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Antjuan Seawright: It hits hardest when it hits close to home

Antjuan Seawright: It hits hardest when it hits close to home
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There’s an unassuming, one-story building on Salem Branch Road, about 15 minutes outside of Woodford, S.C. Surrounded by forest and cotton fields, it looks like the countless small community churches that dot the southern landscape, except for the sign outside that identifies it as Maloney Baptist Church.

Every Sunday morning when growing up, I was either there or at Prodigal AME Church outside of Swansea. That’s why I jokingly call myself a Bapti-ME when asked. That’s a combination of a Baptist and AME for anyone keeping score. 

You learn a few things sitting in those wooden pews.

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You learn that every song sounds better when it’s sung by a choir. You learn that grandmothers always keep hard candy hidden in their pocketbooks, and that nothing tastes better than that after-church supper when you’re hungry for it.

You learn that there are some folks who come through, who dig deep for the sick and shut-in, whose shoulders, though humble, are broader and stronger than you could possibly imagine because they hold a responsibility you can barely imagine.

They don’t do it for recognition or reward. They don’t do it because you’ll think less of them if they don’t. They just do it.

My mother always talked about how every struggle can feel like a crisis because the hit is harder when it hits close to home. But in times of crisis, true heroes emerge and their small acts of selfless kindness can save the world. What impressed me then (and still does) is that she never thought about the burden she and so many like her carried. She didn’t see herself as anyone’s hero. 

Yet, whether it was a father who’d been laid off, a mother with breast cancer, or a child who needed someone to listen and understand, she never waited to be asked to give. In spite of working two jobs in those days, she always found her way to give back. She’d stand beside anyone just to let them know they weren’t alone.

She didn’t see herself as anyone’s hero. But she was ... and she is.

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Now, with more than a half-million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States and more than 25,000 deaths, the facts of our crisis are undeniable. But, as in any crisis, we have seen heroes emerge.

We see front-line health care workers risking their own lives to face down this horror of a disease without the resources they need to treat their patients and protect themselves because many of the powers-that-be refused to believe the crisis was real and put stock market profits ahead of their lives.

We see farmers and grocery store workers standing in harm’s way because, if they don’t, toilet paper will be the least of our concerns. If they don’t go to work, we don’t eat.

We see pharmacists and first-responders. Water and sewer workers, transit employees, mail carriers, delivery drivers. 

We see teachers, many of them underpaid and under-appreciated, gaining newfound technological expertise and the courage to act on their own even when the district or state refuses to act, because when it comes to doing what their students need or what the administration wants, they choose students every time.

We see mothers and fathers holding families together, even as their businesses close and their jobs slip away.

And I see 64-year-young Margaret Seawright, the daughter of sharecroppers ... my mother.

She continues to teach my siblings and me about community. She teaches us that heroes don’t always wear capes. And that the two most important words in the English language are “thank you.”

Maybe I’m thinking about this now because, like many Americans, I’m frustrated. More than a month into this pandemic, we all want our leaders to stop pretending that this is a bad reality-TV episode and start acting like real lives are on the line.

Maybe it’s because we feel it’s time for the unsung Americans, who have kept the rest of us going the past few weeks, to be recognized because, in the worst of circumstances, they represent the best of us. Maybe it’s because we’re fed up. 

Or maybe it’s because my mother has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the crisis hits hardest when it hits close to home.

Thankfully, she’s doing well and we have all the reasons in the world to be optimistic. So I pray for all the families who are enduring what we’re going through, and I thank all those who are helping us to get through it.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.