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Inspiring Women Share What 2020 Taught Them About Gratitude

A gentle reminder that every "L" isn't a loss.

Workin' Girl

It's a wrap, y'all. Can you believe 2020 is almost over? We have officially entered my favorite season of the year which, for many of us, between carving out more time to spend with our loved ones for the holidays, closing the company's books for business owners, and doing all sorts of things to get ready for the year ahead, can be a hectic time. It's also a time during which there's massive self-reflection going on—contemplating the months that have just passed, positive and negative events that have occurred, what has gone well and what hasn't, as well as determining the actions that we can take with the intent to make our futures better.

It's no secret that this year has been a bit...'unplanned' for lack of a better word. Unplanned in a sense where I'm sure none of us wrote down "surviving a pandemic and aggravated racism" on our goals list for 2020. But also in a sense where, despite the terrible things we had to go through and the many challenges we had to face, somehow I've seen the world express a lot of gratitude all along—if I dare to say, more than usual.

How and why is that? Well, this is a conversation I've been lucky enough to have with 4 incredibly resilient women that walked me through some of the hardest battles they fought this year, told me about what these difficult times taught them about gratitude, as well as what gratitude means to them.

Niekiha (Nikki) Duncan, 30

Courtesy of Niekiha Duncan

Graphic Designer, Creative Director, Blogger & Tattoo Shop Owner

When January 2020 rolled around, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. While vision board parties and "New Year, new me" talk surrounded me, I felt uninspired to plan anything. Buying a planner wasn't in my intentions, neither was setting any professional or personal goals. I felt lost about what I was doing and where I was going.

The main obstacles I faced this year all revolved around my own need for personal and emotional growth.

I, like many other women, have a tendency to try to control anything and everything around me. But times like these forced me to face the fact that no matter how hard we work on avoiding bad things from happening, in the end, rare are the times when we truly have the final say.

Confronting my own issues wasn't easy. I think it's fair to say that human beings have a hard time to admit that maybe the root of the problems they are facing in their lives actually lies within them. The process of holding myself accountable, dropping the excuses, and prioritizing my own journey was my biggest obstacle—but also my biggest reward.

I think that, as women, we tend to rush the "feeling like ish process" during hard times. Personally, there were times when I've navigated tough storms and found myself in a hurry to feel better.

Meanwhile, rushing into positivity often silences our ability to heal and suppresses a lot of necessary healing. Growth happens during hard times. Reflection is possible in moments where everything else is stripped away.

It wasn't until mid-March that I became more intentional about setting some personal and professional goals for myself. I remembered my wish to dive deeper into doing creative direction and graphic design for female-centric brands, and I acted on it. From there, the vision I had for my future became clearer, leading me to achieve major life goals that were previously nonexistent, such as creating and launching a physical planner plus a lifestyle brand focused on celebrating multilayered women in pursuit of self-improvement, self-love, and purpose. Today, unlike last year, I'm happy to say that I'm looking forward to 2021.

Finally, if I had to define gratitude, I would say it requires mindfulness; allowing yourself to pause from time to time and reflect on the journey. It's finding a balance between appreciating your growth, owning your past, and desiring to have more.

Follow Nikki on Instagram: @dailybynikki.

Akima Byfield, 28

Courtesy of Akima Byfield

Healthcare Operations Manager

This year challenged my mentality on a level I didn't see coming and was not prepared for at all. It took a toll on me as there were many crying and unhappy nights. All that I longed for financially happened and it turned out I was more unhappy than I was when I didn't have it.

At the end of each year, I purchase a new journal to dedicate my thoughts and goals for the upcoming year. On December 31, I spend an hour and a half before the new year to jot down any and all things I would like to see come into fruition. In 2019, I envisioned many things scaling from mental, emotional, physical, and materialistic means. I also prayed for a new position which I was able to accomplish with the help of the Most High.

I manifested a salary increase of $34,000 which placed me as the first African-American and youngest Operations Manager in the company's history.

I've learned that although it may be easier to bask in the negativity, we should put work into finding the positive just so we can be reminded that every "L" isn't a loss. Quite the contrary, most of the time, it's a lesson. That what is meant for us will be ours, at the time that is destined for us. To be happy with ourselves and our situation, we must appreciate ourselves and all that we've previously overcome.

Follow Akima on Instagram: @_akima

Robin Allison Davis, 36

Courtesy of Robin Allison Davis

Producer (Documentary/Multimedia)

What has this year taught me about gratitude, you ask? Well, I've learned that if we take the time to look around, we can see that no matter where we find ourselves in life, beauty still surrounds us and small wins do matter.

I began my year undergoing my last reconstructive surgery after a 1.5 year battle with breast cancer. I didn't have too many goals for 2020, to be honest; my main plan was to get back on my feet after a trying and difficult two years. However, life threw me a curveball during the summer. To be honest, I believed nothing could be as bad as what I already went through.

It's hard to explain the roller coaster that 2020 has been. I'd had a very tough two years going through my cancer journey virtually alone considering I'm a single American expat living in Paris, France.

Shortly after my reconstructive surgery, France went into its first round of lockdown due to COVID-19. Knowing that I was vulnerable because of my medical history, I strictly adhered to the rules and never left my small studio apartment for the entire eight weeks during which we were required to stay home. It was a joy to be healthy and have my own space to keep myself safe. But when I visited my doctors for my follow-up appointments after they lifted the lockdown, after multiple tests and yet another surgery, I was told that my cancer returned—more aggressively. I'm currently going through chemotherapy as I'm writing this—not quite the end of the year I had imagined.

It's shocking to find out that you'll be battling cancer twice in two years. It's even worse when the reality hits you that due to the pandemic, you have to go through your treatment alone, without family or friends able to fly over to help you recover.

Mentally and emotionally, I felt broken. Yes, I'd done this before but never had I had to go through it in a time where I'm not allowed to reach out to a friend for a hug. Breast cancer can be an extremely isolating experience and the COVID-19 made it even worse.

I don't think I'm well-placed to give advice on how to maintain a state of gratitude. I'm still on my journey and it's even more difficult than I expected it would be. But maintaining a positive attitude is one of the most important things I can do to win my battle and aid in my recovery. One thing that I try to remember is to be kind to myself. If I'm not where I need to be mentally, I may be the next day or the day after.

With all of that being said, even with everything that has happened this year in the world and to me personally, I'm not willing to say that 2020 is the worst year ever.

It's not an answer you would expect from someone going through cancer treatment, but what I'm most grateful for are my health and my body. I've gone through multiple surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy and so much more, but I'm still here. My body is still fighting and in most moments, I feel completely fine—although exhausted. I made the conscious effort to not hate my body for my situation, but to encourage it to continue the fight.

Follow Robin on Instagram: @robinista

Chantel King, 29

Courtesy of Chantel King

Content Creator

From the beginning, 2020 was getting the best of me and weighing me down, both on a mental and emotional level. It felt as though everything that I worked for was being taken away from me one by one.

First, it was my 10-year relationship. Although the breakup occurred a few months before we entered this new decade, I was still trying to find my way back to myself and heal my heart when the year started. Then, during the summer, there was that one week that completely K.O.'d me and turned my life upside down: My best friend and I parted ways because of a meaningless argument, my other best friend, my 15-year-old dog Tigger, passed away the next day, and the day after, I got laid off from my 9-5 which left me with a brand new car note to pay off with zero income. Oh, and did I mention that not even a month after getting my brand new car, I got into a car accident that could've easily taken my life?

Until recently, that's what 2020 consisted of for me: Falling into depression, not having much to brag about whereas I pictured myself engaged, moved out with a new car, and working my dream career by this time. But I had nothing. And yet, I was still being grateful.

Gratitude plays a huge role in my life. It's what keeps me motivated. Not long ago, I started a concept called 365 days of gratitude. Every day, I make a list of the things I'm grateful for to help me get through my darkest days. Doing this taught me to find the simplest blessings in my daily life. Some days are tough, some others are sad, but if we find something to be thankful for, then the way we view our reality changes. It also taught me that, more than anything, life happens for a reason.

We cannot stress over what we cannot control; instead, we should find a way to fix things. Stressing does nothing but make us miserable. One of my favorite quotes is: "Do not dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." In other words, just because things are bad now doesn't mean they will stay that way.

The proof is, when I got laid off, I took advantage of my free time to hone my creative skills which include writing, all while networking during virtual events. That later led me to land a Social Media Manager gig with a renowned brand. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the position I am in today.

By pushing through. By changing your perspective, learning to accept, and letting go of things you cannot control. That's how you create and maintain a state of gratitude. Instead of saying, "Damn, I wish I could stay in bed," when your alarm goes off in the morning, say, "I'm so thankful to see another day."

Find the little blessings in life; they are there to remind you that you are doing just fine.

Follow Chantel on Instagram: @chantel.ciera

Featured image courtesy of Niekiha Duncan

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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