After this health pandemic becomes a thing of the past, the lack of preparedness is forgotten, the impact of first responders is overlooked, and the warmth of being alone together is a distant memory; will lessons learned be sustained?

When we return to our respected corners and are no longer suffering together and working together, will it take another national tragedy or heartbreaking story to unite us as human beings?

Will minorities and other vulnerable people remain worse off and never recover from this? Will outdated processes and criteria of government and businesses remain standard operating procedures?

Each of us must answer these questions and it is up to all of us to play our role in making sure we don’t go back to pre-coronavirus days. I’m not talking about washing your hands with soap, cleaning surfaces regularly, or staying home when you are sick. I’m talking about fundamental changes that will be pursued and enacted because of this shared experience.

This crisis is the right time to think differently and be creative. Everyone is affected by this pandemic and everyone should look through a different set of lenses when we convene again.

Shame on us if kids go hungry during the summer and seasonal breaks throughout the school year after the daily hardship of food insecurity returns. Why would educational programming, now being used, stop come summer and the regular school year? And make no mistake, we can overcome broadband limitations with public/private partnerships to close the digital divide in education. Cities and school districts can collaborate on this now.

We care about hourly workers during these times, but what about having a living wage for employees all the time? Cities without a robust economic development operation for small businesses are discovering why that is a mistake. How could you not have an ecosystem that provides services and resources for the backbone of any local economy?

Excuses like, “That’s not needed,” “Why would we do that?,” and “More due diligence is needed,” are baseless during normal times, and now show a lack of leadership and vision.

People and systems are meant to be tested. However, those who work in hospitals and community health care centers should have supplies to save lives, provide quality care, and prevent the spread of illnesses. It shouldn’t take a national crisis to provide basic needs or fulfill a critical void, but too often that is exactly what happens. If we turn away from painful truths that have been endured and neglected, what does that say about us?

After endless mass shootings over 20 years, we still do not have comprehensive gun safety laws. Affordable and accessible health care remains distant for too many citizens. If you don’t believe your vote matters, reconsider that thinking this year. If you are for less government, I don’t see how less gets you more, or even enough to combat a health pandemic.

Let us social distance ourselves from those who are antiquated thinkers. Let us challenge each other to pursue systematic improvements to our organizations, work, and home. Not out of fear or the next tragedy, but out of the need to eliminate disparities.

This pain we are feeling is nothing new for many people. We can’t truly be city strong or state strong until we eliminate systemic disparities. That is strength and unity. When all is said and done, “Never again,” “No more,” and “Not on my watch,” should be our rallying points if we truly want to do better and be better after the coronavirus.

Clay Middleton, of Charleston, has held various senior-level positions in government and politics.

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