Beauty For Ashes: The Powerful Truth This Crisis Has Taught Me

I'm thankful for the beauty we've found among the ashes.

Her Voice

Morning fell, and I rolled over to the exaggerated movements of my baby. Twisting and turning, he stretched and yawned. I stared at him in amazement that he was flesh of my flesh.

Five months had passed, and I was still in awe of my body's ability to create a living thing.

Eventually, he opened his eyes – locking them with mine before smiling the type of smile that made my heart sing. Today we took our time. There was no rush to hurry him off to his grandmother's before I scurried into the office. I would skip the parts of my day where mom guilt taunted me for leaving him and bypass daydreams of real time kisses that came before 5 o'clock.

He sat between my legs as I grabbed my laptop and logged on to work for the day. I smirked at his captivation as my finger strokes quickly pecked away at emails and instant messages.

A calendar reminder sounded off and my husband walked in. His usually stern face showed forth a wide smile as he rhythmically danced toward the bed, winning himself a laugh from our son. "Hey big boy!" he proclaimed to the baby. "How's daddy's man?"

My husband swooped up my son ready to take over his shift as I logged on to my conference call. I loved him more for it. He was a present help, a partner – the type of man I was proud to have a baby with.

Kandice Guice

The sun was flowing into our room. I looked at its rays illuminating everything it touched as I whispered thank yous to God for more time with the people I love.

Today my husband was home, free to help with the dishes and the baby. He was knocking out tasks around the house and periodically checking in to see if I needed anything while I worked. This was a pleasant change from the weeks before.

We'd both been busy with life. It may have been hormonal, but I'd missed him in passing. The heavens seemed to notice, reimbursing us with time.

I took call after call. Although I was handling business as usual, it felt different. There was a sense of compassion oozing through each conversation. We worked but something about the circumstances made us all a little more human and a little more bound together – even if we lived hundreds of miles away. "Excuse the background noise," our VP said in response to the sound of his son rumbling around in the background.

Oh, he has a son, I thought, realizing that there was more to him than the persona we carry of those in high positions. He was a person like me with a son who made occasional background noise while he was on important calls. How cool? How…human?

A manager sent out a funny picture that started a dialogue. Next, a colleague sent a picture of his workspace, the splendor of majestic mountains visible in the background.

We were learning little pieces of each other. Bonding together in ways we'd never tried before. I liked it. I liked them. I loved work more.

The day had been good. Homemade lunch with family and a strong finish to some projects. The sun was still smiling, inviting us outside.

Kandice Guice

"Let's go for an evening walk!" I proclaimed to the baby. His juicy bubbles spurting everywhere as I imagined him responding that the walk was a great idea.

Even outside was different. "Look at the families," I whispered.

Husbands and wives were planting gardens together. Sisters were drawing intricate chalk art in their driveways. Grandparents were listening to music as they sat on their porches. Young couples did workouts from their garages. It was as if we'd all slowed down enough to do the things that mattered most. They too were reclaiming their time. Neighbors I'd been too busy to meet waved with friendly smiles and through a simple walk, I felt the love of community.

As was a part of my usual custom, I logged into Instagram. My brother had created a group named "siblings". I chuckled at the cute and corny title, happy that all of us had a new space to check in with foolery.

Again, I was thankful. However slight, this was the beginning of a closer connection to my loved ones.

Next was a video chat with my dad. We hadn't always seen eye to eye, but we'd always found our way back to each other with renewed love. He made funny faces at the baby as he switched between calling himself pop-pop and granddaddy. Multitasking, I cooked dinner as we discussed baby milestones and cracked jokes. His laugh was contagious, and I was just as giddy about our time together as I'd been as a little girl during summers in Alabama.

There are more stories like these. They are moments that will be forever etched in my mind – a silver lining to the fear and devastation caused by COVID-19. Though I cannot minimize the effects of this virus, I cannot ignore the restoration, healing and renewed hope for humanity it has brought along with it.

Kandice Guice

It is visible all around us, sweeping over our lives in the quietest ways – begging us to be still enough to see it.

Fashion designers are shifting production to protective medical gear. Grocery cashiers and postal carriers are now everyday heroes. Old friends are mending odds. Young people are serving the elderly. Medical professionals are risking it all to save us all.

Even through death we are learning a new appreciation for life and the importance of legacy.

Like everyone else, I am praying that God will heal our land. But in the meantime, I am thankful for the healing power of COVID-19 and the beauty we are receiving in exchange for ashes.

Wherever you are in the world. I see you, I acknowledge you, and I send love to you. Your story may be light-years away from mine but no matter the difference we are all in this together, navigating a new world. I hope that during this time you find the time to love yourself and those around you a little bit more. I hope for you healing of your mind, body, and soul - a rebirth that elevates you like never before.

Featured image by Kandice Guice

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.


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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