Georgia Road Sign

Georgia On My Mind

In The Midst of A Crisis

Amy Barbieri
April 28th, 2020

As I write this, our beautiful and amazing state, Georgia, is amid a high profile and extremely controversial soft “re-opening”. Our Governor, Brian Kemp is under fire by the President and many Americans perceive his decision to “open up” as reckless, selfish, garnered by political agenda, and a sheer lack of respect for the rest of the country. Now, for the sake of my sanity, I am going to do my best by not posting my political opinion here, as this is not the appropriate forum. This read is meant to be thought provoking rather than persuasive. However, I will say that I, as many, have mixed emotions about the Governor’s decision on this as I am sure many of you all do as well. 

It is pretty incredible to me if you think about how this virus has actually brought the whole world together and united in a way. We all want the safety of our family and loved ones to come first. We all want to get back to work, hug our elderly, spend time with friends, go to a concert, watch Baseball or Soccer and go to your favorite neighborhood restaurant and raise a toast on the weekends. We all want the same thing and we are all going through it together in some shape or form.

One could argue that Kemp is following the guidelines that the President and the COVID-19 task force has set forth. Kemp assured Georgia residents that he is working with top epidemiologists and utilizing solid data to make his decisions. On the flip side, there is argument that there is no way for the types of businesses he named in this first phase (hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, Nail Salon’s, etc.) could maintain social distancing and the like. 

Keep in mind, that the shelter in place orders were put in place not to prevent deaths or prevent spread of COVID-19 but to slow the spread so that hospital systems would not become overwhelmed with more cases than they could handle. Kemp claims we have met these criteria as a state and that we have good capacity in our hospitals so now is the time that people can begin to safely try and get back to work in phases. 

The other argument could be that they are doing their absolute best to adhere to all of the safety and sanitation measures put in place and that Kemp is doing the right thing by beginning this phased approach and letting folks get back to their businesses they worked so hard to build. One could easily argue that these people desperately need to feed their families and put a roof over their head, just as we all do. After all, should they be forced to lose their livelihood just because some people don’t agree?

Regardless of our opinions on this topic, there is nothing saying these businesses must open and I know many small business owners in my community that are choosing not to open at this time. I respect their decisions and also respect the decisions of those that choose to open, as long as they are doing their best to protect themselves, their customers and their employees. Personally, my household remains in quarantine because that is what I feel is best for my family at this time. I also know many people (and some that are very close to me) that chose to get out on Friday and over this weekend to support their local businesses that are near and dear to them. I saw homemade shields, masks, and gloves being used, strict sanitation efforts that were implemented and I saw people trying to help people. It was nice and refreshing and a little scary at the same time. I don’t think there is a right or wrong here. It’s not black and white.

The behavior and attacks I have seen on people particularly in social media are unfathomable. One of the posts I saw was an attack on a local radio celebrity for getting her hair done in a salon where it was only herself and her stylist in the salon (in all the gear) and it was shocking how people were behaving. They were calling her a hypocrite, saying that she needs to be a better example for her community and just all out name calling. There were many more of this nature, but you get the point. Personally, I don’t understand it. If you don’t like someone’s opinion, swipe on. If you don’t agree with someone and must voice yourself, why can’t you do that in a respectful manor? Of – course, I am not talking about you, specifically, I am using that as a metaphor of sorts. Trust me, I have strong opinions about politics, but I would never attack someone on Social Media for any reason, I simply don’t care if they don’t agree with me or have the same exact beliefs I do. It’s their right and frankly none of my business. If I don’t like it, I will un-follow.

Despite your position on the left or the right, there are some facts that cannot be ignored. Prior to this crisis, we had one of the lowest un-employment rates (3.6 %) in the history of our nation and in just 6 short weeks, we have one of the highest un-employment rates in the history of our nation, second only to the Great Depression in 1933 where it hit 26.5%. Today as it stands, we have soared past the 20% rate in a matter of weeks and over 26.5 million people have lost their jobs. I can’t believe I am actually writing these words, it’s so hard to understand. It’s like being sucker punched, who saw this coming?

The topic of employment happens to be extremely near and dear to my heart. During the great recession and the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, I personally struggled with un-employment.  Beginning in 2000 through 2008 I made the choice to leave a successful career behind to become a full-time mom and stay home to raise my two daughters. Little did I know that I would wind up divorced and looking for employment after not working for 8 years, in the

worst economy I had ever seen in my lifetime. To make matters worse, my ex-husband was a luxury home builder which did not fare well at the time for our broken family. Needless to say, it was nearly impossible to find work, I literally knew Harvard Graduates waiting tables because it was that tough out there. Thankfully, after significant hardship and many years of ups and downs, I am now gainfully employed as the Co-Founder and President of Vital4. However, I struggled for many years, and it was quite scary and at times I just wanted to give up. Because of this and many other reasons, I am extremely grateful for my career, trust me, I know what it feels like to sit in unemployment line and the fear that it evokes. 

Today, I relate those struggles with empathy and compassion for the millions of individuals and families that are suffering, not just here in the US but all over the world, and to no fault of their own. I mentioned that employment was close to my heart, and although I mentioned a pretty darn good reason above, there is another reason. Vital4, is a technology company that provides background screening services today to some of the world’s largest CRA’s (Consumer Reporting Agencies) which in turn provide background screening services for pre-employment screening to some of the world’s largest employers, and our customers are getting hit hard.

This means we are getting hit hard too. We all are (unless of course you are Amazon or a manufacturer of N95 masks or a grocery store). We are watching so many of our esteemed colleagues in this business go from double digit growth year over year to double digit declines in almost days and weeks. It’s hard to see it un-raveling day by day and at some point, hopefully very soon, we are going to start putting the pieces back together. And when we do, we will delight in watching our customers and their customers begin to re-hire their workforce and watch the unemployment rates begin to go down again. How long will that take? No one knows but we know for sure that we will begin rebuilding our world and begin healing from this crisis that has brought so much pain and suffering to so many. 

Some struggle with this crisis by passing the buck and finding a way to place blame, but at the end of the day, shouldn’t we just move forward by focusing on the solution instead of spending inordinate amounts of time focusing on who to blame? Regardless of your political opinion, our government is not responsible for this, our President is not responsible for this and Governor, Brian Kemp is not responsible for this. Like it or not, they are our elected leaders and they are learning as they go along, we all are. They have never dealt with a global pandemic in their lifetime, and quite frankly, neither has anyone that is alive today. Chew on that thought for a minute. So, if we see someone make a mistake along the way, what if we showed a little less criticism and a little more grace? 

Am I aware that things could be done better, or that there are flaws in our government? Absolutely, but the amount of energy that is spent dividing people with partisan politics, over a health crisis that should not be used for political agenda is exhausting. I know we live in a country where freedom of speech is our right according to the Constitution of the United States of America but it’s doubtful that our forefathers had abusing individuals on Facebook and Twitter in verbal battles or reporting fake news in mind when they wrote it. 

As we continue on this path during this state of crisis and to all of the billions of people around the world that have been directly affected by this virus, we should all try to be part of the solution, and try to be kind to everyone no matter what their opinion or political preference. I hate to see so much focus on placing blame and the divide that it is creating rather than all of the beautiful acts of love and humanitarianism that is happening all around us every day.

Amy is Co-Founder and President of VITAL4, a woman owned technology company that uses data to prevent financial crime, bribery, corruption and other employee, customer and third party risks. Amy has expertise in international background screening, FCRA, FCPA, and AML/KYC compliance.