By Reginald Stuart
The year 2021 got off to a muted full start this week with an overflowing plate of unfinished business from 2020.
The political drama stemming from November’s national elections continued this week, as more than three million energized voters in Georgia cast votes in two U.S. Senate contests, the outcome of which determines nationwide control of the U.S. Senate. Results, still to be officially confirmed by the state of Georgia, indicate both Democrats won, unseating staunch conservative Republicans who are strong supporters of out-going President Donald Trump.
The early results showed voters elected the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, to be the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia. Voters also appeared to elect 33-year-old film documentary maker John Osoff, a native Atlantan who was a big supporter of the late civil rights icon John Lewis, to replace U.S. Senator David Perdue. Ossof would be the first Jewish Senator from the state.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Vice President Pence performed the procedural ceremony, required by the Constitution, of having the results of the November election, as confirmed in December by the Electoral College, certified by the U.S. Senate. Supporters of President Trump, who still insist the November election was stolen from him, converged on Capitol Hill to demonstrate their support of the President’s unfounded claims.
The political drama and theatrics came just days before incoming President Joseph Biden began tweaking plans to orderly and peacefully turn history’s page later this month, replacing the outgoing boisterous President Trump with a historically diverse team focused on doing their jobs by having an open ear, a positive attitude, patience and civility.
“It’s a local, national and global opportunity to reset our priorities and rethink how it is that we have allowed a spirit of division to undermine
the greatest potential of our times,” said the Rev. Edwin Sanders, Nashville minister and senior servant at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church.
Echoing others, Rev. Sanders characterized 2020 as a “moment that has been a test of the values of our democracy, to undermine or refine it.” This year “is going to be a pivotal moment for us,” he said, noting the nation’s majority has repeatedly declared in different ways it’s time for a societal change.
With over 350,000 COVID-19 deaths and rising by the hour, there is little doubt it has had a phenomenal impact in nearly every community— large and small—around the world. In Tennessee, which is seeing its death toll rise into the thousands, funeral homes and mortuaries around the region report they have been swamped with calls for help.
Well-known mortician Richard Lewis, owner of Lewis and Wright Funeral Home on Clarksville Highway in North Nashville, says his industry has been overwhelmed “very much” with calls for assistance in making final arrangements for loved ones. With public health rules limiting the number of people advised to gather for funerals and memorials, Lewis says more and more people are having brief, graveside services and postponing traditionally formal memorials until later this year or even next.
Area religious institutions—from churches to synagogues to mosques—are continuing to follow public health directives for the most part, minimizing the use of traditional places of worship and expanding their use of new communications technologies like ZOOM, Skype, Google Meet and other online video platforms.
The Metro Nashville Public Schools System, one of the largest in the state, says it will resume school January 7 after a long holiday break. Reluctantly, the public health pandemic has prompted the school system to continue the “virtual” school year started last fall amid a general consensus in class instruction from real human teachers is irreplaceable.
“The last thing any of us wants to see is a full school year go by without the opportunity for our middle or high school students to meet their
teachers or their classmates in person, if they so choose,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, Director of Metro Schools. That said, the second semester of “virtual” education will go “at least” through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, she said in a statement released in late December.
The personal losses spurred by disruption of the 2020-21 school year is widespread, many people say.
“The in-and-out and in-and-out is damaging to our children,” said veteran public school teacher Sonja Dixon, an elementary school teacher for 17 years at Cumberland Elementary School. Noting this school year follows one in which the unexpected virus prompted a quick dismissal in the middle of the last school year, Dixon acknowledges the situation. Still, she says, “It’s just going to have a negative impact on them (the students).”
For sure, finding a cause of and rolling back the deadly virus is posing a major challenge for President-elect Biden and his team. It’s also challenging Nashville’s hospitality, tourism and restaurant industries.
Last year’s COVID-19 disruption and related abrupt cutbacks of college and university schedules, college and professional athletic events, Grand Ole Opry and Opryland events and their related business—from rental car services to hotels, restaurants and hair salons—cost the Nashville area billions of dollars in employment and income, jobs and tax revenue, according to public reports about the economy and employment.
Butch Spyridon, president and chief executive officer of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. echoes his counterparts in projecting the
hardship is not over yet.
Spyridon’s shop estimates the pandemic cost Nashville approximately $4.2 billion in visitor spending in 2020, after a record $7.1 billion in 2019 generated by a record 16.1 million visitors.
Spyridon said he expects the early
months of 2021 to be “particularly difficult” for the convention and visitor industries, although he hopes for a modest rebound to begin by springtime. By then, he said his agency hopes to begin implementing “a recovery strategy.”
“Nashville is well positioned for tourism recovery,” added Spyridon, ticking off a list of new venues expected to open later this year, including the National Museum of African American Music. “We have seen interest from visitors throughout the pandemic,” he said.
“All conventions are holding for the second
half of the year,” Spyridon said in a statement laced with guarded optimism.While the final action by voters in Georgia yesterday is expected to have a significant long-term impact on developments in Washington for weeks and months to come, President-elect Joseph Biden, and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris, are assembling a team of seasoned politicians who are considered by political observers as far more humble in demeanor than outgoing President Donald Trump. In addition to picking Senator Harris as his running mate last fall, Biden has named myriad diverse people to his growing Cabinet with hundreds to come in the next few months.
Biden, a former Vice President and U.S. Senator from Delaware, says he will start his tenure in office focusing relentlessly on helping officials at all levels of government, health care workers, and the general public collectively tackle the deadly airborne virus known as COVID-19, a world-wide respiratory disease that is killing thousands of people by the day, including hundreds in Tennessee.