The threat of COVID forced me to look at myself and my role in the community in ways I hadn’t ever before.
On a warm night in early April, I picked up the phone to hear my sister’s frantic voice, asking if I knew anyone in New York City who could prepare a body. My great aunt had died of COVID-19, and we had five days to find someone or she’d be interred in a mass grave.
This was in my formal introduction to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. It wasn’t easy, but we found someone through a connection in Georgia.
The experience left me thinking deeply about my own life and the lives of my wife and children. My family, like many Black people, have comorbidities that would complicate treatment if we were to contract the virus.
As someone who prepares for emergency situations, I felt I was ready for this public health crisis when it began earlier this year. We’d stocked up on supplies and ammunition. I’d already been working from home for years, so that was no challenge. I even took on the role of primary educator, homeschooling my eldest daughter when she started kindergarten.
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What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the existential question of who I was. As someone who’s spent years organizing on behalf of my community, I could no longer go out to knock on doors, hand out flyers, and protest.
So many times in the past, when I’d don my protest gear—helmet, gloves, backpack with medical supplies, food, extra socks, and anti-tear gas solution—my wife would send me out the door with a kiss and an encouraging, “Stay safe.” But the stakes had changed. The ramifications weren’t just about me now. Going out into the streets to fight for what’s right—even amid historic protests after the police killing of George Floyd—could now endanger the ones I love.
This reluctance to go out made me question so many things. What would my community think of me? Was I abandoning people who needed me?
At a time when I was just beginning to feel my age in these spaces, I was forced to confront, all at once, a new place amongst my peers, making the gut-wrenching shift from frontline activist to educator and mentor.
Recently, I went to my first in-person protest in several months, led by the incredible folks at Wheels for Equality. The feeling was surreal. Many of those around me were literal children, riding bicycles and popping wheelies as we collectively held the space. Talking to folks, the contrast in ages and where we all were in life was striking.
I was suddenly the “old guy” at the protest but, surprisingly, it didn’t feel foreign. Rather, it felt like a role I had already grown into.
Prepping is about adaptability, facing new situations and figuring out ways over, under, or through.
This year, I’ve revamped my role to become more of an instructor, sharing the accumulated knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom, I’ve gained from both prepping and community organizing. I feel good about it. Better, in fact, than in my roles before. Sharing knowledge can be a revolutionary act.
I’m convinced that these skills, both in prepping and organizing, are about to be more needed than ever. So I remain hopeful going into this next phase of the disease, with vaccines on the way and new leadership, possibly more up to the task of protecting people.
The coronavirus pandemic has tested my adaptability and that of millions of others. I found my way by going into myself, discovering new truths and being open to where those truths were leading me. I’m hopeful for the future, but plan to stay prepared for whatever comes.