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Dec 28

Leaving 2020, Thankfully

Posted on December 28, 2020 at 1:54 PM by Melinda Mayo

With the close of one year upon us and the beginning of the next soon, it is customary to look back on the year just completed.  With 2020, it seems appropriate to look back with a sense of good riddance, but I want to leave 2020 with a proper sense of gratitude.  No doubt, it has been an historic year and one filled with pain and suffering for many. But it seems fitting with such a difficult year, to maintain the high road and depart on a positive note.

A Great Start

The year 2020 started off with great momentum and anticipation.  In my blog post this time last year, I highlighted the pending opening of Mast General Store, completion of the latest building at the Fralin BioMedical Research Institute, beginning of construction on Fire Station #7, and the start of a new e-branch in South Roanoke.  We were celebrating population increases in our City for the first time in decades, anticipating the opening of the Financial Empowerment Center, and beginning work on the largest playground in the City –a cooperative effort between the City and the Downtown Kiwanis Club.  With great anticipation, we awaited new events such as the Carillion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 and annual occurrences such as the Blue Ridge Marathon, Go Outside Festival, Local Colors, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and Dickens of a Christmas.  While not a perfect community, there was a lot going on and great reason to celebrate the arrival of 2020.

COVID

Then, of course, COVID arrived in March, delaying the opening of Mast General Store and resulting in the cancellation or postponement of just about every event we were looking forward to in 2020.  Sadly, accompanying these postponements and closures were hundreds of hospitalizations and nearly 100 deaths.  Early in 2020, it was clear we were experiencing a year unlike any in our lifetimes. 

But Still

Even with COVID raging in our community, progress continued. That e-branch in South Roanoke was completed and is ready to serve patrons. Mast General Store did eventually open and is a welcome addition to our downtown retail landscape. Fire Station #7 has progressed nicely with a planned opening in early 2021. The FEC is up and running, and providing free professional financial counseling to residents. And that playground opened and has already become a welcome fixture in the Northwest part of our City.  IRONMAN has been rescheduled and has already sold out, Dickens and Go Fest continued, albeit in reduced forms, and those other events will likely be back in late 2021 or certainly by 2022.  Perhaps most importantly, a vaccine for COVID is in distribution helping us move beyond the virus.  While most small businesses continue to struggle, with some already closing, we have seen an outpouring of local support unlike that seen before.  We continue to see new businesses open and new construction take place.  We continue to see flashes of the momentum that was in our community pre-COVID, indicating its continued presence and, therefore, hope that it may be regained once the virus is behind us.

And More

Perhaps most notable is that because (or maybe in part) of the virus, our City has begun to grapple with some of its most challenging issues: Racism, poverty, and violence. All received greater attention and more meaningful action than they have for decades.  Overt reminders of our racist history have been removed and new indications of what we can become have begun—first with the removal of a monument, then placement of a mural, then the formation of an Equity and Empowerment Board, and finally adoption of a Comprehensive Plan that places equity at its core.  This culminated in the election of the first African-American majority Council in the City’s history.  There remains much and difficult work ahead, but for the first time in a long time there is real momentum around these great challenges.

So, we can indeed look at 2020 thankfully—yes, thankful it is coming to an end, along with the virus and its damage. But also thankful that it appears we have been able to hold on to much of the momentum we had going into 2020 as we enter 2021, and thankful that this economic momentum is now joined with a social justice momentum.  If greater justice, equity, and stronger health and well-being are the outcomes of a crazy 2020, then perhaps all everyone has gone through will be worth it.  Here’s to 2020 and let’s welcome 2021!

--Bob Cowell


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