What gave you hope in Washtenaw County in 2020?

At the end of the past three years, Concentrate has asked our staff to weigh in on what they're most excited for in the coming year in Washtenaw County. 2020 has been rife with upheaval, of course, and even with a COVID-19 vaccine rolling out it can be hard to predict what might come next for our community.

 

So this year we thought we'd take a look back to celebrate 2020's bright spots instead. We've chronicled numerous stories of resilience, innovation, and solidarity in this year of challenge and crisis, so we asked our staff: What gave you hope in Washtenaw County in 2020? Here's what they had to say.

 

The following views are those of the individual writers and do not necessarily represent Concentrate as a whole.

 

Emily Benda, innovation news writer: As arduous as 2020 has been, many people and their resilience have given me hope throughout this year. A2Zero and its work to develop a 10-year plan for Ann Arbor to reach carbon neutrality, in particular, has inspired me and reminded me that we have to plan for life post-COVID. Ann Arbor’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030 seemed like an ambitious goal when it was first announced in 2019. Now, with a pandemic upending so many people's lives, it feels especially bold. However, A2Zero and the community have been dedicated to moving this initiative along, knowing this isn’t something that can be pushed back a year.


Since November 2019, A2Zero has held multiple community engagement events to discuss action planning and hear public feedback for becoming carbon neutral in 2030. Here, local students plant flowers as part of this community engagement campaign.

In the process of developing the plan, the A2Zero team had to quickly adjust to working remotely, move community engagement events to virtual platforms, and still present a proposal by March 31. Later in June, Ann Arbor City Council passed A2Zero's proposed 10-year plan. Ann Arbor's perseverance in this journey to carbon neutrality has brought me hope and makes me optimistic for what the city can do in the next nine years.

 

Doug Coombe, managing photographer: While November's election results seem to pose the threat of continued gridlock in Washington, D.C. next year, local elections and political events this fall made me hopeful about the prospects for judicial and police reform in Washtenaw County. Eli Savit successfully ran for Washtenaw County prosecutor, inspired by the national progessive prosecution movement. And the Police Reform Academy collaboration between the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and the Washtenaw chapter of My Brother’s Keeper will look at criminal justice reform in Washtenaw County.


Police Reform Academy cohort member Justin Harper and Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

With Washington gridlocked, a lot of progressive change seems to be happening at the local level and working its way up to the national level from there. Sadly, Washtenaw County does currently suffer from the same racial inequities in the justice system that are prevalent throughout our country. Here’s hoping Washtenaw County can help pioneer a more racially equitable justice system locally and, ultimately, nationally.

 

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder, innovation news writer: Last April I wrote a piece about local service industry workers' efforts to gain solidarity and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a privilege to speak to some of the most compassionate people I've ever encountered. Each person I interviewed was humble, selfless, and understood the importance of community. And each was worried. Both on and off the record, they shared stories of personal concerns.


Nathan Coleman, head chef at Ann Arbor's The Last Word, hands out Service Industry Family Meals at LIVE in Ann Arbor.

What moved me in those instances was the grace with which each person put other community members' needs above their own. When I filed the article, I did so with a sense of hope for Washtenaw County. It was very early in the pandemic and many things were uncertain. But I felt confident that the solidarity and compassion our local service workers expressed bodes well for our community – both during COVID-19 and beyond.

 

Patrick Dunn, managing editor: Widespread, sustained demonstrations for racial justice gave me hope both at a national level and here in Washtenaw County this year. I reported for Concentrate on one of the first protest marches to happen in Ann Arbor after George Floyd's death, but protests also happened in Ypsilanti, Chelsea, Dexter, and Saline. Protesters' specific visions for how to solve the many issues at hand may have differed, but they sent a clear, urgent message of readiness to grapple with a lengthy national history of injustice.


Protesters march through downtown Ann Arbor.

While the marches may have ended, I've been heartened to see that the conversations they started are continuing. As Doug noted, county voters expressed clear support for Eli Savit's reformist vision for the county prosecutor's office. Events like this fall's "Getting Real About Race" forum continued to facilitate dialogue and craft a community vision for what racial justice looks like here. The task is great, but county residents of all walks of life rose to it this year.

 

Sarah Rigg, On the Ground Ypsilanti project manager: What gave me hope in 2020 was the work the Washtenaw County Health Department did this year, not just in combating COVID-19 but also identifying racial disparities in the county and calling out racism as a public health issue. The health department was ahead of the curve in contact tracing efforts, gearing up their team to reach out to potentially-infected residents before the statewide network of contact tracers was up and running. Well before the pandemic came to our county, health department staff were also addressing community needs through the Community Voices for Health Equity team, a program that solicits ideas and advice from the residents most impacted by public health issues.


A nasal flu vaccine is administered in the Washtenaw County Health Department parking lot in Ypsilanti.

The United States' leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says public distrust of public health entities and initiatives can be countered with transparency. That's another area where our county health department has done a great job this year, from explaining how contact tracing works to sending out multiple advisories to the press every month with updates about COVID-19 cases, testing sites, and even a study that provided COVID-19 data by ZIP code and race. Their hard work makes me hopeful about what's to come in 2021.

 

What gave you hope in Washtenaw County in 2020? Share your own thoughts in the comments. Happy New Year!

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