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Well, it's official. We really are living in the "Twilight Zone." Not even Rod Serling could have prepared us for our current state of humanity. What you are about to watch is a nightmare. If Serling had written the script, he would have been laughed out of Hollywood for taking things too far.

As one Bored Panda commenter put it: "2020 history is going to read like a kindergartner’s attempt at fiction. 'Um, so first an entire continent was on fire. But then there was this disease, and everyone forgot about that. So then the whole world had to stay home. And school was cancelled for the year. And a bunch of people got real mad about stuff. And, um....um...BAM! Murder hornets!'"

That was only May. National Lemonade Day is observed the first Sunday in May, but could have been every day this year. Lemonade is a popular drink, and "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is an adage used to encourage optimism in the face of adversity. Lemons represent sourness or difficulties. Making lemonade turns them into something positive.

A lemonade stand is one of the first businesses a kid ever has. They learn the basics of how to make money and get a taste of success. But it's hard to have a lemonade stand if it's not safe to go outside and stand on the corner in your neighborhood. Many people did not — and still do not — feel safe this year for health and public safety reasons.

That anxiety has not escaped my family. I live in Minneapolis with my wife, three kids (ages 12, 8, and 5), and our dog. Our house is not far from where George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day. Days after his death, we had riots in the streets, fires burning blocks from us, crying and scared kids at home, and many sleepless nights staying up to be part of a neighborhood watch team with other concerned neighbors.

We wanted to calm our kids and make them feel safe, but that's tough when you see fires burning all over the city, along with what seemed like unchecked destruction and mayhem.

There were reports that people were coming from out of state to wreak havoc, leaving water bottles filled with flammable liquids in garbage cans and yards around the city to start fires. So we monitored the situation via a Discord chat and kept people updated on different channels.

We wanted to calm our kids and make them feel safe, but that's tough when you see fires burning all over the city, along with what seemed like unchecked destruction and mayhem. I believe in peace and practice nonviolence, but the mind can play tricks on you in moments of crisis. All of a sudden, I found myself preparing for war, getting mentally prepared to fight, dressing like a ninja, and gathering bats and any other household items I could use to beat down "bad guys," ready to protect our home by any means necessary. It felt strange, like doomsday was here, and I wasn't sure if we really were safe or if we would have to take drastic measures.

We survived, but many other homes, businesses and people in Minneapolis communities suffered. And since we are part of the community, we suffered, too. The damage to the city cost over $1 billion, the most expensive U.S. civil disorder in insurance history, and the true cost could be even higher. Since the arson, vandalism, and looting after George Floyd's death, there has been more chaos in our city. Public safety has become a pressing issue. Crime and violence are up. Carjackings have skyrocketed. Public morale is down. Fear and uneasiness hang in the air like an unspoken agreement.

As parents, our first responsibility to take care of our kids and give them everything they need to be healthy and happy. Living in a "Mad Max" post-apocalyptic dystopia wasn't in the parent handbook. But I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992 (the second-costliest civil unrest in U.S. history) and have looked back to see what lessons I can apply now.

Our family. (AnnMaria De Mars)

Our family. (AnnMaria De Mars)

We want to help our kids understand what is happening today in our city and community in a way that makes them less afraid and more compassionate and empathetic. A pandemic and social injustice are big societal problems. It’s impossible to remove all concerns.

But instead of worrying about things we can’t control, we decided to channel the energy into what we could control and figure out how we could turn lemons into lemonade and be a part of our community’s solutions. We want to show our kids that living in a community means being an active part of that community and giving back to others.

These are some of the ways we have gotten involved:

  • Our kids, led by my wife, started a “Picture of the Day” in March when they had to stay home because of the coronavirus. Each of our kids draws a picture that we post on our front door at the end of the day. The pictures have featured dolphins, giraffes, unicorns, trees and hand sanitizer. Some have included messages like “happy birthday,” “peace,” and “vote.” The idea was to spread some hope and joy in our community. We thought we would do this for a few weeks, maybe a month or two. We are on day 272 and counting.
  • I became a board member in our neighborhood association, or LHENA, short for the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association. Each month, I dedicate 10–20 hours to serving our community in various capacities.
  • Our kids’ school asked my wife and me to be on the reopening committee for the new school year, and we shared our ideas for reopening the school after closing due to COVID-19.
  • We became homeschool teachers for our at-home distance learners. I take them to recess at the park most days and help them get on Zoom calls some days. My wife does the lion’s share of teaching while running her own successful educational video game company called 7 Generation Games.
  • I helped organize and host public digital virtual forums on public safety for our neighborhood association — first with boots-on-the-ground community leaders in Minneapolis, then with the city council president and mayor. The forums were open to the community and addressed the challenges of unifying the city with a public safety plan. The goal was to connect the community and inform them about what steps are being taken to reform public safety and lower crime while also transforming the community’s relationship with police and policing.
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  • I joined our neighborhood’s public safety and racial justice committee. I started talking with some of the 70 other neighborhoods in the city to discuss ways we could work together to promote public safety. I helped organize a community workshop in the park to develop public safety ideas and continue working with others to formalize a public safety vision with actionable steps for our neighborhood. The mission is to increase the quality of life for our community. It remains a work in progress.
  • My wife created a weekly informal evening walking group in the neighborhood. It’s an opportunity to meet and get to know neighbors and have a visible community presence.
  • I am leading an effort with our neighborhood association to create a community mentorship network with other community mentorship organizations in Minneapolis. The goal is to provide life skills training and professional work opportunities for underserved youth and support community mentorship programs. Mentorship has proven successful in putting youth on positive paths for decades. Anyone with skills to teach and a desire to help can be a mentor, whether you live in Minneapolis or outside Minneapolis (there will be virtual opportunities). If you are interested in being a mentor or learning more about supporting community mentorship in Minneapolis, please take this survey.

We want our kids to live in a better world than we do now. We don’t want what is occurring today to be their normal tomorrow. That’s why we are getting involved. We are concerned parents and want to set a positive example for our kids and community. We want to show that concern can be turned into action. The hope is that it spurs others to get involved in giving what they can to make things better for our community. Imagine how much better our world could be if every person in every community did one small thing every day to make their community better.

The saddest part is that many people committing crimes and being hurt or killed are young people.

We need all hands on deck to address the trauma that is impacting our communities in Minneapolis. The saddest part is that many people committing crimes and being hurt or killed are young people. Now is the time to remember that it takes a village to raise a child and figure out how we can help. Young people need more positive role models, and mentorship can have positive ripple effects in their lives that create real, generational change.

To bring back that village mentality, I wrote and self-published a book with my 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. The book is called “How the Zookalex Saved the Village.” It is about accepting people who are different than you and the importance of building community. We plan to donate 50 percent of sales to the mentorship program and get the book in schools to start community building with young people.

Book cover for “How the Zookalex Saved the Village.”

Book cover for “How the Zookalex Saved the Village.”

We want this book to help young people to start thinking about “what is my community?” Once they have a healthy sense of their own community and their place in it, we can build community outside their community with other communities. The objective is to help young people become positive contributors in their community and have respect and compassion for all.

In the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, I worked with my kids to create this do-it-yourself book. It was the next iteration of the lemonade stands they’ve run before. Now, we are approaching this book as a side project “business.” My day job is as an editor for Granite Media, running a sports website called Stadium Talk and a business site called Work + Money. That is how I pay the bills, and I am grateful that our company is on pace to be profitable in this challenging year.

The side book project is part of homeschooling for my kids and teaches useful lessons about business, entrepreneurship and media: production, marketing and sales. Produce. Market. Sell. Repeat. Those are valuable skills to have and can serve them well throughout their life in any field. The other lesson is the story itself and the value of teaching kindness, accepting differences, and learning how to build community and create a world where diversity and inclusion are celebrated. Those are also universal values they can develop as they grow.

This book project is the essence of “turning lemons into lemonade.” We want to do the same thing with the mentorship program and give all young people a blueprint to create sustainable and thriving communities. Just as a key tenet of storytelling is “show, don’t tell,” we want to “teach, by doing.” We want every kid to understand and have that do-it-yourself spirit.

That DIY ethic is the ethic of self-sufficiency. It can build up the capacity for self-determination, which plays an important role in psychological health and well-being. Self-determination lets people know they have power over their choices and lives. It can instill a belief and confidence in young people that they can do anything they set their mind to. That mindset provides a lifelong foundation for success and opens up the world of possibilities.

These days at home, we approach every day with our kids as a class called “Life.” It’s where we teach them common things. How to scramble eggs, how to grow a garden, how to fix things around the house. As they get older, we will add to the curriculum. How to manage a budget, how to fill out tax forms, how to write a resume, how to restore human connection, and how to plot your life’s course. Every kid can and should learn basic life skills. The more they know, the better prepared they will be to achieve their full potential.

2020 has been unprecedented in every way. It’s also presented a unique opportunity. Like Clarence told George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we’ve been given a great gift. A chance to see what life can be like when people help others. We still have a long way to go, but we can be inspired by the work that has been done and will continue to be done. People are stepping up and can continue to help out and create more opportunities for everyone. Better days ahead are possible.

When life gives you lemons, you know what to do. (Rod Long/Unsplash)

When life gives you lemons, you know what to do. (Rod Long/Unsplash)

The time is overdue for better answers to problems big and small. We can develop more practical, real-world solutions. By bringing people together with different skills from different communities and walks of life, we can build that village all children need. In these times, it’s easy to feel cynical. But we must fight those urges. We decide the future.

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So cue the “Twilight Zone” music, and let’s make some lemonade.

Eric Ortiz

Republished with the author's permission from Medium.