Gimme a Break - How COVID-19 & Racism Forced Me to Stop.
Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate New Professional
June 30, 2020
The last social gathering I was a part of was a plane ride back to Philadelphia on March 6th, 2020. I was on my way home after a successful ACPA20 Convention and my extroverted self was ready to rest. Per usual, I was pushing myself to my limits, signing up for all groups, meeting all the people, and doing all the things (all the while, telling people to take care of themselves). I accepted the fact that my stuffy nose would turn into a head cold. Luckily, spring break was the following week and I could use that as an excuse to lie down. Yes, you read that right - an excuse to let myself have a break.
On the last day of my cold, I was given the news that my university would be closing for the rest of the semester - one of the first campuses in the United States to make the call. Still tired out from the conference, I apathetically shrugged it off, “Really? Isn’t it a bit early? Oh well”. But then the worry set in - would my graduate assistantship continue? What would I work on? How would I finish my degree? What else is shutting down? Am I going to get a job?”. And then, much like the rest of the world, I just waited to see what would happen next. What now?
I am a planner. I am the firstborn child, a Virgo, and my top StrengthQuest is competition. COVID-19 shutting the world down was both my nightmare and a blessing in disguise. My Bachelor’s is in Public Health and I slowly saw both of my passions in the world crumble. I was alone, scared, and unsure. So, after wrapping up my degree from Zoom University, I decided this was my time to reclaim. I started doing activities to realign my passions and help me get through this tough time.
Here are three things I did during COVID-19 that would normally have me screaming:
I took my time getting ready in the morning
I established a routine. I wake up, make the bed, wash my face, change my clothes (I’m a night shower-person, okay?), make breakfast, and take a sip of coffee. AFTER that first sip, I listen to news podcasts. Besides stopping my alarm, and finding what to listen to, I do not touch my phone for a good hour before I start to work. It’s been wonderful and I find myself ready to go for that first 9:00 AM meeting.
I started meditating again
I like meditating, I really do. But in the hustle and bustle of things, I realized I used the techniques to fall asleep more than anything. I now make it part of my routine - after the news but before work. I found an app that gives me lessons and it makes it feel like I’m learning a new skill more than I’m forcing myself to not think. Instead of sleep, I now find myself doing a few of my exercises before I write the email I’ve been staring at for a few minutes, or before I pick up the phone for an interview!
I read for pleasure!
Grad school really sucked the life out of this one. I kept wanting to read the newest NY Times Bestseller but every time I went to start, I had a pile of readings to get through for class, or my eyes hurt after typing an essay. With some time after graduating, the first thing I did was read a book by my favorite YouTubers (because I am a child). I laughed, I cried, and I left inspired - I actually got the morning routine idea from the book!
Finding the hour to start my day in the morning and the ten-plus minutes to meditate and read throughout my day made me feel so much better. I had things to look forward to, I had new ideas from informal learning, and my new skills let me take a step back whenever I needed. The world could throw anything at me and I would smash it! I was ready for my next challenge.
Or so I thought.
The next social gathering I was a part of was the protest that took over downtown Philly as the city processed the death of George Floyd and many others before him. Mere miles away from my apartment, a peaceful march from the Art Museum down the JFK Parkway towards Center City turned into chaos. Individuals broke the windows of City Hall, set police cars on fire, and ran through heavy retail areas. And that was just Day 1.
I, a spectator more than anything, sat on top of half-wall of Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building (where the Frank Rizzo statue once stood) across the street from City Hall. Frozen in time, I reflected; I am a biracial individual - half Latin, half white. I grew up with my white side of the family and never felt “Latin enough” to be vocal on certain issues. That day, it didn’t matter. My partner is white. He gets annoyed with the stares we get when we’re out in public, but I have become numb to them. That day, I felt every stare burn into my body. My mom was overprotective to the point I felt trapped. But that day, I understood why she tried to protect me so much. I, with all my privilege, still felt and still hurt and I didn’t even deal with a fraction of what the Black Community has dealt with on a daily basis.
Once we got out of Center City and back home, my partner and I talked at length about the things we could do. Donate, protest, educate, serve, share information - something to do our part. Exhausted yet again, I turned to my new routines and activities to help:
I take my time getting ready in the morning
I still hold to my routine, but I became more intentional about where to find my information from. I prepare my day with the most up-to-date happenings before I log onto anything. I make it a priority to know my stuff and to help disseminate the information and stories people need to know.
Like many individuals, I had myself a moment. I got too into my own head about what the world has come to and how I will face the same discrimination my mom and her side of the family has faced for years. And then I thought about how that discrimination pales in comparison to what others face. Meditating makes me recognize my thoughts but lets me go on to tackle my day.
I am very blessed that I had a graduate program grounded in social justice. I started reading entire pieces that I was assigned selections of. I recommend Paulo Friere, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Robin Kelley to start.
There are many thoughts spinning in my head as I wrap this up. I recognize I have the privilege to walk away from the news and current events while people face it every day - whether COVID-19 as an essential worker, or a person of color trying to survive. I have the privilege to prioritize my self-care. I have the privilege of being educated. But I try every day to check those privileges, to better myself, and to educate myself on the matters that need attention. I hope you do too.
Author: Alex Schmied (she/her/hers) is a recent graduate of West Chester University’s Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs Program and serves as one of the NGPS KC Communications & Marketing Co-coordinators. Alex loves all things Philly, food, and fun. Feel free to connect: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexschmied or Instagram: @ads_sap