knew very little about.

By March, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic and experiencing a lot of unknowns. Wear a mask or don't wear a mask? Leave the house or stay home? Visit parents or friends or don't visit them? Lose a job or keep a job? How do I not get sick? How do I stay alive? How do I protect myself and my family? We had more questions than answers as our norms were disrupted.

 In May, we soft-launched the Diaspora Collective website to celebrate Africa and the African diaspora. We spent the next several months updating the website and working on a business plan to launch the business in the middle of the pandemic. In September, with the help of so many friends, family, and expert advisors we launched the website and social media.

By July, we were all in the middle of a summer of racial awakening after several fully televised killings of unarmed black people. It is every black and brown mother’s nightmare that their child is brutally murdered. We have talks and pray without ceasing in hopes to avoid this fate for our children and this nightmare for ourselves. It was the awakening of a pain that was always there for us, there is danger outside our doors for our black and brown children at levels significantly higher and more damaging than they are for their peers. It doesn’t matter if they are the child that has done most things “right” or the one that has not, the danger is the same for both of them. It was the awakening of the pain of trying to explain the unexplainable to your friends that wanted to know, help, and understand and the realization that you have people in your circle that don't care and prefer to live safely in their privilege. It was an awakening of the realization that we have progressed from physical dungeons in slave castles, shackles in slave ships, and bondage across the world. Although we have progressed and are living free, occupying spaces our ancestors dreamed and prayed for, and leading businesses and countries, we still have work to do to be fully free. We as a people have to connect to our roots in Africa and our fellow members of the African diaspora to use our collective power to drive the change we need and demand the lives we deserve. We have to hold all of the leaders in power, and ourselves to do and be better. We owe it to our children to give them a world that sees them and values all of who they are and what they have to offer.

In August, it was a year since I left my corporate job at PetSmart and ventured into entrepreneurship, teaching, consulting, and pursuing my Ph.D. It has been a multi-year journey to be okay not continuing to do what I know because it is comfortable and financially prosperous to venturing into spaces that are more unknown and less certain financially but more purpose-driven. As a teacher, there is nothing better than seeing the light go on in a student when you say does this make sense and it does to them. As a continuous learner, I love learning new information and applying it in my life, but I have questioned the pursuit of a Ph.D. many times- usually when a paper is due. Although when I think about my uniqueness as a contributor to academia and the business world, I keep moving forward. Starting my own business is the scariest thing I have done so far in my life. It has been a one step at a time faith walk and I suspect that is what it will continue to be. I have a vision but the path and provision are not clear, so I take the best next step each day and trust that tomorrow's best next step will be clearer tomorrow.

In September, I celebrated a milestone birthday.  I turned 50 along with several of my closest friends and a few of my favorite celebrities. Although, the celebration was different than planned my family made me feel special and loved. All of my children were home, the ones that I birthed that are joined by blood and the ones that are connected by love. All of my best friends and family were either at my house for dinner or joined a zoom call to sing Happy Birthday. It was how many celebrated events in 2020, smaller circles in-person but still connected to those that are most important to you. I found that the intentional nature of connections was never more important than in 2020. No matter if it was making a phone call, sending a text, dropping off a gift on the doorstep, or meeting with a mask to let others know that you were thinking about them and that they were important to you. I also found that I valued each day that I woke up more in 2020. As so many people lost their lives to COVID, police brutality, mental illness, cancer, and other illnesses, I found a new appreciation and sense of purpose in making the most of each minute, hour, day, month, and year that was given to me.

In November, we celebrated the 25th birthday of my youngest son. It was one of the first birthdays in many years that he wasn't in a locked facility. We celebrated with family and friends on zoom and he was healthy, engaged, and appeared happy. He is a living breathing miracle and proof of God's grace and mercy. We celebrate every moment that he is alive and rejoice even more when he is alive and well. A few weeks later he was spiraling in the wrong direction. We always hold on to the moments when he is well as hope for what can be. Mental illness is a real issue and we are not well equipped as a country to care and provide for those suffering or their families. I am encouraged that more conversations are happening and people are encouraging each other to nurture their mental wellbeing. Nevertheless, there are too many barriers to access to quality care and too little compassion for those in need.

In December, the last month of the year approached and it was a time to reflect on the year and prepare for the next year. My husband and I decided to travel to Dubai to spend Christmas with our oldest son and spend New Year's in Africa, the same continent we started the year. We were both excited and nervous about traveling in the middle of a pandemic. We took all the necessary tests and precautions required by the airlines and the countries we were traveling to. There were so many reasons to cancel the trip from the pandemic to my youngest son not being stable, back to the pandemic. As I sit on the patio of our hotel in Zanzibar on the 1st day of 2021 writing this, reflecting on the time spent with my oldest son, listening to the waves crash on the shore and children joyfully playing on the beach, I can’t imagine not taking the trip and being anywhere else. I fully recognize how blessed we are to have the finances, time, and privilege to choose to travel during this time. I also recognize that many will think of it as unessential and a risk not worth taking. I think all of those things are true but today I am grateful for the moment and praying for God’s grace and mercy to protect us as we travel and return home. I don’t know why I was so compelled to travel, but I was and there were so many lessons learned over the past few weeks that I hope will be valuable to me and others in 2021.

As we participated and observed the different holiday traditions of my son's friends and their families while we were in Dubai, I realized that although we all have differences some things are common and universal. Connecting with friends and family over the holidays is universal and so important. Music and dance is a great connector, as evidenced by American, Irish, British, and French families dancing joyfully to Aretha Franklin’s Respect and trusting each other as we held each other up as we leaned back and spun in a circle during traditional Irish dance in a living room in Dubai. Hopefully, we will all be able to return to gatherings and connecting in person versus virtually in 2021. 

Africa is still the most beautiful continent I have visited. The food, culture, and people are amazing and their stories have not been fully told. The people and descendants of the continent have achieved and influenced so much despite many barriers. The people and descendants of Africa have so much more opportunity to impact the world and are stronger as a collective working together to maximize our individual and collective potential.  Africa and the African diaspora are connected in blood, history, and destiny.

Humans have perpetuated atrocities and human suffering across the world in the name of religion, to retain power, and for financial gain. We visited the slave castles on the cape coast of Ghana in December 2019 and traveled through the door of no return, the door of return, and stood in the slave dungeons. You could feel the spirit of the souls lost there and the spirit of those that survived the journey because their spirit and blood was in us as we walked through the door of return. Although there were no expectations for them to return, we brought them home as we returned to Africa. I felt that same spirit as we visited the slave dungeons in Zanzibar. It is our job to ensure that this type of atrocity does not happen again, while we honor and respect our ancestors that survived and those that didn't by living a purposeful life that exemplifies light and love and not darkness and hate.

There is always hope and love always wins. It has been a difficult 2020 with some ups and downs for most people. I have observed that people are resilient and resist not having hope for a better tomorrow. I have observed that most people want to be loved and valued for who they are and wealth and richness are not measured by stuff but the quality of life and relationships. We spent a day in a village in Zanzibar and by American standards the villagers were poor but they don't live by American standards. They have their families, food, love, purpose a spirit of joy, and richness of life that we all long for. We observed the same thing when we were with members of the Maasai tribe during our trip to Tanzania in 2019. The biggest lesson I have embraced is that living an authentic and rich life with joy, love, and purpose is a choice that we make every day. So, as we prepare for 2021 let’s choose to thrive and live life with joy, love, and purpose no matter what the year brings.