A couple of weeks ago, I joined about 20 other volunteers at a high school parking lot to staff a pantry distribution event for families affected by COVID-19. The school was in South Omaha, which has been identified as one of the hardest-hit areas of our community.
Since COVID-19 happened, every time I thought about taking a drive down to South Omaha to pick up my favorite comfort food or to purchase specialty ingredients for authentic Mexican dishes. I would hold back and skip the trip. Very recently, I’ve been told by several people to avoid that area of town. I follow the news regularly and without being aware, it seems I recently formed a bias towards one of my favorite parts of town because of what I am seeing on the news and hearing from people.
Shame on me.
South Omaha is vibrant. It offers amazing restaurants and businesses, wonderful cultural activities, and countless other perks. This community was a catalyst for my own self-discovery and journey to becoming more in touch with my Mexican heritage. It holds a special place in my heart. I have struggled to feel comfortable in many spaces in Omaha, but I have always felt at home in South Omaha.
The reality is that we can be exposed to the virus everywhere we go – not just the places we are told not to go. I live in the north-central part of town and am constantly in public spaces where countless individuals disregard the six-foot rule and refuse to wear masks. The grocery store, the pharmacy, the hardware store, you name it. I see people cough or sneeze and then touch public surfaces. I can catch this thing anywhere.
As a woman of color living through the current social and political environment, I am tired. I’ve dedicated my life to public service but very recently, I often wonder if I can keep doing this work and if it will ever make a difference. I have been lacking the motivation to keep volunteering – because frankly, I am really, really exhausted. Life is an uphill battle for BIPOC.
I’m glad I am working hard to catch my own biases early on. I’m glad I put an irrational thought aside and signed up for the pantry drive. It was humbling and life-changing.
The evening was hot and humid and too many cars to count lined up well before the event began. I quickly was drenched in sweat from carrying boxes and wheeling around cart after cart. Some came on foot and walked back to their homes that were blocks (or more) away with a heavy box, a gallon of milk, and few other bagged items.
Other families came by car. I saw little kids smiling and waving goodbye at me as they drove away after we loaded up their groceries in their trunks.
I fought back tears. I was overcome with gratitude, and my sense of commitment to the community was immediately renewed.
We can all take control of the self-work we need to do to be better humans. We can all make a difference, regardless of how small or how big. We just need to take action. Today.
I love Nebraska, and though it is not a welcoming place for everyone 100 percent of the time, I am committed to making a difference and putting in the work – because we ALL belong here.
What action will you take today?
Liz Codina supports local efforts to build thriving communities in the Omaha area. Previously, she worked for nonprofit agencies in program management and development roles. She is among the leaders of the South Omaha Business Association and is vice-president of the Metro Young Latino Professionals Association.