Op-ed by Dr. Bobby William Austin
President of Neighborhood Associates
It is common in times of crisis to focus on the struggle to care for those nearest at hand, and to try to weather the storm. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is no exception. What resources of resilience, care, and common purpose do we possess right now that allow us to see beyond today? How can we affirm a public dedication to all the circles of community we inhabit together?
Yesterday, April 22, marked the 50th observance of Earth Day. The quarantines that have affected so many of us have contributed to reduced air pollution, animals roaming freely down once-crowded streets, and cleaner water. It is a sign of what might be; nonetheless, it is surely temporary.
What happens when stay-at-home orders lift and our world begins moving again? Will our relationship to the natural world go back to normal?
This is where the concept and practice of Public Kinship come in, especially where it intersects with the environment. We are seeing some signs — small yet vibrant -- that our planet can be better — and we are also seeing how communities are mobilizing to advocate for the healthy world we deserve.
Through Public Kinship and the development of strong communities, we can make a difference at the micro-level with garden projects, exercise, healthy eating, or we can appeal to the leaders who represent our communities to fight for change on the larger scale. The value shift is already beginning to take place: instead of working for others, we begin to work for ourselves, for our families, and to make our communities a better place.
As a species, and as a world of often contentious nations, races, religions, and cultural and economic priorities, we have been humbled by the impact of this virus. We pass by shuttered businesses and inaccessible playgrounds. We worry about our own futures and those of our children and neighbors. We struggle to know how to help — how to make our own impact and difference. Let us not forget that everlasting part of society that truly matters: each other.