It was around 4pm, on March 20, 2020. Teleworking was getting the best of me and I was tired of watching the news. I decided to be a true southerner and smoke some ribs. After all, it was 75 degrees on a Friday and I was quarantined. I walked out to my deck and that’s when I heard a noise—the sound of laughter. It didn’t sound like a person or two having a conversation; it was more like waves of laughter.
At first glance, it seemed like my neighbors had decided to buck the CDC and have a block party. But at a closer look, my neighbors (three very diverse families—Asian, Indian, and an interracial marriage) had seemingly found a way to build community in a crisis. On both sides of the street, adults sat in lawn chairs in their respective driveways facing each other. At the halfway point, there was a table of beverages for the adults, and next to it a cotton candy machine. One by one, they took turns coming to partake and then back to their respective huddles as their kids played in the nearby grass. Tubs of Lysol wipes and sanitizer lined the end of the table.
Besides team video calls on Zoom, it was my first sense of witnessing community since I ordered my team to telework. That and sending pictures of what we were eating, our makeshift desks, and Netflix recommendations felt like the most community I would see in a while. I was grateful—it reminded me of what normal did and could look like once again.
After all, the virus even seemed to shut the church down. Or did it? My church, which is predominantly an older demographic, has never streamed and was now using streaming services. Bible study, which often caps at two dozen parishioners, now had 85 on a virtual Zoom meeting. Conversations about dealing with anxiety and holding the faith seemed to distance us, if but for a moment, from the present situation.
Then, the nation exploded. The murder of George Floyd unearthed the failures and fractures of our society that continue to divide communities. In fact, his death seemed to be the boiling point of injustices that had been simmered and fermented by the arrival of COVID-19. In the days that followed, civil unrest seemed to bring out the best and worst of humanity.
Yet, I watched as community rose from the ashes once again. It rose in the form of churches, families, and friends banding together to clean up and repair businesses that were damaged by rioting. It rose when a client told me that she left a dozen gloves outside her door for the delivery person—who was just trying to make a living. It rose when corporations that were wilfully silent in past years decided to speak up on behalf of marginalized communities. Some may argue that these corporations only acted to protect their interests, and that may be true. Nonetheless, the impact on Black-owned businesses that have never had access to capital is clear. In these moments, I witnessed America become “great again.”
But isn’t this what disaster does—makes us pause and be empathetic? The question is will the terrible scourge of disease and violence ravage our economy, livelihoods, and daily routines enough to make us reset?
The soul of America is found in doctrine, no matter how flawed. It’s in history which is being defined daily. Imagine if we ascribed to the values of our preamble, “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Imagine the impact on our daily interactions.
I do not know if this moment is a fluke or not, but I know one thing for sure: COVID-19 and civil instability threaten to tear the fabric of our society and the larger world apart, but they could just save the soul of America.
Corey Briscoe is a Managing Partner & Chief Operations Officer at ABCD & Company in Rockville, Maryland. You can visit his Twitter page @ccbglobal to see more of his thought leadership or contact him via email with inquiries.