It's the first day of 2021 — the long and terrible 2020 is finally behind us! 

Yet, a lot of the problems we faced last year didn't magically disappear when the clock struck midnight. While it is important to be hopeful and optimistic about a new, hopefully better year, it is also important to continue taking action and raising awareness about the problems that continue to exist today. Only when we continue to care can we bring about real and permanent change. 

Following the murder of George Floyd, there were countless historic protests across the nation aimed to raise awareness on police brutality and persistent systemic racism. The Black Lives Matter movement reached a new apogee of momentum, bringing it with it a message of equality for all people of color. 

In addition, there were marches against climate change and political rallies in the wake of what was arguably America's most polarized election to date. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic shed light on glaring issues within our health care system. 

It’s important to continue to give issues like these the attention, platform and emphasis they received in 2020 simply because these problems continue to affect lives; they are just as real as they were yesterday. Global temperatures are still rising, and people still experience racism and prejudice — both implicitly and explicitly. Harmful stereotypes still exist, inequality persists and pollution continues to affect people’s health. 

Kids continue to live in fear of school shootings, veterans continue to live on food stamps and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, homeless people continue to live on the streets, single parents continue to struggle to pay rent and provide food for their children — the list goes on. 

In the news and on social media, I have seen people talk about how 2021 is a way to “forget” about everything that happened in 2020 and move on. And while I do agree that 2021 may provide a way to heal, grow and move toward a better future, we absolutely cannot forget about 2020. It was a historic year that taught us an indescribable amount. We learned what we are capable of — good and bad — and the importance of united community. Most of all, we learned to open our eyes and hearts and use our platforms and privileges so that we can implement change.

Honestly, 2020 showed us that we should have always been paying this much attention and that these issues deserve more of a platform than they previously received. Floyd was by no means the first unarmed Black person to be killed at the hands of police officers, and the Australian bushfires were far from the first natural disasters related to climate change. Even COVID-19 was not the first pandemic, yet it highlighted racial disparities and the ways low-income families are disproportionately affected by public health issues, perhaps more than any other point in history.

Maybe 2020 was a gift. Being stuck at home and forced to spend more time alone amid the pandemic gave us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect on these types of problems and take action. It allowed us to slow down and focus on what really matters — to become detached from our insular issues and put our energy toward things outside of ourselves.

As we move into 2021, we must recognize that the fight isn’t over. Already, there have been steps and actions toward righting the wrongs in America, and we must ensure that momentum and passion continues.

I am hopeful for 2021. Today, thanks to 2020, we have an opportunity to change the narrative of this coming year. We have have the awareness, the resources and the passion to create change. So, let's do it.

Niveditha Bala is a senior at Mandela International Magnet School. Contact her at niveditha.bala@mandelainternationalschool.us

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