By Lyle Roelofs
Berea College President
The year 2020 will be remembered as a difficult year for everyone. The global COVID-19 pandemic forced us indoors and, more consequentially, away from each other. And there was a contentious election, meaning that our respective passions for one side or another pushed many of us apart in other directions as well.
Further, in 2020 we seem to have embarked on a new phase in the overdue process of racial reckoning which has made another sort of fault line more visible in our society. The unfortunate result is the separation of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We feel this isolation on a deeper level during the holidays, though we will not all face the situation the same way. While many of us will choose to remain apart from our loved ones—because we love them—others will choose to ignore the risks of gathering together for the same reason, though I don’t recommend this choice.
There is hope in the months ahead as multiple vaccines become an available reality. We have to endure this isolation just a little longer, and my hope is that the political passions that divide us will become less important than remembering our common kinship and heritage as Americans as we work toward coming back together in 2021.
Maybe, after all this time alone, we will be reminded how special it is to be together, to love our neighbors, to see ourselves in one another and reach out in a loving spirit. For me, that’s what the holidays represent every year, and I think many of us are feeling the same, especially in this year, when there have been so many barriers.
It’s important to remember during this holiday season just how many of our friends and loved ones are struggling right now. Many are feeling isolated and hopeless. I encourage everyone to reach out to those who are feeling alone. Give them a call. Send them a card. Get on FaceTime or do another Zoom session if you can stand it. Find a way to let them know that though we must remain apart for a time, you are still thinking of them. It will make a world of difference. No matter what barriers divide us, we share so much in common and are more alike than different.
Making community without erasing differences is the operating assumption of Berea College. From the beginning, our mission has been to bring people together and help them see their differences are not only just skin-deep, but also an important opportunity to learn from one another. During this holiday season, though we may not be able to celebrate as we normally would, I hope that the enduring themes of peace on earth and goodwill towards all will transcend all less important divisions. As we look forward to face-to-face conversations and hugs and handshakes in the new year, let’s start now by embracing our common humanity.