How to Build Community While at Home

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During this time of social isolation, activist DeRay Mckesson (Pod Save The People) wants to inspire people to get involved and organize from home. This led to the creation of, a regularly updated website that compiles all sorts of COVID-related resources and tools for American citizens of every demographic, including parents and students. “While you’re at home, there are resources to help you get out of this mess, and we will make it out of this mess. While you’re home, there is still something for you to do.”  

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Follow DeRay on Twitter, Instagram, and listen to his podcast, Pod Save The People.


[00:01] Jessica Cordova Kramer: Hey, Good Kids listeners, we want to hear from you. If you’re stuck at home like 80 percent of the world at the moment — and by the way, can we just take a minute to say how incredibly grateful we are for the people who have to be at work right now: the nurses, the doctors, the healthcare professionals, grocery store employees. Being stuck at home may be really challenging. It is. It is. I’m looking at my husband right now and it’s challenging physically. It’s challenging to look at for us. But putting your own health and safety at risk because you have to be out is such a huge sacrifice. So thank you to all of you in that situation. 


[00:36] Eli Kramer: We are stuck at home and we know that most of you probably are, too. If you need something to do, you can send us your own little version of a Good Kids, Stay at Home Edition. You take out your phone, or some other way of recording, you can use a voice memo app, and you can send us your own segment of Good Kids, Stay at Home Edition. Email an audio file to Enjoy the show. 


[01:06] Deray Mckesson: Hey, this DeRay Mckesson, the host of Pod Save the People and a civil rights activist. And this is a Stay at Home edition of Good Kids. 


[01:17] I remembered being a teacher back in 2009 when there was a blizzard and everything shut down, and I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t take it seriously. And I was stuck in the house hungry and it was bad. So the next day I went and I like got some food. I got stocked up on cleaning supplies that I might need. I’m obsessed with washing clothes randomly. So I have enough laundry detergent to last for a while. And like, that was when I got real for me.


[01:47] I was also online and I saw all these incredible resources, you know, pop up immediately. And if there’s anything that Ferguson taught me that I will never forget, it was that it doesn’t take an organizer training, identifying as an activist. having read critical race theory to be a good organizer. That was really true about St. Louis, was that people came outside, saw a need and did exactly what they needed to do. And it built a movement that spread across the country, lasted 400 days. Something that a generation hadn’t seen before. The longest single wave of protests in the country’s history.


[02:21] And it wasn’t from trained organizers. It was like people in the neighborhoods were like elderly people need groceries? Let me get that together. Doctors need child care? Let me do that. People are like, well, we need to take masks to the hospital? People did that. People actually have always had the tools of what it means to organize. They’ve had it. They’ve always had it. But there’s something about the way that we industrialize everything that made organizing an industry. 


[02:47] And I think in moments like this, you see that organizing is about a set of skills, and a lot of people have those skills. So I was trying to figure out if this all this gets up happening, all these incredible resources. One of the skills you shouldn’t have to have in this moment is being a sleuth to find the good information. So it’s like, can we put all the information in one place? Can we become a clearinghouse and a hub for information for people? And the answer was yes. So we built a because while you’re at home, you’re still part of community. While you’re home, there are resources to help you get out of this mess, because we will make it out of this mess. And it was this core belief that while your home there is something for you to do. Now, we have 200 volunteers across the country who are helping to make sure the content is up-to-date. And you know, when we built, the idea was that this is a living, breathing document. That as information changes, the site changes. So we have a page dedicated to parents, so there are a lot of resources for parents. It is broken up by age groups, since they are suddenly on school teachers, and then there’s a set of resources for students as well. So there’s resources for college students, high school students, students of all ages. And that’s important, too, because we wanted to say there are a lot of good things happening out there. There’s a lot of information, a lot of people organizing for the first time. We wanted to make one place where you could go and get all the information. And what’s cool is that when you go to the site, there’s also a bot at the bottom right-hand corner. So if you need to push information, if you need to help us change something, if you want to volunteer, you can actually do it all in one place.


[04:18] You know, when I think about elementary school students, it’s a reminder that their whole lives, they’ve had structure and consistency in school. And you should mimic that structure and consistency. It doesn’t need to be rigid, though, because classrooms are rarely rigid, especially elementary school classrooms. So, you know, have a schedule. You won’t always stick to it perfectly. But like, you can do it. Knock it out. The other thing is, you know, I have a lot of friends who have kids who are elementary school age. Remember that even in school, no kid is doing work straight for four hours. That’s not how school is structured. 


[04:48] No third grader is sitting down at 8 a.m. and staying seated till noon or 2 or whatever, just straight doing work. There are breaks. There are singalongs. There’s floor time. There’s reading a book together out loud. There is stand up and wiggle out the energy. You should do like 45-minute chunks of content, if you’re going to do content at home. It is torture for everybody to make a kid just sit down. You know, I used to teach sixth grade and I taught 60, 90 and 120 minute classes. And even in middle school, it was like the longest class I had was 120 minutes. And there is no way they could sit for 120 minutes and just do math. We would play some games together. We would take a break for 20 minutes and just hang out. Like you’re not trapping students. And I think that some people think that rigid means learning. And that’s not how learning happens. The second you know, some people are torn about homework. Is homework important for grading? Probably not. I can agree with that. But the only way that any of us actually get good at what we do is practice, and homework is actually a really good way to practice. So now that kids are home, they can practice things and get one-to-one feedback in ways that might not be possible in a lot of classrooms, regardless of where the classroom is. It is just hard when you have 30 kids in a room to monitor every single kid every moment. But at home you can. So that’s that. The other thing is, you know, my sister is a principal and it’s funny because she jokes — she’s like all the parents are calling her about everything. And she’s like your teachers, they want to connect. They are home, too. They can answer some of these questions. She’s like. You know, people should be reaching out to their teachers if they have some content questions. Teachers are still teachers. So if you want to hop on the phone with a teacher, there’s a way to get in touch with the teacher about a content issue you have, or a question you have about how to work with your child, then you should try and reach out if you can. Because they are planning. And a lot of teachers know how to teach in classrooms really well, the distance learning is hard. It’s such a different skill. Can we do it? Absolutely. Is it easy? No. Is it the same as in a classroom? No. But you see incredible teachers adapting to the reality that we live in. And none of us know what we’re gonna do about public education, or about daycare if it’s closed for three, four months. Which is why we built WhileAtHome. We’re trying to build out a structure so parents I don’t have to do the guesswork. 


[07:05] And here’s what I learned in training teachers and being a teacher. The magic is not in you trying to be the best person ever to teach phonics, or like that best person ever to think about how to do fractions at home, or the best person to ever think about how you teach your kid how to read or add. Like you don’t need to be the savant there. The thing that you can do that nobody else can do well is deliver it to your kid. That’s where the magic is. So find great content that’s already out there. The thing that you can do is translate it. As a teacher, I was never up all night thinking what is the absolute best way to teach fractions? Other people thought about that. I’m trying to find the best way. I’m like looking at other lesson plans and like, oh, I can tweak this. But I didn’t feel the pressure to create the new best way. What I can do is walk in a classroom and make it the best for my students. And like that was the magic. So it’s how I can teach a lot of content in a little bit of time. And I think that, like, that’s what parents don’t get. It’s funny because parents are like, I really appreciate teachers in this moment. But it’s like y’all don’t even know. You think it’s hard just being around your kid all day. It’s like we’re around your kid in 20 of their friends all day. It is even more intense in a school building. But it’s good that people sort of see that a teaching is not just babysitting. And I think a lot of people thought that teachers were just sort of watching kids. This is actually hard to do. 


[10:38] When I’ve been thinking about what bouncing back means, I think that it’s hard because for so many people our idea of what disaster looks like is so rooted in movies and television. So if it’s not gory or things blowing up or something, people don’t think it’s real. And it is sort of wild to see the number of deaths rise, like to see the number of new cases rise so dramatically in the United States in ways that are outpacing other countries. And some people still don’t take it seriously. That worries me. 


[11:04] So we have links to how to get tested across the country, we have links to how to donate some funds that split money up across a host of really important things, how to volunteer at food banks, blood banks. There were some things that I didn’t know. I didn’t know that we’re experiencing right now an historic shortage in blood. I also didn’t know the Red Cross isn’t the only or necessarily the biggest blood donor organization. There are three big blood donor organizations out there. Also, some food shelters are actually closing in this crisis, not because there’s no food, but because there are no volunteers. So it’s like this interesting moment where there’s a historic need, and people are nervous about sort of showing up in person. So I learned some of those things. 


[11:42] We built a dialer — 478-29COVID. And if you call this number, it’ll automatically route you to the hotline that is in your state around Covid. So this is important because 911 numbers across the country are being overwhelmed by non-emergencies. And when you call this number, it automatically routes you. But I had to go and create a list of all the phone numbers, and it was actually really hard. It took me a day to find the phone numbers because you would go to some State Department websites like the insert-state-here department of health, and it was like the number would be buried under page five. Or I’d have to go find it in a press release. We have a whole page dedicated to artists. And there were some cities that I could find a press release announcing an artist fund for the city, like $2 million to help artists in this time. And then I go to find the fund, and the fund doesn’t really exist. I’m like sleuthing. So it took a lot of work to put all the information in one place. There were a couple resources that I didn’t even know were out there. So I didn’t know that 11 states and the District of Columbia are actually going through open enrollment right now. So you can sign up for health insurance specifically because of Covid-19. If you weren’t insured before, there’s a small window where you can sign up. What was interesting about that is and I had to sit back and find the deadlines. Like when is the last day you can sign up? And that was actually much harder than I thought. 


[13:02] There’s a database the Health and Human Services Department at the federal level, by which doctors can volunteer for emergencies in their respective state. As you can imagine, HHS is not managing that database right now, so we re-created the database on the site. So if you’re a doctor in any state across the country, you can go, all the links work. If you go to the HHS website, all the links do not work. So those sort of things were really helpful. We have a set of resources for educators. So we found all the places that have free trials right now, that are allowing people to access sites for free or content for free. So we have links to that. We have some recommended ones. We tell you how to look out for it. One of the cool ones, too, that we have is a page about fitness. There are a lot of apps and gyms that are either doing free workouts or they have made their meditation apps free, those sort of things. So there is a set of resources for anybody. 


[13:50] And the last one that I am really proud of, because it was something I couldn’t find anywhere else, was about small businesses. So the Small Business Administration has loans for people across the country and that’s a national agency. But there are a lot of cities that have small business loans themselves. So you can go and like you can apply for the federal grant, but you can also apply for a local grant. There was no place that had all the links together. And what is important about the site is that we only include links that are active. So there are a lot of funds out there. But in clicking through all of them, what I realize is that some had already dispersed all the money, some were no longer taking funds. So we didn’t include things where you couldn’t actually be involved in the first place. But it was all rooted in this idea that if you give people information, they will make good decisions. 

[14:31] But in the absence of information, people just can’t make great decisions. I’m in New York right now. There’s a friend who wanted to get tested. Didn’t know what to do. Gave him the hotline. They called. They got tested. They tested positive for Covid. And it was like we should actually make this simple, because the hard part is the results. The hard part is how you keep yourself healthy in some places. The hard part should not be how you get the information. There’s also resources that we promote on the site where you can actually get connected to a doctor via text today. Whether you have a primary care physician or not, if you want to text a licensed medical profession in the country, you can sign up. It’s free. And it’s those sort of things that you shouldn’t have to be a sleuth to figure out.


[15:19] But I think that what we’ll see is that the country will snap back. I think that there’ll be a lot of graduations that happen not in person. I think that there’ll be this generation of kids right now who experience this who will take this with them forever, who will have to figure out like — I think that there will be summer school but we won’t call it summer school. But I think there will be learning over the summer for kids in a really structured way that we haven’t seen at-scale. I think there’ll be a resurgence of after-school providers. I think there’ll be a resurgence of daycare providers in ways that will truly be just big. I think that also people have a much greater sense of collective action and community after this, because normally when crises hit, it disproportionately impacts people of color. And like that is sort of across the board. And in this moment is also disproportionately impacting people of color and poor people who don’t have access to food or stable housing, things like that.


[16:07] But what’s unique about this moment is that Covid is not discriminating by race, gender, socioeconomic status. So a lot of people are being displaced. And I think that people who sometimes chose not to understand inequity are being forced to understand it because they got thrust into it as victims. And I hope that on the other side of this, people will be much more understanding that people don’t choose poverty. Poverty chooses them. People don’t choose these situations, the situations choose them. And I hope that that leads to love and empathy that really quickly ushers itself into shaping public policy. 


[16:49] You know, I think we’ll make our way through this. If you have any resources for, please go to the site and add them with the bot. Or sign up to be a volunteer. Join the mailing list. You know, I have faith in people organizing where they are in their communities. That has always happened. And be creative, find great resources. We’ll make it through. You can follow me on Twitter @DeRay. And you can go to to stay up to date on the best resources out there.


[17:27] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Molad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard, share, rate, review, say great things about us.

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