5 Min ReadPolitics 12 June 2020
As cities burn and protestors storm streets across America in reaction to the ongoing slaughter of Black and Brown people by law enforcement, many have asked what my late husband, Congressman Elijah Cummings, would say in this moment. I think he would urge protesters to focus on what they are fighting for and not fall into the trap of letting anger and destructive actions distract from their goal.
As shown when he walked the streets of Baltimore with protesters during the Freddie Gray unrest in 2015, Elijah deeply respected the First Amendment freedom of expression and right to protest. After all, the reason he was standing on that intersection during that particular moment was to prevent potentially chaotic and violent clashes between the police in riot gear and the irate mostly Black male protesters whose pent-up frustrations with law enforcement threatened to boil over. As a Black man in America who grew up in a segregated and deeply unequal Baltimore, Elijah understood their pain.
I'm convinced that we will only survive and thrive as a nation if we honestly focus on addressing racism as one of the root issues that drive our politics and policies.
He knew that after centuries of oppression, young African Americans especially want the freedom to live in a society where they aren't targeted based on race, gender, and class, where their opportunities to pursue their dreams and live their best lives aren't undermined by what they look like, how much money is in their pockets or what zip code they live in; and where the rules that govern their lives aren't arbitrarily determined by a corrupt system.
He was haunted during one night of the unrest when a young man told him, "I feel like I wake up in a coffin every morning and I spend my day trying to claw my way out." While he was deeply appreciative of the window of opportunity that opened for him after Baltimore schools were integrated in the early 1960s, he knew that window had closed for too many other youths growing up in today's hyper-segregated and impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods.
This knowledge drove him to do everything in his power to serve as a bridge to opportunity and inspiration for youth, whether it was through his Elijah Cummings Youth Program, scholarships, job fairs, speeches, legislation, or direct school interventions like when he took Baltimore's Maritime Academy under his wing.
While he would have spoken out against the violence and theft, he would have stood in solidarity with those protesting for justice, the right to have Black lives valued and respected, to be heard, and for positive change.
And yet, as many times as the nation has experienced the predictable pattern of outrage and protest following every recorded incident of state-sanctioned violence, the response remains largely unchanged. Authorities often conspire to excuse, defend, and cover up the actions of police perpetrators. If it's bad enough, they offer a program or fig leaf of policy reform that ends up changing nothing.
This suggests that when rotten apples are bunched together with fresh apples, the good apples can go bad, too.
We know that first hand here in Baltimore. When Marilyn Mosby, the city's then newly-elected and progressive State's Attorney, tried to prosecute the officers involved in Freddie Gray's death, she was threatened, maligned, and eventually dropped all charges against the officers involved saying that the police department actively worked to thwart her investigation. Efforts like One Baltimore, a program that was designed to channel resources, talent, and good will into transformative, cross-sector initiatives benefitting Baltimore's youth, were short-lived (full disclosure: I wrote the strategic plan for One Baltimore, in consultation with a small group of advisors that included Elijah, and handed it to then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake to implement)
And yet, we maintain hope despite record homicide rates and accusations of a police slowdown in the wake of Freddie Gray. Elijah and I were encouraged by the Obama Justice Department's 2016 report revealing unconstitutional policing practices within the Baltimore Police Department and thought its subsequent mandate to institute a consent decree to oversee of the department's operations was the right thing to do. When Trump took office and his Justice Department made moves to roll back the consent decree, Elijah coordinated a letter from Maryland's federal delegation to then newly-elected Mayor Catherine Pugh urging her to follow through on its full implementation. He knew increased oversight and guardrails on police operations were the only paths forward.
Something else that gave us hope was the federal government's successful prosecution of nine (and counting) members of the Baltimore Policy Department's Gun Trace Task Force, in which police officers were revealed to have stolen money from, sold drugs to, framed, and extorted both criminals and innocent civilians alike. This ongoing investigation not only challenges the popular framing of corrupt cops as just "a few rotten apples," it suggests that when rotten apples are bunched together with fresh apples, the good apples can go bad too.
That means confronting and dismantling the systemic corruption that serves to protect and defend injustice, greatly accelerating the glacier pace of police and criminal justice reforms, and advancing "bold, structural change" to improve the lives of those who have been historically marginalized.
Ultimately, the level of destruction and chaos we are seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing and the incendiary response from Donald J. Trump, would have led Elijah to repeat his popular refrain, "We're better than this!" which meant that on both societal and individual levels we know better and can be better if we just do better. That means confronting and dismantling the systemic corruption that serves to protect and defend injustice, greatly accelerating the glacier pace of police and criminal justice reforms, and advancing "bold, structural change" to improve the lives of those who have been historically marginalized.
I'm convinced that we will only survive and thrive as a nation if we honestly focus on addressing racism as one of the root issues that drive our politics and policies. Despite being a country founded for and by white men –– most of whom never imagined defining women and people of color as fully equal human beings –– our nation has become a pluralistic, multi-cultural society where people of all backgrounds have gained social and political rights (at least on paper) and have an established and legitimate ownership stake in our nation.
As such, the ability to understand, navigate, and respect people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures is now a strategic, democratic imperative that must be understood and honored by our society, including elected officials and public servants of all stripes at every level of government.
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.