Focus On: Stafford Thomas

Lessons I Learned From This Pandemic 

For one, we know that this dreadful virus has put our routines and expectations for 2020 on hold.  Our priorities have been readjusted and aligned with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the virus has taken so much away- a staggering loss of life we have not seen in our history in such a short period of time.  It caught us off guard and we were stunned by its brutal force while being forced into quarantine for as long as the government directed us. In the meantime, they readied tests, ventilators, PPEs and made seemingly daily legislative orders which were implemented with the aim of mitigating both the spread and impact of this virus.  We know and are actually experiencing our belief in real time- as each day we are closer to Covid-19 becoming a tragic bookmark in history when we say, “Remember in 2020 when….”  And while we will never be able to regain all that was taken from us, it seems that we are prepared to do whatever is needed to ensure that we are not impacted in the same way again.   In fact, as a nation, we’ve done a respectable job of doing this as the closest comparison of such a plague would be found in 1918.  Whereas, we have had a major protest regarding race relations and societal injustices just about every other year going back to 2010.  We seem to be far more efficient and effective at implementing lessons learned from a disease outbreak than those outbreaks of unrest based in societal injustices (and we’ve only created one of the two).  Lesson #1   

The outpouring of support for our healthcare workers, rightfully so, designating them as heroes and the constant flood of images projecting caring individuals and positive uplifting tweets is something you could not escape in the past 10 weeks.  This truly unique experience, well when I was growing up on St. Croix, everyone would shelter in place during a hurricane for days- without electricity, but other than that, I cannot think of another time in the past 44 years where every American had to do the same things at the same time, for anywhere near this length of time and for the same reason.  Other than the state and location of your dwelling, there was complete inclusion in how we had to behave on a day to day basis.  We were similarly situated in our existence and dare I say bonded by this.  The constant reminders and feelings of when this is over we will so cherish our time together and treat everyone with a high degree of respect and decorum warranted by our fellow man/woman/child.  Indeed.  Just to get out in the sun again or gather at a restaurant.  “Mom, if you get me the Nintendo/Playstation/iPhone, I’ll never ask for anything again”.  Ever.  Yep, that seemed to capture the mood of this country as “phases” were inserted into our lexicon.  Well, only days into our reopening we had plenty of quick and vivid reminders that the pandemic might have changed our lives during the past 10 weeks but some of our beliefs, feelings, and prejudices seemed to return as quickly as, well a reflex.  Almost like it never really left us at all.  In fact, what is endemic in our society will always eclipse a pandemic(again, we’re only responsible for creating one of the two).  Lesson #2 

We were distracted for a good part of this pandemic with the blame game of the origins of Covid-19 and the national and local critiques around levels of reactions/preparedness.  However; during this political football game, we heard little from actual chemists or biotech companies but we are all very confident in our belief that a vaccine will be developed sooner than it takes for most viruses.  Many would guess by this time next year for sure.  In fact, raise your hand if you would be shocked if we are forced into distance learning on March 11, 2025 due to Covid-19? 

Well, we did our part in “flattening the curve”, the summer weather will help out and even though a second wave is on the horizon, we will either have a vaccine or we can always quarantine for at least 8 weeks right?  We’ve basically done 10 and we know it’s temporary.  So it is possible that we could eradicate a virus, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century,  that we have known for a mere four months within four years.  A virus- the explanation of its intricacies and functions is something  that is reserved for a select group of individuals who traffic in the upper levels of the medical and science fields for the most part,  but we are all somehow clear on what our collective action needs to be in order to “flatten the curve” and combat its spread.  Hmm.  Lesson #3 

Every single one of us knows what it is like to be made to feel less than by another person.  We all know how to find the identifying traits of people, to then attribute sameness as it’s easier to group them in that manner, and finally to attach with intent to harm or not but at least know the terms ascribed to a group of people that if acted on, would make them feel, well, less than.  In terms of race, that started here in 1619.  What do we do today to “flatten the curve” when it comes to race relations in our country?  It’s a problem that’s existed in our country for over four hundred years.  Well, we have to identify the basic actions and techniques we will all have to enact to flatten this curve.  Since we have all done our part recently to flatten the curve- a phrase we weren’t familiar with prior to March- and did so religiously whether we were symptomatic or asymptomatic, why are we choosing to instead come out of quarantine and immediately remind everyone that the insidious feelings associated with discrimination should be primed for a spike?  “Flattening the curve”, was a lesson in creating and retraining our brains by practicing methods to form new habits-well over 30 days-in order to cope with a dangerous situation.  A situation where you would not know simply by looking at someone whether or not they are infected.  But we did it.  For our part, when it comes to the treatment of people, wouldn’t making sure that you treat everyone with respect and not dance on the line of whether or not I could be offending them, be a way to flatten this curve?  That is erring on the side of caution or I should use the reinvigorated term of,  with an abundance of caution I will follow practices I have listened to, learned and heard so as to not place myself or anyone else in jeopardy.  During the pandemic, we did a lot of listening without judging and certainly without prejudging.  Well, we did at first, remember- “This is just the flu.”, oops. However, when you see the actions of people in extreme pain and justifiably angry but now coming together with a diversity in the protests we haven’t seen since the 60’s, I certainly don’t remember this representation during the turbulent 90’s, across this country, it gives us hope.  Hope is something that is at an all time high right now, in terms of the pandemic but at its nadir in terms of our views of justice and a peaceful coexistence as a nation.  Hmm.  Maybe we need to, come together regardless of background, listen to and hear one another and not judge- with some hope sprinkled in, you know, like we did for Covid.  Lesson #4         

No more lessons.  I am 44 years old.  I am a black man.  I’m actually fifty percent Italian but I learned very early on that to try and explain that to someone based on my appearance would take longer to do than writing this letter every time and it’s not worth it.  I am proud to identify as a black man so I’ve come to terms with that minor detail which is unique to our history.  But I do not know what to make of what I am seeing every night.  I cannot lecture you on what is happening or why or how anyone should feel.  The images that made me the most fearful-they were not the worst or most graphic and I am not attempting to rank each of the horrific images or stories we have borne witness to recently, regarding the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.  You see, sadly I have seen horrific incidents very similar to these just about every year spanning decades.  However; what I have not seen and what was additionally upsetting to me was the March 26th  “Please, put your dog on a leash; – I’m going to call the police and tell them there is an African American man threatening my life”, incident in  Central Park; coupled with so many divisive and forceful comments being carelessly aired for consumption in a country that is severely injured and already divided.  Where does it stop?  It just seemed to be some next level act of aggression committed by a citizen in a somewhat casual manner and a great deal of talk about using force by our government officials, to which I felt powerless or perhaps unfamiliar with these vivid exhibits of power plays I guess is the best way to describe them, in my life experiences. It is okay to be confused, angry and afraid, all at once sometimes, and not know what to do. However; we cannot remain in this state; paralyzed or indifferent, hoping it will go away.  We do that, and we’ll be right back here again, claiming as I have heard many times, statements that racism ended once Obama was elected.  We’ve been there and here already folks and we must know at a minimum, at the very least, what not to do(do no harm), then what we can do to bring about change and ultimately what we need to do in order lead a group or community or even a nation out of this quagmire.  Kind of like what we are doing now as we try to diffuse this pandemic.   

You see, in my first year here at Staples, we had uncovered or more accurately, it was brought to my attention some areas that were in need of improvement.  Work that needed to be done by our school community.  We identified the work that needs to be done around including students of color but not limited to as other groups shared the common feeling of being disenfranchised. We were working on the roll out of our Diversity Month events when the pandemic hit.  Upon our return we will certainly be ready to address what we were getting started on.  Flattening the curve and working towards creating a healthy and safe environment for all of our students.  All of them.  Perhaps the lessons learned from our time away, is that we were forced to see- no distractions or sporting events, movies or shows- the need for all of us to take responsibility, to identify our individual bias, we all have them to then listen to what can hurt or harm and with an abundance of caution, choose to do no harm, flatten the curve or lead the way to make sure that all aspects of our school are free from injustices present at our level-the vaccine of sorts.  There is so much right with this country and there is even more right with Staples, but we need to get to a point where when an issue is revealed that can negatively impact us as a people, we feel the immediate need to collectively take action to eradicate the issue.  Kind of like what ……. 

One final statement, I hope we have all had the time to reflect on life a bit lately and realize that life is precious.  It is also hard enough on its own simply because there is so much that is out of our control, as we don’t know when the next virus will appear for example.  But what about that which is in our control.  Let’s take control and make up for the time we lost with each other in a fashion where we go to school each day with a goal in mind.  Kind of like what the teams of scientists around the world do every day in pursuit of a common goal which will make all of our lives better.   

With a heavy heart and a ton of hope,  


Stafford W. Thomas, Jr. JD 


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