We are told to stay away from each other to stay safe. But staying away can be tough. From church services to pick-up soccer games, going boating or attending a protest; a lot of how we would connect with our communities has moved online.
Zoom concerts, attending a county commission meeting online not in person, worshipping through a religious service on Facebook Live — the pandemic has forced these social and civic gatherings online. Even in stadiums converted into drive-in movie theaters — requiring you to stay in your car — you can feel alone in a crowd.
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Staying social and staying connected is difficult while staying safe. How do you keep a sense of community while staying apart? What does civic engagement look like during a pandemic?
How do you stay connected to the people and issues you care about during the pandemic? We heard from a group of community organizers, leaders of civic organizations and business owners about the steps they’re taking to remain connected.
Amanda Crider helps connect artists and the community as founder and artistic director of Illuminarts.
She said the pandemic has required her organization to find a creative way to still bring people together to share the stories of these artists while also keeping people safe. And the kinds of engagement that would normally happen at a fundraiser or benefit concert is now happening via a computer screen.
“It's not what we're trained to do, but it's what we're, you know, it's what we're doing now. … This has been such a difficult economic time for everyone and performing artists included, because all of our engagements have been canceled,” Crider said. “This online concert series that we had, we collected ticket proceeds and then all of those proceeds went to the artists who were performing as sort of an artist relief fund. So that's one of the things we're trying to do. We're looking at initiatives as we go into our 2021 season to possibly gather people outside in a safe, socially-distanced way to share art and music. But we're still sort of finding our way with everything.”
Corey Davis, the co-founder and executive director of Maven Leadership Collective, has also had to adjust how his organization does its outreach. The group seeks to boost the voices and social entrepreneurship work of BIPOC queer leaders, and Davis said that the shift to online-only events and workshops has come with some bright spots.
“We conducted a online panel discussion with Jasmine Rogers-Shaw out of Broward and Daniel Downer, [a] wonderful HIV equity advocate out of Orlando. And we were able to host that through Zoom and across Facebook Live. And we were able to reach people in all parts of the country that normally would not be able to participate,” Davis said.
Both Davis and Crider noted that their recent conversations have ranged from response to COVID-19 to the ongoing racial reckoning sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more Black people and people of color. And online tools allow them more opportunity to add context that might not come in a normal meeting or workshop.
“One of the most commented-on features [after our programs] often is, ‘I'm so glad that I was able to get a link to an article or to a resource that I could immediately act upon.’ And that bolsters whatever is being said,” Davis said. “You know online, often the conversation needs to be fact checked. And so it's nice that in real time we can do that and so many people can participate in that. And because you're reaching a broader audience, you have that variety of experience.”
Variety of experience is a huge driver for Niki Lopez, an artist, cultural programmer and host of The Circle Live.
Every week she talks with artists, leaders of grassroots organizations, and social entrepreneurs about their work — and it’s always been hosted through platforms like Youtube, Instagram and Facebook. Even with her experience using those platforms she still had to adjust to COVID-19 and Lopez said she looks forward to connecting in person again some day.
“One of the things I loved about when I would do my physical events is bringing different groups of people together in a physical space, to show how we could connect. A lot of times we're open, but we still stay in our bubble of [our] comfort zone. So when I'm doing my art shows, I'm specifically picking people that represent different groups to get them there. I've had to do that virtually,” Lopez said.
“So to be able to bring that back and now, there's a lot of people who have never heard of me, or the work that I've done or the different people that I share, so it brings in a larger audience to say, ‘What are you doing here? I didn't even see how that was connected.’ So I'm looking forward to that.”
And beyond connecting through the arts or civic engagement groups, people often find community in exercise and fitness groups. The pandemic has caused more folks to hop on bicycles or to hit their local running path, but bringing large groups together is no longer possible due to COVID-19.
They told us that they’ve done everything from individual virtual runs to running in less-populated areas, like out in the Everglades.
“A virtual run is you'll be running or walking wherever you want to, be it in your local neighborhood or you can go to a park. But you'll be basically — for the most part — running by yourself,” said Bob Barnard. “We have everybody go off at the same time. We do a live feed start where we do the national anthem and have some messages, and then people after the event can actually post a picture and their time and kind of create a community of runners that did it virtual.”
And Cobi noted that even though they can’t have the same large numbers they’re used to, he still thinks it's important for people to experience the mental and physical benefits of remaining active — in a safe way.
“You know, when you run, you improve your self-esteem. Your body releases chemical endorphins and they trigger positive feelings in your body. Most people know that as a ‘runner's high.’ And that gives you a positive, positive and energizing outlook on life,” Morales said.