By Shameem Razak
As I reflect on the previous year, various emotions arise from my memory: disoriented with the uncertainty within the first months of the stay-at-home order. During this time last year, I was in the middle of finishing my senior year as an undergraduate student and completing a senior thesis. Coming back home during that semester signified a level of privilege as many others could not do so for various reasons. As months prolonged, it became increasingly apparent that many students could not fully have the same learning experiences as those who had stable and reliable internet, housing, familial and community support, and the financial stability even to continue their education. The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated systemic issues, influencing the slow decline in covid cases and negatively impacting different marginalized communities within the United States. However, as the crisis prolonged, the emergence of collective action and community sprang quickly to meet community members’ needs. As I witnessed this rapid response, it seemed as though a shift was happening in society, a potential deconstruction of the ‘individual’ belief system to the ‘collective.’ This response prompted me to question how we intentionally build community during this time and for the future?
Building Community at a large scale
Building community(s) requires us to radically imagine and create a different society from the current template. Certain national narratives and belief systems have upheld the existing structure of the United States. For example, the belief that we are self-reliant and require no form of support from anyone or any social networks/programs has been the ultimate myth that the United States maintains a Capitalist system. The logic of individuals being “self-reliant” has always been more of a facade in upholding the “American Dream”. These expectations of independent social mobility have had negative impacts even as many people are experiencing unemployment and evictions; these issues are addressed as individual concerns instead of collective issues. The concept of ‘individualism’ within American mainstream culture upholds the wealthy class’s interests while maintaining control over Black, brown, Indigenous, and working-class communities. However, the collective actions of communities mobilizing within the past year to provide aid and support for each other have proven interdependence is vital, particularly under a government that has shown lackluster initiative to offer the bare minimum of resources.
Further, there has been a continued reliance on the working class’s labor, exposing them to potential permanent health problems while offering unlivable working wages without universal health coverage or even protections for renters and from evictions. Black women, in particular, have experienced these issues historically as domestic workers to present-day essential workers. While no one could predict the full impact of such a devastating crisis that has taken numerous lives within the U.S. and globally, there were preventive measures. Now more than ever, our reliance on our communities to cultivate interdependence, community accountability, and momentum is pertinent for survival and building a world that at an interpersonal level can transform for the better.
Interpersonal relationships are the foundations of Community Building
As I reflect on this past year, I have constantly pondered who we are in the community and how we intentionally cultivate community? As I have mentioned in a previous post, friends are the foundation in my life on an interpersonal level. Reflecting on friendships, I also began to ask how we engage with those we care for and love? How do we show up for each other as Black women? How do we offer encouragement, love, trust, and reciprocity? How do we center and show up for those currently incarcerated? If we can build interpersonal relationships, we can build this within our local communities. We can show up for our communities with care, and everyday I am reminded me of this point. Let us continue a momentum that sprang from urgency to ultimately become a new way of engaging with fellow community members.
Shameem Razack is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Shameem recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Outside of being a student, Shameem is involved in various organizations that focus on social justice. You can also find Shameem on youtube, Sincerely Shameem, where she discusses all things pop culture, makeup and book reviews. Be sure to connect with Shameem on Instagram (@SincerelyShameem) and Twitter (@box_hijabi)!