Sienna Ablorh, '21

Community in Crisis:

Coming Together or Pulling Apart?

My project, “Community in Crisis: Coming Together or Pulling Apart?” was inspired by me being a Worcester native and current resident. I explored the question of community amidst the on-going pandemic, and specifically wondered if COVID-19 was pushing communities apart or bringing them together. I looked at this question in three different ways. First, in regard to politics, when after the murder of George Floyd Worcester saw an increase in racial tensions. Then in regard to economics, when during the pandemic so many small businesses were forced to reduce operations. And finally, in regard to health care. We all heard stories every day about our nationally overworked medical system and I thought this conversation needed to be had locally, and I especially thought so because I saw first-hand the struggles of doctors and nurses while I was working at UMass Memorial over the past summer. So for this project. I spoke to health care workers, educators, political activists, small business owners about this question of community. For example, small businesses had to decide whether to compete with other small businesses for scarce resources or to try to join forces and show greater solidarity. Another tension was healthcare workers being exhausted with the amount of new positive cases coming in while anti-maskers rallied outside.In my research, I learned that this time did prompt fights for resources, but it also inspired ways of working together- and that many of these “solutions” were initiated not by local governments but the community. The most recent initiative is the “Woo Fridges” which operates as a take what you need and leave what you can food pantry for all residents of Worcester. It isn’t for the unhoused or low-income, it is for the community by the community to make sure everyone gets fed. In terms of lessons to be learned: I believe that at all levels, we as a society can agree that the pandemic exposed the inequities of a deeply flawed system. So, I think as I introduce the question of communities coming together or falling apart, we can evaluate how we help our neighbors and what we can all do to avoid disintegration and instead find ways to mutually support one another. I don’t think there is any SINGLE answer to if communities are coming together or pulling apart. Rather, I think this is a critical time and moment for dialogue surrounding what we are living through and maybe we can start with racial, economic, and healthcare justice.