Speak Now with Columnist Maddie Raymond: Who were you before COVID?

Published: 4/11/2022 8:40:24 PM
Modified: 4/11/2022 8:39:13 PM

March 13 is Apocalypse Day. It’s not a holiday you’ll find on any calendar, but it means something to me. It’s the day the COVID-19 pandemic ended the world as I’d known it for my previous 15 years of life. Though I’d heard about COVID in the news, known then as the coronavirus, I had no concept of what would happen to me. I considered it just another mildly terrible world event happening somewhere far away. Then I went to school on March 13, 2020, and something felt deeply wrong.

The lights seemed too bright, and the sky out the windows was too dark. But I wasn’t afraid yet. I was more annoyed that my school hadn’t given the call to close down for two weeks the way others in the area had. I was tired of school and thought I could use a two-week break. I had no idea two weeks would turn into two months, then two years. I would never be the same.

But this isn’t a COVID article. There have been so many of those, speculations on how bad it would get and when we’d get back to normal that I scoured endlessly through those dark first few months. Yet for me, I came to realize that there wouldn’t be a return to normal. Even if COVID ceased to exist today, the person I was before the pandemic no longer exists. Before COVID, I was a sophomore in high school, brand new to my school and struggling to balance harder classes and rebuilding my social life. I was still figuring out my sexuality, and viewed the world through much more sheltered eyes. Like so many others, COVID awakened me to the realities of our world under racial capitalism. With George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, I committed myself to learning about the systems that operate in our society and how they’re functionally stacked against people who are BIPOC, poor, disabled, LGBTQIA+; anything that is sideways of the status quo.

By the time you all get this article, I will be 18 years old. A full legal adult, and so far removed from the kid I was. Before I was forced into social isolation by COVID, I wasn’t an activist, and even now I hesitate to label myself as one. But now more than ever I believe in the possibility of change. COVID-19 has taught me that the only constant thing in life is that nothing is constant. When the pandemic was at its worst, I went through the darkest time of my life. Cut off from my friends and activities, I looked forward to sleeping each night and dreaded waking up. Yet at the same time, I was able to separate myself from what my peers thought and find out what I really wanted. I was able to educate myself on how to dismantle white supremacy and then offer my perspective through writing when I was ready. Without COVID, I probably wouldn’t be here writing to you all every month. The one certainty from these past two years of pandemic fueled chaos is that I am not the same person that I was before.

Normally, this would be the part of the article where I tell you folks what to do in the future. I’d give you some action items, and send you off. But for this month, I want you to look back. Think about who you were before COVID. What’s changed? So many of you have come to me saying I have opened your eyes and gotten you to use your privilege to help dismantle white supremacy. So many of you have participated in social justice movements for the first time, and cast a critical eye on how society works. For that, I want to say I’m proud of each and every one of you. These past few years haven’t been easy, but we are still here and we will continue to be here because that’s what we do.

And I’m proud of myself too. This isn’t something I say often, but as adulthood approaches I think it’s about time. You all have gotten to watch me come of age through these articles, discovering myself as I educate you all on what I’ve learned. I still have some time left before I go to college, but I thought I would thank you all now and tell you to keep at it. This social justice stuff, it’s tough. For us white people, it’s a lot of unlearning, of sacrificing, of forcing ourselves to be uncomfortable. But it is so necessary. We didn’t ask to be given these privileges, but we must do what we can to even the playing field for everyone else. So I ask you all to keep centering BIPOC in every space you can. Keep redistributing wealth and keep participating in mutual aid. Keep going to protests, and keep educating yourselves about the systems in society. Keep striving to change for the better, just as you already have these past few years. This dismantling of white supremacy is a lifelong process, and probably not one we will finish in our lifetime. But so much has changed already, and I believe more is to come. I believe in us.

Maddie Raymond, who lives in the hilltowns, writes a monthly column.


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