Commentary: Finding the good in the pandemic

Editor’s note: One year after COVID-19 was first documented in Florida, we all know the stories of deaths, pain, isolation, and suffering, but we don't always take the time to think about how the pandemic has forever changed us in ways that may become or ought to become permanent as a result. So 83 Degrees asked several local thought leaders to consider what's different now compared to pre-COVID in terms of lessons learned, reimagined goals, and vision that have the potential to make a difference for good. We’re thinking of these things as inspiration, encouragement, and potential solutions -- all duplicable by and for others. Below is one response.
Nothing I’m about to write is meant to minimize the harsh reality of the incredibly difficult time living during the pandemic has been. Many have lost loved ones. Many are struggling. Many feel sad, scared, frustrated, and broken.

But while the last year seemed especially hard, there were silver linings that surfaced through it all. Out of COVID-19 came creativity. Out of quarantine came bonus time with family. Out of activism came changes for the better. One thing we can try to do is to see the good.

The year 2020 forced so many of us to re-evaluate our priorities and recognize that each day we are alive is a gift from God. The pandemic created an awakening of the soul and a pursuit of meaning and purpose in life.

Leonard BurkeAccording to the most googled questions of 2020, more than ever before, people searched for, “how to help” and “how to change the world.” This tells me that many people want to change and do more for mankind. I am pleased to say that many did take action. During the pandemic, there have been countless examples of people grocery shopping for older neighbors or friends and making face masks to give to people who could not obtain them. Families that were struggling to pay bills received contributions from individuals and small groups. I can go on and on about how people felt and feel compelled to do more to help another man or woman. Without COVID-19, I don’t know if this would have ever happened.
As I reflect on the impact of the pandemic, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that homeschooling is hard, but finally, we recognized teachers for the heroes that they truly are. They battled through isolation at home while harnessing technologies new and old to reach and teach every student. Parents all around the country have expressed their deep and sincere gratitude for the educators in the school system. My wife and I have personally provided thank you emails and gifts to the teachers in support of all the challenges they endured last year.
In many cities, the pandemic hit hardest in low-income communities with a high population of Blacks and Hispanics. Because of this, the children in those communities suffered mightily because their traditional outlets (parks & recreation centers) were closed. Many kids witnessed their parent’s financial struggles intensify during the pandemic. However, programs like AMIKids Tampa, Junior Achievement Tampa, and 3DE learning provided an alternative method of engaging with students from those communities. The programs’ mission to help kids learn the language of money and financial literacy should not be overlooked in the current financial climate. My interactions with some of these kids revealed to me that many of them wish they were in a different situation financially. It was apparent that many are in environments that if their parents miss one paycheck, eviction or foreclosure is inevitable. 

JA Tampa and 3DE, through partnerships with the education and business communities, train middle school and high school students using integrated learning models focused on career readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. In 2020, the learning platforms reached more kids than they had in years past because of the ability to use virtual classrooms. 

AMIKids Tampa started an apprenticeship program with Lennar Homes to teach kids construction-related skills for the opportunity of full-time employment once they graduate from high school. 

Another program that has revolutionized the traditional learning experience for children in those same communities is Project Destined. PD has developed a curriculum that trains scholars (high school students) using a blended (live courses + e-learning) education model that is grounded in real estate ownership, investing, and financial health. The students are given real-world project-based experiences that translate into internships, employment, and/or certifications. 2020 was a great year for PD expansion into multiple schools all around the country.
As I reflect on the last year living in a pandemic, I must admit that there was a fair share of deep pain and sorrow for many in America and around the world.

However, as a society, if we want to grow, make progress, and be united, then we have to find something good to hold on to. We have to see that there’s Hope. My prayer is that as a people, we can continue to serve one another, especially those that are most vulnerable, underserved, and underrepresented. 

I believe that these efforts will continue even when the country opens back up completely. I pray and believe that our youth will be better equipped and put in a better position to close the racial wealth gap because of programs like JA, 3DE, and Project Destined.

Leonard Burke, Director of Asset Management at Beneficial Communities in Tampa, a real estate developer, serves on the boards of AMI Kids and Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay. He also is a Leader at the Urban Land Institute and a 40 under 40 honoree. A native of Miami, Burke earned a Bachelor of Science in Finance at USF.
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