Back in 2019, I traveled a lot for work. I lived out of my carry-on and slept in hotel rooms almost 200 nights out of the year. In a typical week, I never cooked, rarely had more than two nights in a row in my own bed, and ordered a lot of takeout. Now, not only can I recommend my favorite restaurants or attractions across Georgia’s seven major cities, but I’ve racked up an absurd amount of reward points in the process.
Being on the road constantly took a toll on my mental and physical health, especially as I worked to scale up the New Georgia Project, a non-profit voting rights and civic engagement organization, ahead of the 2020 general election. But the job was gratifying; the information, connections, and experiences were priceless.
I was spreading the word about the “New South," a major demographic shift that political scientists and demographers are calling the “reversal of the Great Migration." An unprecedented number of immigrants and African Americans are moving to the Deep South, particularly to Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs, so much so that the “New South,” where white Georgians will be the minority, will be here by 2025. I met with fellow Georgians in their own communities to hear why they may be hesitant to participate in our democratic system. Many were scared that what they had witnessed over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency would continue beyond the election, no matter who won. They felt as if their voices didn’t matter. Sadly, this wasn’t a surprise, given Georgia has historically been plagued by voter suppression.
For me, the start of 2020 was no different. I revisited some of my favorite hotels, rotated through my core set of “travel outfits,” and navigated through multiple food delivery apps, now a seasoned pro.
But soon enough, we began hearing about COVID-19 and the importance of physical distancing. My immediate focus was on protecting the health and safety of my team. We closed our offices and moved all our New Georgia Project employees remote ahead of state guidelines. Like most of the global community, we imagined this isolation would be short-lived.
As we know now, that remote work and isolation dragged on. One month turned into two, and then two into three. We brainstormed ways to continue to build relationships and have authentic conversations—so critical to our organizing—from home.
It was certainly not what I expected out of my 2020, arguably the most critical election year in my lifetime. But the year brought upon change that opened my eyes, allowing me to appreciate what had been right in front of me this whole time.
Before 2020, I lived in a dozen apartments in as many years—but I intended to change that. While pandemic-induced houselessness soared, I began contributing to mutual aid efforts, pressuring lawmakers to allocate resources to address the needs of our vulnerable neighbors, and started the process of buying my first house, which, as anyone who has been through the process knows, can be long and grueling.
As I navigated the process, I contended with the legacy and the impacts of redlining, the systematic denial of loans by the federal government and banks to Black people and those who lived near Black people. Our work to provide aid to Georgians in need brought me face to face with the connections between housing insecurity, poor health, employment, and education outcomes.
Even before the pandemic, this nation’s lack of affordable housing was responsible for aggressively perpetuating cycles of poverty and keeping millions from living to their full potential. This past year, I was forced to recognize what a blessing my house—the place that I eat, sleep, dream, Zoom, and organize from—is. I began to develop a deep appreciation for this house I call home, and a commitment to prioritizing “housing first” policies in my advocacy, organizing, and lobbying. Whether we are looking at the logistics of vaccine distribution or the impact that 12 months of virtual schooling has had on our nation’s students, our leaders must address the lack of affordable housing in our country. And they must do it now.
When I bought my home, I immediately wanted to take advantage of the backyard and create a garden. I’d been thinking a lot about how the planet has been feeding us since humanity began—especially since I will likely not be on the invite list to Earth 2.0 whenever Elon Musk commercializes space travel. Long before grocery stores and delivery apps, people were passing down the knowledge of how to plant seeds and grow food to eat. I planted fruit trees to start.
I decided on peach trees, the delicious stone fruit Georgia is nicknamed after, and apple trees. I waited, and I waited. Seasons later, well past the growing season, I still wait without fruit. But I am patient. I have a lot to learn in my newfound mini orchard, and I remain in awe that our earth has nourished people for generations. It’s essential that we do our part to protect this earth that we inherited, for future generations, for ourselves, and for our fruit trees. After this year, I am done debating whether or not extreme weather and climate change is an existential threat to humanity and the survival of the planet. It is—full stop.
My organization leads a campaign called the Black and Green Agenda, which organizes at the intersection of environmental justice and racial justice and prioritizes issues affecting those in Georgia’s rural and Black Belt—parts of the American South historically known for the dark, rich soil that anchored its agricultural industry and for the Black people that were once enslaved and who continue to farm this land. We work alongside community leaders to strengthen climate justice advocacy by engaging young voters and voters of color on the topic, listening and educating neighbors and building grassroots power to force the legislative, policy, and corporate changes we need to save our home planet. Our planet is the home that takes care of all of us, and it’s critical we take care of it in the same way it takes care of us.
Settling into my home and properly nourishing my body has also made me realize everything my body has endured over the past few years. This “consistent routine” idea that people kept recommending to me did make a difference. Shocking, I know.
Spending most of my life on the move had left little space for me to just be. It became obvious I needed to create boundaries. And now that everyone was stuck at home, normal working hours seemed to disappear.
My inbox was constantly flooded with emails. My calendar was filled with calls and virtual meetings from seven in the morning to 10 at night. I was even invited on MSNBC at four in the morning during the height of the January run-off elections in Georgia. The news truly never sleeps, and apparently, I wasn’t going to either.
With the elevated demands on my time and blurred line between work and home, things had to change. As Oprah Winfrey says, “Only people who love themselves have enough love to give to the rest of the world.”
So I found new ways to make sure I’m showing myself love. My body is my true home, and I only get one. It supports me throughout my life, the good and bad, and has carried me through some incredible days.
I am now comfortable turning off my camera for virtual meetings. I’ve set boundaries for work on the weekends. I do not sit at my desk 24/7. I get up and take calls from the dog park or chilling on the couch with my feet up. Doctor visits are a priority, and I’ve developed the language to speak up for my needs with healthcare providers—Black women are often overlooked by their doctors, and I’ve experienced it firsthand.
Not only have I put an emphasis on my physical health, I’ve also prioritized my mental health. I am an advocate for therapy. The time I’ve spent with a trained therapist has been invaluable and has helped me develop techniques to ground myself. It’s incredible what our bodies can do when under stress, but it’s unnatural to keep performing at an exceptional level when our bodies are under immense pressure. Advocating for social justice is not easy work. We are both powered and drained by the always-on nature of the fight for equality combined with a deeply emotional investment.
As I do this work, I take with me the lessons I’ve learned during the pandemic: The notion of Home is incredibly important and takes many forms. My physical house, my body, and this planet provide for me in ways that are beyond belief. 2020 gave me an appreciation for the necessity of Home that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
This story is part of ELLE's Lost and Found: One Year in Quarantine. Click here to read all the stories in this package.
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