By C. Diane Wallace Booker, Esq., Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President for U.S. Dream Academy

During this unprecedented experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had a new term added to our vocabulary – “Social Distancing”. Multiple times daily, TV news anchors, online articles, and posts in our social media feeds remind us to follow the CDC’s guidance for social distancing. But is this really the goal? “Social distancing” just seems like an inaccurate term to me. Social distancing sounds lonely and isolating, while those who are currently sick are truly isolated, most of us are earnestly attempting to put physical distance between each other – not to distance ourselves from each other socially.

To me, a term like “physical distancing” sends a more clear message as to what we, as a country, are seeking to achieve while also not dismissing the very real need for us as humans to socialize and connect. It’s more important now than ever that we, as a society, are strengthening social connections through this time of COVID-19 social distancing.

As people’s daily lives have been impacted by COVID-19, we need to encourage, support, motivate, help and guide each other. From providing comfort and reassurance to a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor to smiling, laughing, crying, dancing, or learning together virtually, people are finding creative ways to do this. On Saturday night, famous rapper and DJ D-Nice hosted a global dance party with over 100,000 viewers on Instagram.

Being a part of this moment was epic as I watched thousands of people join the #ClubQuarantine “party”, celebrities, artists, and everyone in between felt welcome to join in as D-Nice gave shout outs, played music of all genres for 9 hours and reminded us to stay home to stop the spread. This moment underscored the power of music to bring people together in times of trouble and how we can creatively stay connected while we all do our part to help STOP the spread of this globally disruptive virus.

Personally, I have had more social contact this past week by phone, Zoom, Google Hangouts, text, email, and social media than ever as we moved our U.S. Dream Academy national office from a traditional working space to a virtual environment.

As each of the seven school districts, where our Dream Academy Learning Centers operate, began to shut down one after the other on Friday, March 13, within hours, millions of young people across the country lost a sense of stability in their lives and moved into a place of uncertainty about their future. Schools, for as much as young people may complain about school, offer a place of safety, food, consistency, computer access, counseling, support and other resources, as well as a place to socialize and connect.

Our U.S. Dream Academy staff sprung into action to ensure that our DreamKids knew that we were still here and would remain a consistent part of their lives. Our Dream Team has been making one-to-one calls to each of our parents, reaching out to students through text, Zoom and google hang-outs, and doing wellness checks with our volunteer Mentors (many of whom are college students and had their own sudden life-changes when many had to pack up their college dorms and head home).

Throughout this virtual communication process, we have been connecting, encouraging, identifying and meeting needs, sharing, laughing and empathizing with everyone in our U.S. Dream Academy network. Our social connections have been intentional, meaningful and have helped each of us gain a little more control back in our lives when we are helping others and working as a community to meet our collective needs.

As we move forward to adjusting to life amid COVID-19, our country must continue to be intentional about physical distancing and staying home as a collective effort to help end this public health crisis and “flatten the curve”. Additionally, let’s also be intentional about socially connecting with our families, friends, neighbors and those in need. We all need each other during this time to not only save the lives of others, but to save our own lives.

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C. Diane Wallace Booker, Esq., is the Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President for the U.S. Dream Academy, a justice reform champion, attorney and seasoned non-profit executive. She led the national expansion and has refined a youth development model of skill building, character building and dream building that has successfully helped thousands of young people living in high risk neighborhoods to build positive dreams. VIEW FULL BIO

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