As we stepped into 2020, no one could have expected the quick turn this year had, and the tremendous impact it will forever carry. Simply put, 2020 has been one of the most influential years in terms of our country’s history due to the range of change our nation has and will continue to experience. This year seemed to have evoked every emotion, and, with everything that’s happened, it’s important to recognize the value and importance of this year as we mourn, celebrate and continue on to 2021. It’s also imperative we recognize that we are in a world full of change, and though change isn’t always easy, it’s certainly an aspect of life to which we’re figuring out how to adapt while simultaneously taking care of ourselves. From devastating deaths, spark in social injustice, and political change, this year seems to have turned all our lives upside down.
This year, various influential lives and legends have been lost, including Kobe Bryant, John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
26 days into the year, the world was torn to find out Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers had passed during a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Millions of people around the world mourned Bryant’s death, whose Hall of Fame career included five NBA championships, two Finals MVPs, four scoring titles and 18 All-Star and 15 All-NBA selections. The ‘Black Mamba’s’ success is largely attributed to his unprecedented competitiveness and work-ethic, leading the term ‘Mamba Mentality’ to be trademarked to his name. In his retirement, Kobe became a large spokesperson for the growth of women’s basketball, as the father of four girls spent much of his time coaching and teaching his children and their teammates. Throughout his 41 years of life, Bryant managed to inspire countless people, globalizing the game of basketball and influencing everyone who saw him play.
Then, amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, John Robert Lewis, American statesman and civil rights leader, passed away July 17, 2020. Lewis, who served in the United States House of Representatives, was a member of the “Big Six” group, who organized the 1963 March on Washington, leading tens of thousands of demonstrators. As an influential role in the civil rights movement, Lewis even led the first three Selma Montgomery marches in 1965. Lewis also became the director of the Voter Education Project following his departure from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and continuously fought for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lewis’s death is marked by his many achievements, and, at Lewis’s request, on the day of his funeral, The New York Times published a valedictory essay, in which Lewis acknowledged the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged the path of future activists, writing “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”
As an inspiring leader and lifelong fighter, Lewis’s life has emphasized the importance of change. On countless occasions he was also able to compel others to these issues through his work. Through his fight, books and overall advocacy, Lewis’s life was full of emphasizing, advocating for, and educating our country on the issues and injustice that continues to plague this nation. His legacy will forever live on. Considering he fought on these issues for years and died in a year when so many of those systemic challenges made their importance known, it’s important we ensure his work continues.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an associate justice of the Supreme Court since 1993, passed on Sept. 18, 2020. Justice Ginsburg was the second woman and the first Jewish woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a large advocate for gay rights, women’s rights, the poor and many other marginalized groups according to Harper Collins. Additionally, Ginsburg’s first case before the Supreme Court was Frontiero v. Richardson in 1973. Within this impactful case, WRP advocated for gender discrimination to be confronted with the same scrutiny as race discrimination and would go on to fight against gender discrimination successfully in six landmark cases. As not only a powerful advocate and fighter until her passing on Sept. 18, RBG will continue to live on as an influential fighter and advocate, and her work in our U.S. government will never be forgotten as it set numerous precedents. RBG has inspired many and will forever be a societal icon.
These deaths impacted everyone in different ways. Whether they were a role model or an influential figure, all come with hardships, grieving and healing, which played a large role in this year. These people, though their legacy and ambitions will always be carried through, were a devastating loss to this year, and we must honor their passing and words. They will never truly be forgotten.
Though RBG wished to not be replaced until after a president had been elected, Senate Republicans announced their plan to fill the seat. Soon enough, on Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett. The senators who confirmed Coney Barrett were the same ones who deemed that justices shouldn’t be appointed during an election year following Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 following Antonin Scalia’s death. Although RBG’s passing was only six weeks before the 2020 presidential election, compared to Scalia’s, leaving a seat vacant for nine months, Republican senators made the hypocritical decision to appoint Coney-Barrett, disregarding their own precedent set. This proved they have more care for their personal plans than the unity of the U.S. This has been terrifying. The quick turn around and new ratio in the Supreme Court are very likely to lead to disproportionate votes in extremely important cases. And considering the Supreme Court controls almost all parts of government, the future of our nation and its people are at severe risk. Barrett’s voting record is also nearly identical to the current conservative votes, which includes issues such as abortion and gun rights. This change proves how important it is that we continue to hold our court and people in power accountable moving forward. These are not simple changes, as they will continue to play a role for years to come.
Among the numerous lives lost senselessly in 2020 were the thousands of unjust deaths of Black people across the nation, which sparked outrage and action from the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent protests. Ahmaud Arbery, only 25 years old, was murdered by two armed white men in a south Georgia neighborhood. Even after a graphic video surfaced, the two weren’t arrested until months later according to the New York Times. Then, on March 13, Breonna Taylor was shot when three police officers entered her apartment, despite not having a warrant, and opened fire. Breonna was a Black medical worker, and her killing led to more widespread BLM demonstrations. However, even after 15 hours of grand jury recordings, Taylor Hankison was the only police officer given a $15,000 bond and fired from his position, while the jury did not charge any other officers on charges directly related to Taylor’s death, according to AP News. This lack of justice is not only frustrating; it’s disheartening to see so many Black lives being lost without receiving the justice they deserve. The truth of the matter is that this has been happening for centuries, that’s simply the system our country is built off of, and the increase in attention brought to it throughout this year has certainly been evident. Though this attention has been beneficial, it’s also slowed down throughout the year. We have so much more work to do, and we simply cannot have this year be the only one centered around these issues.
Breonna Taylor’s death was followed by George Floyd’s death, who was killed after Derek Chauvin handcuffed and pinned Floyd to the ground before placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds on May 25. With the case drawing comparisons to the death of Eric Garner, with video evidence from a bystander quickly spreading across the country, thus began the George Floyd Protests in Minneapolis. These quickly spread across the country and world, lasting for numerous weeks. The protests peaked on June 6, when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States according to New York Times. The impact this has had includes officials in Washington, D.C., and states including California, Nevada and Texas banning chokeholds and reviewing police reforms, according to Business Insider, and Vox reported that the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Police Act of 2020. Yet, there is so much more that must play out in coming years. A large impact of this is the growth for the Black Lives Matter movement and its goals. Though 55 percent of U.S. adults now express at least some support for the movement, down from 67 percent in June amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd according to Pew Research, there’s no doubt the Black Lives Matter movement was and must continue to find its spotlight and remain widespread.
Though the BLM movement was shown tremendous amounts of support this year, it is not something that only pertains to this year. BLM has been around since 2013, and people have been fighting for these rights for centuries. Nonetheless, this year certainly seemed to serve as a wake up call for millions and must continue to pave the way to change in the coming years. The public’s reaction to these deaths certainly evoked many emotions. Within our Evanston community, there have been many valuable things coming from these movements’ spike in support. Organizations like Evanston Fight for Black Lives, an organization led by ETHS alumnae, have been working since June to bring effective change to our community.
Now, near the end of 2020, the United States’ 46th presidential election just took place on Nov. 4, 2020. With exceptionally high voter turnout, especially amongst young people, this historical event will prove to be one of the most influential elections in the country’s history. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in Jan. 2021, marking Harris the first Black and East Asian female vice president in history. Ever since Trump came into office in 2016, our country faced some of the largest negative impacts under one presidency, and now we look for the positive change that hopefully will come soon. Just because we have a new president does not mean our country will lose all its flaws. Biden and Harris must be held accountable. This election proved the impact we as a nation have when we come together to recognize the need for change, and now it’s time to receive this change. It’s what we not only deserve but desperately need.
So many vast changes in other areas of American life, and, yet, with COVID-19 deaths at an all-time high, and many cities adding restrictions to prevent spread, the coronavirus pandemic has likely been the largest change of them all. This nine-month journey began in March, when the U.S. began its COVID-19 adjustments. Many thought we’d be returning back to normal in a few months, yet we still remain in the same, if not worse, situation than before. This pandemic has forced us all to some form of change and certainly has been anything from normal. With much uncertainty of how this pandemic will play out in the following month and next year, it’s clear we will continue to adapt to the changes this year has brought upon us. This has been unprecedented and further shows how influential this year has been by the societal and economic changes it’s caused.
As we find ourselves nearing the end of this year, it’s important to recognize the impact this year has and will continue to have. Rather than signaling it out as the worst year, recognizing that these events are not all specific to this year and will continue to impact us is crucial.