Growing up in rural North Carolina, my family preached a universal truth about Southerners: We don’t like being told what to do.
Over the last year, for better and worse, I saw that truth play out in council chambers, gatherings and in countless conversations within the community.
On one hand, I’m inspired by the independent resolve fully on display this year. I’ve witnessed community members rally in support of hospital workers, unprecedented charitable acts in a time of economic hardship and many doing what was asked of them by public health leaders without any sort of mandate.
In other ways I’m dismayed by an unwillingness to adapt that has resulted in thousands of deaths and record-breaking unemployment. If anyone told me they navigated 2020 perfectly, I’d consider them a liar.
Still, seeing the community I care about so divided and struggling hurt the most — more than any specific vote or poorly planned action ever could. Each and every vote taken by our local councils seemed more consequential this year, and the divisions within the community seemed harder to overcome.
Stories I actually enjoyed writing were few this year, replaced by updates on deaths, flooding, economic fallouts and political infighting. No amount of personal attention, salary, new subscribers or professional success from something I wrote would ever be remotely worth the pain captured in those stories as our community suffered through a horrible year.
Even as the stories got harder and harder to write, I was motivated to document what we all went through in 2020 and advocate for better solutions. I imagine many of y’all reading this column think we in the local media didn’t do enough this year. To others, we were likely seen as over critical or too dogmatic about the pandemic.
I certainly understand both sides here and I regularly lose sleep thinking about how I could have better served my community over the last year. While this mentality might not be great for my own mental health, the concern over my role as a reporter emerges from a place of deep love and understanding for the people of the South — a region I have always called home.
The concerns and complaints and fears I heard from y’all in the community were the same I expressed in conversations with my own family. My family worried about the economy, about freedoms, about the health of our fellow citizens and if we’d be able to make it through the toughest of times we’ve faced.
Yes, Southerners don’t like to be told what to do, but if you’re going to tell us something, be honest and consistent and admit when you were wrong. Don’t blame others or outsiders for your own faults. I try to uphold these values each and every day while also realizing I regularly fall short.
In my opinion, many of our leaders, regardless if I agreed with them or not, didn’t clearly communicate what was happening in the early days of the pandemic nor why decisions were being made in the months that followed.
Poor, misleading or haphazardly produced information often leads to us southerners stubbornly taking the wrong side.
Masks requirements changed, statements from earlier in the pandemic directly contradict what those same people are saying now, the public wasn’t given as much access to government meetings as during the normal times.
It’s hard to list all the ways our community changed based on the choices we collectively made, but I think we all know we are different than we were 365 days ago.
The current death total from COVID both at the statewide level and nationally show many mistakes were made by more than one group. To a degree, we all have to answer for that, but some of us with larger platforms will deserve the lion's share of the blame.
In fairness, it was hard for all of us to know what we were doing during the early days of COVID-19, something like this had never happened in our lifetimes. But thankfully, this story is far from over and we still have many chapters of it to write.
Soon our elected leaders will have to make tough budgetary decisions and continue to respond to a pandemic. The rest of us will have to decide how we will conduct ourselves until the vaccine is readily available.
I hope the lessons of 2020 carry into 2021, sparking a renewed interest in transparency and open decision making, and a drive to stand-up for the most vulnerable in our community.
Let’s turn the stubbornness of the South into a drive to unwaveringly advocate for the best community for all. Governments clearly change their minds often and on short notice, but the independent and resilient spirit of our community as a whole has endured floods and plagues at this point and will endure whatever comes next.
That gives me a lot of hope, and I hope it does for y’all too.
See y’all in 2021.