There has always been a divide between the rich and the poor. Some say that it was easier in the past to cross the divide, and others say it’s not any harder now than it was before. I have always believed the divide was more than just cultural or political. It wasn’t just that you were born in the poor section of the Bronx, but also which first-grade teacher you got, or whether one parent liked you better than your siblings, or even if your siblings were too involved in your life — or not involved enough. Or you moved too much as a child. (Have I ever mentioned the fact that I moved 15 times by the time I was 16 and that they taught multiplication tables in the third grade in Cleveland and in the second grade in Pennsylvania, so I was screwed?) I have always believed that whether we were to the manor born, or birthed in the basement of an apartment building in the Bronx, we all had walls that surrounded and squelched our ability to be our best selves. We either tore down those walls through our own strength, determination, and, of course, luck, or they became cemented by some moment in time or a series of moments. Cement walls never break down, and you can’t alter them once the cement is dry. At that point, one becomes stuck behind them, like the Jews were in the Warsaw Ghetto.
My real fear at this moment in history is that COVID-19 is cementing those walls for so many Americans and that they will never be able to break them down. Think, for example, about a kid in the Bronx, whose parents don’t have Wi-Fi or understand that classes are being taught online. Even if they did have Wi-Fi and their child had a computer (God bless those who are trying to make that happen), the environment in their home would not support the learning that must take place to continue breaking down the walls that surrounded that wonderful child at birth. Think about a young man who was attending Trinity in New York City, learning without disruption, who is now moving further and further away from the child who lives in poverty from public school who will now never break down the walls of his birth. Think about a woman who will now never leave her abusive partner because she has lost her job and her savings are gone, gone, gone. Think about a depressed, isolated teenager who was trying to make a friend at school, but who now is cemented in her aloneness and will never find the light of day.
My fear is that this virus is drying the cement that could have been removed, and there is no time to finish the job started by so many people who have now been rendered immobile. Immobility is not just in the home confinement; it’s in the lack of resources that help the most helpless to travel their roads to success without the walls closing in on them along the way. Are we doing enough to keep the cement from setting during this time? What else can we do, not just to protect against the virus shutting down our hearts, but also to ensure it doesn’t shut down the dreams of those less fortunate?