Through it All, I Remain Hopeful

By Gordon McHenry, Jr., on December 23, 2020 | In Statements from Leadership

As we close out 2020, which, for many of us, can only be described as one of the most challenging years of our lifetimes, I remain hopeful for what lies ahead in 2021 and beyond.

At United Way, we began the year looking forward to making progress in preventing people from being evicted. We saw signs of very positive progress in our quest to ensure that community college students got the assistance they needed to remain in school and focus on their studies. And thousands of people in our community filed their taxes and got refunds with the help of volunteers in our Free Tax Prep program.

Prior to COVID social distancing guidance, United Way was hosting Family Resource Exchanges, providing access to basic needs, services and referrals all in a single location. United Way front-line staff were present, along with staff from some of our non-profit service providers, volunteers including board members, stakeholders including local elected leaders all present with neighbors in need.

Having all parts of United Way directly connected to the community and seeing the appreciation and hope of those receiving services was incredibly inspiring. And we had plans for many more Resource Exchange events in 2020.

A once-in-a-century event, however, temporarily derailed our plans for the year. The coronavirus pandemic struck the region with brutality, making people sick, some fatally, and forcing the state and local governments to shut down major parts of our economy.

The result has been disastrous. Hundreds of thousands have been laid off, and many still can’t find work. People who were living paycheck-to-paycheck found themselves unable to pay rent or put food on the table. The recession hit Black, Indigenous and other people of color the hardest.

Amid this health and economic crisis, we witnessed the ongoing injustice of police involved violence against Black people with yet another brutal killing of a Black man by police officers. George Floyd begged for his life as a white officer set his knee on Floyd’s throat for a long, eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Floyd’s murder brought the racist legacy of our criminal and police systems to the forefront. Protests followed. Violence erupted. Our nation burned, outraged by systems that refuse to reform themselves, even in the face of a man begging for his life.

Our nation and our region suffer from a legacy of racism. Even having discussions about racism is usually challenging. At United Way, we see the results of systemic racism in the disproportionality affecting persons of color in areas such as homelessness, food insecurity, graduation rates, income inequality and other areas. 

While our community is on a long journey to alleviate those injustices, at United Way we are centering on our work to change systems, both internal and external. But the road to racial equity and justice is arduous and difficult for many, as we reflect on the simmering inequality that is still present in our society.

Through it all, I remain hopeful. Hopeful for the upcoming year and beyond.

What gives me hope is seeing how our community has stepped up to help in the face of the enormous economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.

More than 3,300 people have donated to our Community Relief Fund to provide rental assistance and food relief over the last few months, and more continue to give.

Many of our supporters set up their own fundraisers. Corporate partners, local governments, organizations and many others recognized the severity of the crisis and donated to try to meet the needs of the community. Thankfully, we surpassed our fundraising goal for our fiscal year, which demonstrated the generosity of our community, and will provide additional resources to the increasing number of people who need it.

During our on-going year-end fundraising effort, the number of people who have donated some of their hard-earned money to help our community has increased by nearly 50% over last year—and that figure is growing daily.

We live in a community that is compassionate, generous and responsive to calls for action: the exact support we need as we struggle to survive the pandemics of racial injustice and the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The support we and our non-profit partners are receiving in the most challenging of times gives me great hope that we will survive the pandemic and make progress in the long journey toward racial equity. We look forward to working with our region’s communities of color to create an inclusive equitable economic recovery that results in a region that is truly just for all residents.

The United Way team, from board members to front-line staff, eagerly support leading with racial equity—learning about racial injustice, strategies and tactics to undo racism and taking action, individually and collectively to eliminate racism in our community. I’m proud of the courage, focus and enthusiasm at United Way to be a leader in the pursuit of race and ethnic justice.

I look forward to the new year with renewed strength, focus, and, most of all, hope.


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