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Hitting Mile 5 on the Trek to Equity and Justice
by Katrina Macasaet, Content Specialist, Professional Development and Workforce Development
When I moved to California, one of the activities I adopted from my new home state was backpacking through its national parks and forests. As an island girl born and raised in the Philippines, this was an entirely new experience, and what I quickly learned is that backpacking up a mountain is equal parts of physical, mental, and emotional endurance. I also learned at mile 5 of my very first 13-mile hike that you can prepare yourself physically and build endurance, but the unexpected mental and emotional toll of continuous hiking is something you can only know in the moment.
I have thought plenty in the last few months about my backpacking adventures since the shelter in place orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yes, I miss the open spaces and all the vast natural views, but what stands out to me most when I think about the parallels of backpacking and my experiences during this time, is how the uncertainties the pandemic brings feel like hiking up a steep hill without a clear view of when where the slope tapers down or when the reprieve will come. You keep going, hoping that you are getting close to the point where you can walk normally again instead of trudging uphill. This has been my experience during this pandemic. I keep at it, continue my pace, and hope the hill flattens.
But just like hiking, once you get to a pace and rhythm, the ground can shift under your feet. The death of George Floyd rocked the whole world, and everyone’s pain was palpable. I, too, am in pain, and I am angry. There were days when it was difficult to work, and it was difficult to focus. It was challenging to continue the daily tasks when it seemed like I could be doing more but did not know where to begin. I recognized that I was losing my drive. I recognized that in this moment of turmoil, I was feeling the same way I felt on mile 5 of my first hike. Mile 5 was the place where hopelessness crept in, and all I wanted to do was stop walking, go home, and be comfortable. But that’s impossible when you’re in the middle of a mountain, just as it is impossible to go back to comfortable when you know so many people are afraid and are hurting.
When I am losing my strength up on a mountain, I do my best to be present at the moment and remind myself to stay on the path and just put one foot in front of the other. I focus on that because it is the only thing doable at the moment. When I feel most helpless, I know I can put one foot in front of the other. This is what I am holding on to as I think about the mountainous task of fighting for equity for all babies, toddlers, and their families. Each of our steps add up. Each step we take toward learning more about the inequities children of color face, each step we take when we put self-awareness and diversity-informed practices in the center of what we do, add up to help our critical mission of supporting each and all families. We can take that first step by recognizing the additional considerations we need to understand when supporting children from vulnerable populations and contingently responding to what children need, recognizing that it will not all look the same because equity is different from equality.
I focus on how each of our steps brings us closer to our goal, how each meaningful interaction, each relationship we build with colleagues from the field, also adds up and brings us closer to a world where systems perpetuating racial injustices are broken down. We are all in this journey together, and I know if we put one foot in front of the other, we can get closer to the peak and see a world where each child can have a strong start in life.