This hasn’t been a normal year, and it isn’t going to be a normal Thanksgiving.
Instead of looking forward to family and feasting, many of us are listening to health officials begging us to avoid large gatherings, and we’re weighing the risks against our deeply felt desire to be with our loved ones.
Let’s be honest. 2020 has been a brutal year. Many are grieving the loss of loved ones. Many have lost jobs and businesses and the security they bring our families. Students and educators have had to learn and teach in new ways. Some struggle with isolation and others with forced confinement in uncomfortable or unsafe situations.
On top of that, we have all been let down by our national leaders, especially a president who played politics with public health — and is now trying to undermine whatever faith Americans still share in our democracy.
And still, Thanksgiving is here.
My faith encourages us to try to be thankful in all things. I think that may be most important during the hardest times in our lives. During a year like this one, I appreciate the wisdom of our having a national tradition of pausing to count our blessings no matter what else is happening.
Thanksgiving means family to me. I’m thinking about my 104-year-old grandmother, who has given thanks through periods of war, civil strife and economic devastation. I’m grateful for the lessons her life teaches me about commitment, calm, courage and perseverance.
I am also thinking about my children and my gratitude that this election gives me hope for their future. It renews my faith that together we can create a country that will give them every opportunity to follow their dreams.
Thanksgiving and nationalism can be mixed in unhealthy ways. Yet this year, I feel a special patriotic gratitude to live in a country where we are free to choose our leaders.
And I’m proud that Black people showed once again that we can shape our future by pushing back against the corruption and unprincipled power plays and institutionalized racism that are used to try to keep us from participating fully in our democracy.
I am grateful for the multiracial, multigenerational social justice movement that has been brought into being to challenge unjust policing. I’m grateful for all the young people who made their first run for public office. And I am especially grateful for leaders and organizers who use their God-given talents and their hard-won skills and experience to organize, motivate and mobilize our people — leaders like Stacey Abrams and so many others who worked to bring change to their cities and states — and our country.
Of course, there’s more to do. We have important Senate elections coming up in Georgia. And next year, we’ll make many demands on local, state and national officials to address the issues that affect our lives and our future.
For now, let us be grateful for new hope and new direction in our nation and for everyone who has given of themselves to help our neighbors and strengthen our communities.
And after we pause to give thanks for our freedom and our accomplishments, let’s resolve to be, in the words of the great gospel song, “in no ways tired” of seeking justice and creating positive change. Then we’ll have even more to be grateful for next Thanksgiving.
Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation.