School is out, and students, parents and families, colleagues and partners alike have travel on their minds. After 16 months of modified schooling, remote working and limited socializing, we’re all ready to be back together as a community and are breathing a collective sigh of relief at having dodged the worst of COVID. Our community is back. Well, almost.

As we embrace our almost normal summer, we also acknowledge that things are decidedly different, and not only is getting back to normal not possible, in many ways not even desired. Not when normal is synonymous with inequity, systemic failure, inertia and constant apathy. Not when normal is endemic with limited accountability, lip-service and shifting blame about lackluster results. And not when normal tries to fix people instead of the broken systems producing the inequitable results we see.

We get to build a new normal. One where we can create better and more critical opportunities to align our collective work and actions to achieve our shared goals. Where we agree and work towards what is better for children and families in Rochester, and not just for organizations. A new normal where we really believe that better is actually possible and work in earnest to do and be better.

Last year was unprecedented, not only for the disruption it caused, but also the strength we showed to support our community, together. Out of our collective unity came “more and better” – more and better communication with families about schooling; more and better support for digital access for students; more and better coordinated supports to get children fed and to get them immunized. It was not perfect, but out of necessity and need came better.

A new and unprecedented (during our lifetime) opportunity is upon us, and the degree to which we will do well, is directly connected to how we use it to build better. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding presents a build better opportunity for us. An opportunity to build better mechanisms to engage parents and families as leaders and decision-makers. To fully engage our health, education and human service as partners that support the whole child, instead of segmenting and silo-ing their roles. To collectively work to change, eliminate or create new policies to improve outcomes. Building better means coming to terms with our racialized past and declaring what we want in an equitable and liberated future.

Some will say “easier said than done”, and they will be right. But I could not have imagined the pandemic before it happened, and I would not have predicted our response. We are all THAT, and can do all THAT when we must. That’s what I know about Rochester; when it’s time to get it done, we can. All that is necessary is the collective will to do our part to change, so that more and better is possible.

Mary Dwelley, a dear friend and now an Ancestor, one day shared a perspective of the 5 Loaves and 2 Fishes bible parable. Always one to look at the world through opportunities instead of impossibilities, she asked “What if on that day, everyone present, acknowledging that 5 loaves and 2 fishes would not be enough for the crowd, finally opened their baskets and decided to add to the meal with whatever they had. Do you think it would do it then?” “Sure, but…” I got in before she continued, “Well, wouldn’t the greater miracle be that everyone did their part to get the people fed?”

The ARPA funds represent an opportunity to do more than we’ve ever done to support our community. This is also our ‘5 Loaves and 2 Fishes’ moment, because the ARPA funds will not last, and changing our systems, building better (not more) is our only option. We’ve proven that we can be the miracle workers needed for such a moment as this. Surely, we are up to the challenge of doing in this moment what we have already shown we can do, and what we know we must.

And really, there is no other way to build better than forward and together.

For the Children,
Eldress Campbell