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HOPE: Lost and Found!

By Dr. Calvin Mackie, STEM NOLA


Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001?

Do you remember the horrific images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005?

Do you remember the Banking crisis in 2008?


Everyone suffers from storms that come into their lives. No one is immune from bad days, or months, or sometimes, years.


Presently, America as a whole is experiencing an unprecedented storm. The Coronavirus pandemic poses an existential danger and is threatening to destroy our way of life.


More than 100 million people have been ordered by states to shelter in place. The financial markets are crashing. Trillions of dollars have disappeared. Millions of people are filing for unemployment benefits. People fear losing their homes and jobs. Fifty three million kids and countless teachers are home-bound due to school closures.


Sometimes, we look at the dark clouds of a storm and it seems as if they linger forever. The clouds and the rain seem like they will never end; however, the best thing we can do during times of trouble is remember that the storms never lasted.


“This too shall pass.”


If I didn’t already understand my grandma’s favorite proverb, “This Too Shall Pass,” the events of Hurricane Katrina made it crystal clear for me. There have been times in my life that have been very difficult for me, but nothing would compare to the financial, physical and psychological burden that mother nature imposed on my community.


Beginning in 2005, the people of New Orleans took one gut punch after another. First, the hurricane. Then the flood. The government’s slow response, the loss of homes, lives, investments and our way of life.


Years later, after the cameras had departed and the nation seemed to move on, the people of New Orleans -my people, me – were rebuilding our lives and city.


The impact of Hurricane Katrina passed because we never lost hope that it would pass and life would go on.


Hope is that little voice in your head that whispers “yes,” when the entire world is screaming “no.”


After Hurricane Katrina, I lost a tenured professorship in the School of Engineering at Tulane University, when the president of the university decided to keep the football team and eliminate the engineering program.


In March 2006, I lost my dad and stepmother six days apart when neither of them could receive the medical treatment they deserved in the challenged healthcare system of New Orleans.


My childhood community, including my church, were destroyed by the hurricane.


The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina gave me hope and three things that are important for us to consider during this global health crisis.


1. HOPE helped me find my Purpose and Passion. Use this time to look within and discover your purpose and passion


“A passion is not friendly. It is arrogant, superbly contemptuous of all what is not itself, and, as the very definition of passion implies the impulse to freedom, it has a mighty intimidating power. It contains a challenge. It contains an unspeakable hope.” – James Baldwin



The loss of my tenured faculty position at Tulane University was extremely difficult. For 11 years, I worked long hours writing numerous proposals, journal articles and conference papers. I spent numerous late nights grading papers and preparing lectures.


At the most challenging moment in my life – when my community and childhood home were underwater and faculty members were displaced from their homes – Tulane University made the decision to shutter the entire engineering program, thus firing more than 60 faculty members. I was shocked and utterly upset. My entire world was turned upside down!


This event caused me to found STEM NOLA, a community-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, to expose, inspire and engage communities in hands-on STEM activities. We have since engaged more than 40,000 K-12 kids and built a cradle to career STEM pipeline model for communities.


Yes, I lost my tenured position, but I found my purpose and mission in life. I had been afraid to pursue other dreams I had because I was so comfortable in my position. The loss of my JOB, but never my HOPE, led me to find MY PURPOSE and PASSION!


2. HOPE helped me find Community. Use this time to discover new friends and colleagues in different arenas


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my family lost 29 homes. I instantly lost 62 colleagues and a community of scholars at Tulane. The neighborhood where I grew up was destroyed and my church imploded. Everything that gave me social connection and communal identity were either gone or displaced.


Hope helped me connect with a new community that helped me re-create myself.


Understand your value proposition to the market and the world. You were previously successful with your school and organization. How can you now package your skills for yourself for the new world or new normal?


COVID-19 is destroying our social connections and altering our relationships even with those closest to us. Take some time and do a self-inventory and be honest.


Being really busy focusing on everything but ourselves, sometimes we forget what it is that we have to bring to the table, although we were delivering it all of the time. Start to look for communities to re-engage and discover what uniqueness you have to offer the new world.


3. HOPE helped me find ME. Use this time to look within and find your voice!


I was a research scientist with a lab full of undergraduate and graduate research students. I spent years studying fluid mechanics and heat transfer as they relate to the manufacturing of advanced materials. I know, yes, I was an egg head.


Late nights reading journals, writing proposals and grants to government agencies and foundations allowed me very little interaction with the larger community. Deep within me, however, was a desire to impact the community in which I lived, worked and played. I would drive to work and see kids walking to school down the same potholed-filled streets where I walked. I wondered how my work was impacting their lives.


After losing my job, I found ME and my voice! I now advocate and work on behalf of the children who otherwise may not ever be exposed to STEM education.


My work in the university and training as a scientist, coupled with finding a new community, gave birth to my true voice.


My true voice, the one that emanates from my core, is the voice that speaks and advocates for our children. The voice that gives them and hopefully you HOPE. The HOPE to keep pushing forward in the face of crisis and uncertainty. All of us have that voice within us, listen!

If you are alive, with breath still in your body, you will continue to accumulate more losses and trials in your life. Losing, falling and failing are unavoidable, challenging, and painful parts of life, but you must never lose hope!


Our children are watching us. They can sense our anxiety and hear our nervousness. It is paramount that we hold onto hope, knowing that collectively as a community and even a nation, there isn’t a challenge that we cannot conquer.


Out of the mist and fog of this Coronavirus crisis, we will discover a brighter day!

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