I was blessed as a young girl growing up in the nation’s capital to have parents, although divorced, who shared their wisdom as lessons to help me maneuver my way into adulthood. One edict my father reinforced every time I left his front door could not have been more instructive or defining for me nearly 40 years later.

He would remind me to make sure I always had $1.00 and one quarter tucked away in my pocket or wallet. (I can imagine many of you nodding your head as you read this.) The dollar was for bus fare and the quarter allowed me to use a payphone. It was my emergency cash, stashed away separately from my spending money and meant only to be used in case of an emergency. As a single woman, the older I got, the more he reminded me (and the more money I needed) while subtly reinforcing what also became his mantra, “If it is to be, it is up to me!”

My dearly beloved father is no longer here, yet 26 years since his death, his words stay with me as if he spoke them just yesterday. And throughout 2020, his wisdom directed me all year long.

2020 has been a heck of a year – one that will shape and redefine how we live our lives forever. We entered 2020 with genuine optimism as most new years do, providing space for us to reflect over the past, give thanks for the present and maintain hope for the future. Yet, the ongoing reality of economic inequality, social injustice, educational inequities, health disparities, and a never-ending political circus kept us distracted, as it always does, and unprepared for the emergency that loomed ahead.

Individuals and corporations alike were ill-prepared for what 2020 would bring. The Washington Informer was already facing threats of economic decline like so many other media companies across the nation. The advent of digital media transformation essentially meant a migration by advertisers to digital platforms that we had yet to perfect. Ad dollars were drying up and we were not moving fast enough to keep up with the trends.

Still, we had local and national elections to cover – one of the most important in U.S. history – and we needed to ensure that our readers in our communities were counted in the 2020 census.

Meanwhile, we witnessed our fellow Americans, and the world, being chased down by an unknown yet deadly virus that would lead to the nation being shutting down within the first three months of the new year.

Like so many, we pondered the impact of this pandemic before being labeled as such. And, in which pocket, I asked myself, did I tuck that dollar and that quarter? Because of COVID-19, there was nowhere to go, so our resources were used for emergency calls and outreach to our advertisers and friends to let them know we were still in business, ready to serve them and willing to do more to help ensure their health and survival. We also issued a call for help because we knew that emergency cash might not last long.

We are grateful to those who came through and helped sustain us while we waited in line for government-supported PPP and EIDL loans. And, we fiercely applied for grants, winning a few that allowed us to keep our team intact.

Media lives for dramatic scenes and we saw many of them this year. We covered the demonstrations following the wanton killings of young Black men and women by police and by members of their communities. We covered long lines of early voters who ousted President Trump and elected the first woman, the first African American, and the first Asian American vice president. We covered the bodacious renaming of a portion of 16th Street to Black Lives Matter Plaza by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. And we were there for one of Rep. John Lewis’s final moments as he stood next to the mayor, Wakanda-style, continuing to lead the charge for racial justice. We also covered the rise of millennial thunder by the Don’t Mute D.C. movement facing down gentrification. And we sadly said goodbye to far too many who died this year.

The dramatic scenes that truly impacted us included our coverage of hundreds who stood in long lines for food, paper goods, including toilet paper, and disinfectant germ killers. We also captured students’ mournful faces who could not return to school and the confused visage of each parent trying to deal with distance learning while worrying about losing their jobs and realizing $1.00 and a quarter were not enough. We captured the glaze of more than one overwhelmed nurse and front-line workers who put their lives on the line day after day in efforts to keep the rest of us safe, healthy and alive.

2020 taught us a lot but the biggest lesson was the need to prepare today for the next emergency that will come tomorrow. 2021 will be much better, I hope!

Denise Rolark Barnes photo

Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper in 1964. The Washington...

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