In a year of so much suffering, it’s easy to forget that there was also a lot to be inspired by.
After the tumultuous and somber ride that this year provided, if there is one thing that can be universally agreed upon, it’s that we are all beyond happy to be putting it behind us. There are very few people on the planet who haven’t, in some way or other, been affected by the spread of Covid-19 or one of the many natural disasters that plagued 2020.
But that is our last emphasis on the bad that has happened. We’re here to remind you that there was also a world of good to come out of 2020. Fear, grief, and anxiety-inducing this year may have been, but it was a year that also brought about incredible displays of unity, generosity, and believe it or not – progress. From resounding communal resilience to the stirring efforts of inspirational individuals, here are the most poignant moments of 2020 that will certainly pull at your heartstrings.
Before delving into some of the extraordinary shows of generosity, ingenuity, and unity, it’s important to remark that the voter turnout this year was nothing short of sensational. Illinois’ 20 electoral votes went to President-elect Joe Biden but in the process over 6 million Illinois residents voted and smashed the previous record for the highest number of votes cast in any election.
What’s more, young people lead a huge Chicagoan turnout on election day surpassing a significant 75% voter turnout. The majority of that turnout was largely made up of Chicagoans between the ages of 25 and 34. Some determined voters even made their way to key supersites such as the United Center, as early as 4 am.
With more and more people reportedly becoming disillusioned with politics and a formidable obstacle presented by the historic public health crisis, it is stirring to see that Chicago rose to the occasion and so many turned up to act in one of the most poignant elections to date.
At the beginning of October, many centenarians all over the country cast their votes while Covid-19 was rife. Remarkable American’s over the age of 100, mostly women, risked their health and stepped out of their homes to emphasize the importance of the right to vote.
Of all of these, one of the most inspirational stories was of a 102-year-old former Chicago public school teacher and active member of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees. Born before women held the right to vote, Beatrice had voted in every election since 1940 and wasn’t going to let Coronavirus stop her. In October she headed out and cast her mail-in ballot in what she called the “most important election of my life” because “democracy is on the line.” A photo shared by Chicago Teachers Union, showed Bea Lumpkin casting her vote by mail in a personal makeshift hazmat suit made by her grandson. It then inspired the slogan “Be like Bea.”
The only thing to have made the news more than the presidential election in 2020 was, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. Despite everything it brought, it also exhibited many individual acts of kindness and altruism in times of adversity.
While 102-year-old Bea Lumpkin showed spirit and strength in her vote, young Chicagoans like Darius Mason helped keep others safe in any way they could. The South Side 7th-grader did not know how to sew before the coronavirus outbreak arrived on our shores. After his great-great-aunt died from coronavirus he decided he wanted to help and taught himself how to sew. Darius and his family then began making hundreds of masks for Chicago’s essential workers including officers at the Chicago Police Department, workers at Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, and medical staff at numerous Chicago health care centers.
Of course, Darius Mason’s extraordinary effort was not alone, other Chicagoans showed their compassion all over the city. Businessman and former mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson donated over 5 million masks to first responders and Illinois citizens after losing 9 friends to Covid-19.
With lockdowns and stay-at-home advisories forcing us into isolation for large portions of this year, we’ve had to entertain ourselves for longer periods of time than ever before. People around the world were productive, resourceful, and charitable beyond measure.
One of the most moving of these was a Chicago man who grew up without a Dad and created a YouTube channel of “dadvice” for those growing up without a father-figure themselves. Rob Kenney set up the channel named “Dad, how do I?” to teach basic skills or explains everyday things. Though his videos show anything from jump-starting a car to making pumpkin pie the father of two modestly explained he’s just there to help kids who’re growing up in the same situation he had. When an Arizona woman discovered the channel and shared it with the internet calling it the “purest thing”, the tweet received almost 600,000 retweets and prompted a surge in subscribers to “Dad, how do I” which now numbers nearly 3 million.
In many ways, the global pandemic laid bare the frailty of society but it also shed clarity on social infrastructure and highlighted those we rely on most. Quickly, the essential workers of our world were revealed and rightfully applauded and appreciated. It became clear that without Chicago’s postal workers, teachers, healthcare professionals, and many of the lowest paid, but most demanding jobs, we would fall apart. These fundamental jobs were put into the limelight and their importance emphasized as it had never been before. Many have since sought to ensure we don’t, as a society, forget this revelation. Art around the world highlighted the efforts of essential workers and Chicago’s renowned art scene didn’t fail to deliver.
In September, the National Workers Alliance funded a new mural by local artist Sam Kirk. The poignant piece pays respects to the millions of domestic workers and essential workers in this country who continue to work in the midst of the pandemic. The piece features four portraits of real-life workers in Chicago; Juan Burrell, a Chavez Elementary school lunchroom manager, Carilla Hayden, a USPS Postal Worker, Veronica Sanchez, Leader with the Latino Union of Chicago, and Nanny, and Maggie Zylinska, a Domestic Worker.
If there is one overwhelming positive message to take from this turbulent year, it’s unity. The global pandemic galvanized communities little and large, inspiring kindness and harmony across the world. In Chicago, we saw so many stirring displays of solidarity. Back in June, after seeing the 70-year-old Don Rosario known as ‘Paleta Man’, working on Father’s Day, Michaelangelo Mosqueda bought all of his paletas so that Rosario could go home and spend the day with his family. A GoFundMe was then created to help Don Rosario retire. With a goal of $10,000, it exceeded $60,000 in less than 24 hours.
But that was one example in a sea of kindness that swept Chicago this year. A similar thing happened with Claudio Velez, better known in Chicago as the ‘Tamale Guy’. Velez was a familiar face of Chicago’s late-night scene in Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town, and Logan Square, where he would be often spotted slinging tamales to the glee of bar patrons in need of a refuel. When Covid-19 emerged, Velez had to adjust his business and began making home deliveries, only to get hit with a cease-and-desist from the city. What followed was an outpouring of support again via a GoFundMe which, within a month, fulfilled Velez’s dream of owning his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Ukrainian Village.
People’s use of GoFundMe during 2020 was heartwarming but with everybody of all different salaries and livelihoods affected by Covid-19, not everybody was in the position to give. If Chicago locals are called upon, however, they deliver. When Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen registered no orders during one week of July they posted an urgent call for help on Facebook and Twitter. Within hours the City of Chicago responded with long lines pouring out the door and around the block.
Manny’s was not alone in its struggle. Having helped feed locals in times of hardship, many other businesses quickly exhausted their resources. Evanston’s Gyros Planet and Taqueria was one such business. Wife and husband duo, Erika Castro and Pablo Sanchez took turns preparing free daily meals for loyal customers struggling with layoffs, no health insurance, and sick family members. As the situation exacerbated demand grew and taking it in turns was not enough. With no employees, struggles from the repercussions of Covid-19, and having given away over 23,840 free meals, the business was on its last legs.
An Evanston resident, Amy Landolt, got wind of the situation, and knowing that the couple had spent their time helping the community and not building their business, Landolt organized an online auction with the objective of raising $5,000. Instead of asking for donations from local businesses and families who may be struggling themselves, she enlisted the help of her 19-year-old twins, two recent graduates of Evanston Township High School. Her son offered his services as a math tutor and her daughter offers to read virtual bedtime stories in either Spanish or English. Evanston Township High School students and local Evanston businesses then continued to sign up offering various products and services to help reach the target.
Of course, one of the most poignant moments of this year came when The Black Lives Matter movement gained international recognition. Countries around the world addressed underlying and historical racial injustices and millions of people helped to raise awareness and spoke out about eradicating racism as one. Faster than ever before, we saw change. The streets were painted with “Black Lives Matter” murals and art pieces symbolizing unity within communities. Street names were changed, parks were renamed, and statues of figures criticised for their treatment of black Americans and indigenous people were taken down. Chicago communities stood as one and did what they could. Chicago’s Drag Community marched in support of Black Lives Matter to demand justice and icons like Michelle Obama spoke out about ending racism with “justice, compassion, and empathy” while encouraging “self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own.”
Events and initiatives like Blaktober and Black Shop Friday drew light on the ongoing racial wealth gap and encouraged Chicagoans to shop at black-owned businesses, not just this year but forever more.
Chicago’s art scene does not warrant an introduction. Over the last decade, Chicago’s iconic street murals have done far more than provide an extraordinary spectacle for our eyes. The Black and Brown Unity Wall and Essential Workers Mural were two of the many pieces Chicago’s artistic community gave us in 2020. Some paid homage to icons and championed individuals. Some celebrated different heritages and displayed messages of solidarity. But all helped keep spirits up by brightening the community and spreading positivity.
There are those dime-a-dozen human beings that go out of their way to add a splash of color to the lives of others and this year we were treated to so many fantastic creations. Frankie Zela’s vibrant home-made murals flowered garages across Chicago while artist collectives painted positive messages on the boarded-up storefronts that swept Chicago during this year’s civil unrest. One art vigilante, Jim Bachor, even took to the streets to fill in Chicago’s potholes with dazzling mosaic murals, all for the good of humankind.
Of course, let’s also not forget that in an annual comprehensive survey carried out by award-winning magazine Condé Nast Travel deemed Chicago the top city in the United States for the fourth consecutive year. The annual Readers’ Choice Awards has been running for more than three decades and this year saw over 700,000 people participate. Condé Nast Travel praised the Windy City for its “impressive architecture, first-rate museums, brilliant chefs, and massive brewing scene.” Our 77 diverse and distinct neighborhoods offer an unparalleled array of restaurants, bars, and businesses but it’s “some of the most pleasant people you’ll find anywhere” that truly earned Chicago that gold medal!