Our secret badges of grief should turn us toward empathy

While growing up, the idea of grief was foreign to me. It was something I saw others endure on television or heard my family members mention. However, I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand how the absence of someone or something could create such a deep feeling.

It wouldn’t be until the age of 25 that I would finally understand the depth of grief after losing my grandmother. The loss of our family’s matriarch, a woman who was my second mother, shattered our family. Many years later, our family still finds itself re-learning what the world looks like without her. We have been forever changed by grief.

After experiencing grief myself, I felt as if I was holding a secret badge that at some point everyone would receive. This secret grief badge allowed me to feel more compassion toward others when I realized that they too were wearing the badge. I also became increasingly aware that my first experience with grief only meant that I would inevitably be receiving yet more badges with time.

When I talk to others who may have never experienced grief after losing a loved one, the conversation quickly turns toward an awkward silence or response. Truth is, the notion of losing someone scares us. Earning the secret badge of grief is something we’d rather ignore. But it is one of only a few certainties in the world: at some point, our heart will be the recipient of this difficult secret badge to carry.

Thanks to therapy and ongoing life experiences, I have come to learn that the nature of grief is more complicated than I realized. We can experience grief when we go through divorce, when we, or someone we love, is diagnosed with an illness when we lose our dream job, or experience violence.

During this time of the year (holidays), many of us may be experiencing some type of grief. Some of us are grieving a loved one. Some of us are grieving an illness. Some of us may be grieving the loss of a dream.

The ongoing pandemic has created yet another layer of grief for many of us. Millions of people around the world are grieving the loss of a loved one to COVID-19, while others grieve the loss of connections, normalcy, and safety. Since last year (2020) anxiety, stress, and depression have increased dramatically for millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds. While some of us have the privilege of accessing mental health services, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, each year nearly 30 million adults and children living with mental health conditions in the U.S. go without any treatment.

This incredible disparity is due to lack of health care access or affordability issues, a limited number of providers available, or even lack of interest. I understand that therapy may not be for everyone, but I also believe that other types of support for individuals suffering through depression, anxiety, addiction, and grief should be readily available and encouraged.

Every day, we encounter individuals who are mourning something or someone. Some may be dealing with their grief alone, some may be hiding their grief behind anger or even a smile. We may not always recognize it when they are carrying their secret badge, but when we do, we must remember that it’s a difficult and painful badge to carry. It’s one we will all hold at some point, and showing compassion is an imperative part of carrying it.

Cover Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

Marcela Betancur

Marcela Betancur is the proud daughter of Colombian immigrants and currently serves as the director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

Publisher’s Note: Our secret badges of grief should turn us toward empathy was first published on The Valley Breeze.

LPI and RI Latino News; partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

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Elliot Rivera: Creating Change

“YIA plays an imperative role in the development of youth and their adult allies, going beyond traditional approaches to leadership development by prioritizing social-emotional development,” said Elliot Rivera when he was named Executive Director of Youth In Action (YIA) in 2019.

Since then, Rivera has been working to fulfill YIA’s mission of creating opportunities for youth to become their best selves. “They address power imbalances that stifle the potential of youth, especially young people of color, and create more caring and fair public institutions and systems,” reads in part the About section of the YIA website. By building power, leadership, and action amongst youth in our communities, YIA believes a more equitable and safe world is possible.

Growing up in Worcester, MA as a first-generation Salvadoran, Rivera did not have the access to most resources. What he did have were two dedicated parents working countless hours in manufacturing and janitorial services to get by. Never really thinking he would end up working with people, opportunities to support his communities from fighting within a union for undocumented worker rights to supporting youth in multiple settings came naturally to Rivera. He was first profiled in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series.

As a person of Latine heritage, Elliot’s connection to his work and its journey is rooted in his deep core connection to all aspects of his culture. Now proudly calling Providence RI home, in his current role with YIA, he amplifies the stories and journeys of the next generation and supports them in their journeys by opening doors to experiences and opportunities he was never afforded.

“If the pandemic is literally killing Black and Latino communities at higher rates, it’s obviously affecting them in different ways, too,� Rivera said in an interview with the Brown Daily Herald about the Providence Public School District operations in March 2021. Rivera said the school district had “been working on (issues of inequality) for decades,� but he questioned the quality of the progress that had been made. The pandemic may be slowing down reforms made by the state takeover, he said, noting the pandemic’s highlighting of the inequitable access to technology throughout the district.

Rivera was recognized with the Service to Youth Award by the City of Worcester in 2019. His experience includes Community Engagement Specialist and Program Director with the City of Worcester. He’s also been the Program Coordinator with the Latino Education Institute.

Rivera is a graduate of Worcester State University and has a Master’s degree from Tufts University.

LPI and RI Latino News; partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

Is there someone in the community you think we should feature? Send us your ideas to Info@LatinoNewsNetwork.com.

Maria Rivera: The Hands-on Mayor

The new year started how the old year ended for residents of Central Falls – under the figurative foot of COVID-19.

The working-class, Latino-majority city, which became the hardest-hit by the pandemic in Rhode Island at the start, was seeing daily positivity rates hovering around 20 percent when a former Rite Aid was converted to a new COVID-19 testing location on January 3.

The site, located at 1114 Broad St., is able to test up to 800 people per day, according to the office of Mayor Maria Rivera.

“The previous site had four windows,� said Rivera who was present, when the testing site opened. “This one, they have 10 lines, so we increased it by over 50 percent, and they do have a rapid line here.�

The state’s first Latina mayor began her second year in office, the same way she started her first year: hands-on and with the community.

“The biggest challenge has been coming into office in the middle of a pandemic – trying to figure out how I can get my community back to being healthy,� Rivera said in an interview with The Boston Globe.

“We live in a community of color, an immigrant community where there’s always lots of questions of trust,� said Rivera, who has gone door-to-door at local businesses to answer questions about the vaccine.

According to the most recent Department of Health data, more than half of city’s residents have received a vaccine shot.

Mayor Maria Rivera sworn in as the 33rd Mayor of the City of Central Falls, January 4, 2021

Mayor Rivera was born in Camden, NJ. She moved to Central Falls in 1987 with her parents who are originally from Puerto Rico.

Rivera was elected as the Mayor of Central Falls in November 2020 with 77 percent of the vote, she took office on January 4, 2021.

Prior to this role, Mayor Rivera was the top-vote getter in the 2018 election of all Central Falls City Council Candidates, and became the first female and first Latino Central Falls City Council President, a position she earned in just her second term as a council member.

She was named Rhode Island’s Woman of the Year for 2021 by GoLocalProv: “While some politicians seem more style than substance — Central Falls’ Mayor is in the midst of transforming the one square mile city block-by-block.â€�

Despite the accolades, Rivera is not resting on her laurels. Central Falls is facing both a public health crisis and a housing crisis.

The city is asking the state for $4.5 million so it can buy unused property to build about 200 apartments.

“To be able to give them the space where they can afford and have their own space, it’s going to make a huge difference with the health in the city,� she said.

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