In my final column of 2021, I speculated that COVID, climate change and the continued existence of democracy were issues the world would grapple with in 2022.
While COVID has become more manageable, minimized exposure to seasonal illnesses over the past two years has made our immune systems easier targets. Flu viruses and RSV are filling hospitals this year much like COVID did the past two.
Still, we’ve come a long way. Last December, the Omicron variant was making its U.S. debut, shutting down many public places and forcing vulnerable populations to shelter at home yet again.
Baby steps continue worldwide in the effort to address climate change and protect democracy. For now, the environment and essential democratic institutions, such as free and fair elections, remain vulnerable.
Here are updates on other topics I wrote about this year:
Book banning continues to grow, which does little to nothing to prevent students from finding said books. What it does, as it always has, is put a spotlight on certain books, causing sales of those books to explode. I purchased several of the most banned books this year, both for myself and others. It felt great.
However, the majority of books parents have had banned from schools are about LGBTQ people and people of color. Banning these books tells children who are not white and/or heterosexual that their stories do not belong in our libraries and, by extension, our communities. Which is a cruel way to also tell these children that they themselves do not belong in our communities.
Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is a horrific example of power consolidated in a supreme leader. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Ukraine being forced into the Soviet Union. The world was not paying attention then. This time it is.
The spirit, tenacity and humanity of the Ukrainian people, so exemplified in my friend Allah, whom I wrote about soon after the war began, has done much to garner international support for this country fighting an unprovoked and illegal attack on its sovereignty.
But even with support, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and at least 100,000 Russians have died for one man’s delusions. Furthermore, cities and infrastructure that Ukrainian civilians rely upon for their existence continue to be targeted by Putin.
I pray that this time next year the story of Ukraine will be of its great postwar rebuilding.
Inclusion over ableism
I wrote multiple pieces on equal access and, therefore, equal rights for the disabled. My journey with my daughter, Lyra, a 10-year-old who has Down syndrome, has taught me much. In my lifetime, disability rights have progressed tremendously, yet much work remains.
Lyra’s father sold his house in Akron this fall and bought a new one in Copley so we can have another educational option. At the same time, Lyra was placed for the first time in SAIL (Students Achieving Independent Learning), a newer program at Akron Public Schools for some intellectually disabled students.
Lyra has been so successful in SAIL, we cannot imagine her attending school elsewhere. This is an important reminder that quality public schools are an anchor in keeping people of all socioeconomic levels from leaving cities when they have children.
Justice for all
Akron’s racial disparities and relations were on international display in 2022. As protests were occurring over the police shooting death of Jayland Walker, I wrote about three young Black men spending what ended up being two months in jail.
The three were playing basketball on June 2 in a fenced-in court that has only one usable entrance. They were attacked by four Firestone students with water pellet guns designed to look and sound like automatic rifles. A fight broke out. One of the Firestone four fell back, hit his head and died from a broken occipital bone.
After hearing the account of that night’s events from the Firestone students who’d initiated the attack, the police chief and mayor promoted a misleading narrative. When more information came to light, the three in jail had their bail amounts dramatically reduced and were quickly released.
In October, Donovan Jones, one of the three basketball players, pleaded no contest and was convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor. A trial for the other two will likely occur in February.
Why does Jones have a criminal record for defending himself when the three remaining Firestone students have not been charged for attacking Jones?
Access to museums
After I wrote about Museums for All, a program that facilitates modest fee admissions to museums for families who receive food stamps, I heard from one of my favorite librarians at Akron-Summit County Public Library.
Barb White was the head librarian at the Highland Square branch when my big boys were growing up. Today she’s a deputy director of our fabulous library system. She wrote to tell me that people who do not qualify for food stamps but still cannot afford museum fees can visit area cultural institutions without breaking the bank:
The “Akron-Summit County Library circulates museum passes as part of its Library of Things, and we anticipate increasing the number and variety of museum passes as [our] budget allows. Here’s the link to our Library of Things: https://www.akronlibrary.org/books-more/library-of-things The Museum passes can be found under ‘Recreational.’ ”
As there is a wait for the library passes, it requires planning a visit in advance.
I try to respond to all letters from readers (except those from trolls, naturally). I usually do so right away, but sometimes it takes a few days or weeks.
I was alarmed, therefore, when I accidentally discovered this fall that Gmail was sending many emails from readers to my spam folder. I presume this has been the case for the entire six-plus years I’ve been writing for the Beacon.
I now check my spam folder regularly, but if you never heard back from me and wondered why, that is probably the reason (unless, of course, you’re a troll).
Also note, if you write me an old-fashioned letter with pen and paper and send it to the Beacon’s offices, it will take several days to a few weeks to get to me, but it will get to me.
Thank you, readers. May 2023 bring peace and wisdom to us all.
This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on December 25, 2022.