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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for everyone in Kansas City in ways we don’t even understand yet. KCUR is documenting those changes, one by one, through our individual stories. Share yours.

A Kansas City Poet Hopes The Next Normal Isn't Anything Like The Old Normal In Terms Of Equality

Poet Glenn North shares his hopes for what the Next Normal might mean for Kansas City.
Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Glenn North is the director of the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

KCUR asked poet Glenn North to reflect on what the next normal might be for Kansas City. He writes that the pandemic has exposed a deep racism in our society.

Considering the times, here is a thought you may find interesting.

Blaise Pascal, a noted physicist, mathematician, and theologian once said, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

So, sitting alone in my one-bedroom apartment, as I think about venturing out after weeks of self-isolation, breathing stale air, and having only the reflection of myself in the mirror to keep me company, I begin awkwardly stumbling down Memory Lane.

I think back to that night in 1979, when my mother had to shave off what was left of my Afro. It was because I have alopecia, a disease that causes hair loss. Being a skinny bald kid in the era of big hair, mullets and Jheri curls made me a target. Strangely enough, being teased, taunted and bullied by my hair-privileged peers was painful, but it taught me to stand on my own, to not let my self-worth be determined by others.

Then, as they say in the film industry, cut to ten years later, my sophomore year in college. My friend Vince returned to school with a new motorcycle. He was generous enough to let the guys in our dorm take it for a spin. Although I had never been on a motorcycle, something inside me felt like this would be the perfect test of my manhood, a rite of passage, so to speak. So, with forced enthusiasm, I jumped in line.

As I was racing through the streets like Peter Fonda in "Easy Rider," the thrill was short lived. I hit an enormous pothole. The bike stopped but I kept going, high over the handlebars then face-first onto the asphalt. As I laid there, with the crumbs of what remained of my front teeth settling on my tongue, I came to the realize that masculinity was not measured by foolish gestures of bravado but by the quiet confidence of self-acceptance and an appreciation for my inherent gifts, even if riding a motorcycle wasn’t one of them.

I share these intimate moments of my life with you, Dear Reader, because the current pandemic, with its demands for social distancing and self-containment, has given me time to reflect on my life and the lessons I’ve learned over the years. My hope is that we will emerge from this horrific crisis with some hard-earned wisdom. All this sickness should help us realize the importance of accessible, affordable healthcare.

As a Black man, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a bright light this virus has shone on America’s racism. As the New York Times reported, “The COVID-19 racial disparity in infections and deaths is viewed as the latest chapter of historical injustices, generational poverty, and a flawed healthcare system.”

How will we confront racism now, and once this crisis is over? Or what of all this isolation? As we struggle with cabin fever and a longing for the human touch, will we emerge from this crisis realizing how inextricably connected we all are?

Each day brings with it a rising number of casualties, startling statistics that represent human souls that are no more, their families left to mourn. Will all this death finally help us to truly embrace the value of each — and every — life on this planet?

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever faced. The greater tragedy would be not learning the lessons being taught through this adversity and mindlessly returning to what we thought was normal.

In KCUR's series, The Next Normal, we document how the lives of Kansas Citians have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

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