Communities Need Bold and Decisive Leaders Right Now

Mar 18, 2020 12:00:00 AM

by Chris Stewart

Tough times reveal all you need to know about the soul of good people.

This is coming into focus for me as the nation buckles down under strict “social distancing” measures in response to COVID-19, an extraordinary viral pandemic that is disrupting our routines, breaking our social connections, and closing down our shared spaces. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t prepared to suddenly have our general sense of safety turn into mass insecurity.

Get used to it, experts tell us, this is the proverbial new normal. “It will get worse before it gets better,” they say.

It looks like my cardinal question has become more pressing now than ever before. How are the children? Are they eating? Learning and playing? Are they finding ample space to simply be kids even as their schooling and social lives have been chilled? 

Or, is our collective anxiety becoming theirs?

In times like this, we look to the top for comforting words and believable plans. In that regard, we’ve been out of luck. I’m not supposed to say it, but the national leadership has politicized the greatest challenge of our lifetime, further dividing us along political lines and pushing us into the clutch of hollow nationalism. 

Unfortunately, until recent days the president and his nationalized news network have done too much to minimize the danger of COVID-19, which has paid dividends in misinformed Americans (some who are entrusted with public safety). 

But, while the never-fatigued propagandists have abused the public trust, [pullquote]Americans at all levels have stepped up to address the cascading problems confronting us.[/pullquote] The good people have rolled up their sleeves and supplied us with equal doses of pragmatism, competence and the essential commitment to a higher calling. 

Governors are doing their part to fill the debilitating national leadership void. While they make tough decisions to close schools (and businesses) they’re also ensuring families aren’t cut off from utilities and that unemployment isn’t shattering their households. Like California, many states are quickly providing guidance and funds to schools in support of distance learning, meal delivery, childcare and special education. 

Many districts are working to address the barriers to online learning for students who fall into the digital divide. 

Baltimore has made its learning materials for all K-12 grades available online (including gifted and talented, and newcomer). 

While districts like Denver Public Schools initially decided to treat school closings as an extended break, their neighbor, Jefferson County Public Schools, quickly worked with educators to create schedules, materials and resources that continue students’ learning with the least possible disruption. They have predictably encountered challenges, but they have shown a commitment to working through it.

Even with closed doors, schools across the country are still providing meals for students who would otherwise go hungry.

Educators are easing the fears of families by generously volunteering their time, providing grade-appropriate learning resources, and teaching home-bound kids they are not paid to teach. More than anyone else, they are acting as the voice of calm.

And, parents, they are doing the damn thing. They are creating social media groups to exchange desperately needed tools, tips and resources with each other. 

We are all learning how to live in the “new normal,” together, in the absence of leadership from the highest levels.

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

Chris Stewart

An award-winning writer, speaker, and blogger, Chris Stewart is a relentless advocate for children and families. Based in outstate Minnesota, Chris is CEO of brightbeam, a nonprofit media group that runs campaigns to highlight policies and practices that support thriving kids. He was the founding Director of the African American Leadership Forum, was an elected member of the Minneapolis Board of Education, and founded and served as the CEO of Wayfinder Foundation. Above all, Chris is a serial parent, a Minecraft enthusiast, and an epic firestarter on Twitter where he has antagonized the best of them on the political left and right. You’ll often see Chris blogging at and “tweeting” under the name “Citizen Stewart.”

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