Dear Friends and Family,

This weekend Eric and I went for a walk in our neighborhood. We saw our neighbors without their masks. I asked if they were vaccinated (yes) and if I could give them a hug (yes). For the first time in 14 months I hugged my neighbors (some I had never hugged in my life) and for the first time in 14 months I got to hold and kiss and snuggle my little neighbors Koa (age 5) and Kelani (age 3).

Having this human contact again was like holding a new born baby, smelling their baby head and feeling the flush of oxytocin rush all through my body.

I know COVID is still a threat. In my home state of Alabama, for example, only 34 percent of people are vaccinated. The CDC is concerned that unvaccinated people will get the virus and it will mutate into something the vaccines can’t handle. And, then, we will all be right back where we started.

But, for now, in this moment, my heart is full of and bursting with gratitude and love for the health and safety of my family, my neighbors and members of two communities that welcomed us in during the pandemic: Ananda Martial Arts and Fitness Academy (AMAFA) and the Homies Empowerment FREEdom Store.

Because of the pandemic, AMAFA moved all martial arts classes online. Eric and I were already taking the Five Realms for Life Meditative Movement class (similar to Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga), but by the summer we realized the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. So, at ages 57 and 54 we started Taekwondo training and joined a community of people ages 6 to 60 we never would have known otherwise. And, now, at ages 58 and 55, Eric and I are going to attend a week-long summer camp where we will do Taekwondo training from 8:30-5:30, (mornings over zoom, afternoons outside), and we will meet some community members for the first time in person.

The other community that welcomed us in is the Homies Empowerment FREEdom store and after fourteen months, this community has turned a temporary, volunteer, and donation-based effort to distribute food, diapers and toiletries, into a permanent, community-led partnerships with food banks, health centers, churches, etc., and now fair wages and benefits for paid staff from the local area. If you became a monthly donor to Homies, you money supports an organization that stands in solidarity with those most impacted by the pandemic. If you are not yet a monthly donor, but, like I, have a heart full of love and gratitude for surviving the pandemic, I encourage you to share your good fortune with Homies Empowerment. I don’t know of another organization that has operationalized the values I hold most dear—that all human beings deserve to be healthy, safe, and loved, most important, loved.

We are coming up on the anniversary of another pandemic, but unlike COVID-19 this one still rages on killing innocent BIPOC for no other reason than being BIPOC. And that deserves a letter all to itself, which I will send soon.

Until next time, stay healthy, safe, and loved, most important loved.

Love, Leslie