Reflections on 2020: Hope, Empathy, and Courage

by | Jan 4, 2021

“Hope is your superpower. Don’t let anybody or anything make you hopeless. Hope is the enemy of injustice. Hope is what will get you to stand up when people tell you to sit down.” —Bryan Stevenson

“Had Harriet Tubman compared the 70 slaves she freed to 4 million enslaved, she might have given up. Her hope and leadership were not based on the dire math of reality, but on a calculation of faith. Hope is not empirically demonstrated, it is morally chosen.” —Cornell William Brooks

My colleagues and I were having a discussion in the mid-fall on the topic of “hope.” We shared book recommendations, quotes (above) and the importance of finding encouragement and optimism wherever you can. Providing context for this discussion is not necessary given the anxiety created by these tumultuous times.

Witnessing the lack of empathy and concern for other humans, the twisted messaging around scientific facts, and the constant barrage of downright depressing headlines can be a bit much. However, as cliche-ish as it may be, focusing on the positive and the hopeful can temper the anxiety, if even only temporarily.

Hope is not empirically demonstrated, it is morally chosen.”

Over the past 9 months or so at GASP, we have witnessed a lot of actions that create a sense of hope and encouragement. People have demonstrated that there are, in fact, a lot of people who care about society, health and each other. Below are some examples:

  • New influx of volunteers: GASP has seen numerous people fill out our online volunteer application, wanting to get involved.
  • Our Junior Board figured out a way to raise funds for our Pop-up Markets that is both safe and creative. They hosted the very successful Yoga For Clean Air event. Plus, four people have recently been voted on as new Junior Board members.
  • Numerous churches organized food drives for our Pop-up Markets.
  • A volunteer (and Bham Maker) has spent countless hours building air monitors (yes, with his hands) for the Smart City Sensor Project. Plus, another volunteer is helping out with outreach, identifying locations to install the needed gateways for the monitors.
  • People who are dedicated to the well being of their community show up for Neighborhood Association meetings and GASP Community Listening Sessions on the phone, despite the cumbersome nature of “gathering” via the telephone line.
  • Countless number of times, bags of groceries randomly appeared outside our office door as donations for the upcoming Pop-up Market.
  • Dozens of people participated in multiple, Right to Breathe caravans organized by PANIC and GASP to bring needed attention to the plight of people living in the 35th Avenue Superfund area.
  • Erin Rhodes, our full-time fall intern, moved to Birmingham (during a pandemic) for the semester to gain experience and assist GASP with our environmental justice work.
  • A group of motivated students at UAB is hosted a Facebook fundraiser for our Pop-up Market.
  • A student in Auburn is organizing a new group of people who want to be proactive on clean air issues.
  • Homemade cotton face masks have appeared in the mail, hand delivered to our office and and picked up in bulk – all to ensure that everyone who lives in the 35th Avenue Superfund site who needs a mask, has a mask.

The above list is just a glimpse into some of the actions GASP volunteers and others have taken in 2020. It is my hope that you too, will be encouraged and feel hopeful as this year comes to an end.

About Kirsten Bryant
Kirsten was with GASP from the very beginning: first as a founding board member, then as our first part-time executive director, and finally as deputy director. Kirsten hopes future generations will inherit a healthy Alabama where clean air and water are valued and protected. She retired from GASP in 2022 after more than a decade of service to the organization.
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