A New Normal

For nearly a year, we have been impacted by incredible challenges stemming from a global pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their livelihood. Our St. Louis region has not been immune to any of these struggles.

I’ve been reflecting on the “new normal” we’ve been living the past year. Many have transitioned to working from home. For parents, living rooms have turned into virtual schools and daycare. Instead of Friday night gatherings and outings, we’re connecting with our friends and family virtually. Shaking hands has become taboo, and wearing a mask is now standard procedure. Some experts say it will still be months and maybe even years until we get back to our true normal, something many are longing for.

But as I look ahead, I am reminded that a return to normal means something different for far too many in our region. For people living in poverty, normal is having to choose between feeding the kids or paying rent. For many families, normal is living paycheck to paycheck and never knowing when a single emergency could put them on the brink of homelessness. And, for people of color, normal typically means facing systemic challenges and everyday inequities.

This is a normal that impacts nearly 400,000 children and young people in our region because of their socioeconomic status. In this normal, 43 percent of the families in our region struggle to meet all of their basic needs like housing, utilities, food, transportation, and medical bills.

We are all anxious to get back to the normal things that return us to face-to-face interactions and after-work drinks with friends and co-workers. But what if we created a new normal – one where every child and young person had the tools and resources to reach their potential, where every family was on stable financial footing, where the ZIP code you are born in is not an indicator of your success in life. What if we created a new normal – one that takes an inclusive approach and gives all people in our community opportunities to succeed and thrive?

By working together, we can create a region that is safe, prosperous, and healthy for all our neighbors. I know this is possible through collaborative and forward-thinking efforts. It will be a long road, but we can start by listening to each other, seeking understanding, and building partnerships that lift up all of our community. When we stand together and work as a team, we position our region for a stronger tomorrow. 

Michelle Tucker is president and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis.

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James Taylor
James Taylor