Commentary: Here’s to 2024

By Stacia Erdos Littleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As each year draws to a close, we often proclaim aloud (or whisper subconsciously), “Hopefully next year will be a better year.”

On the world stage since Oct. 7, we’ve seen unspeakable atrocities and nightly pictures of children covered in the dust of war, distraught and dead in the streets in Israel and Gaza. In Ukraine, the resolve has not waned in that country’s president and people to give their lives to protect what is theirs and stop an aggressive dictator.

Seeing the images from these parts of the world can make our own complaints seem underwhelming.

While the decisions being made in the nation’s capital and in state legislatures have life and death consequences, the antics often on display seem childish by comparison. Politics can appear to be a big game, with everyone taking their ball home and returning in spark-ling attire for holiday receptions and the lighting of Christmas trees.

Closer to home, many are dealing with their own losses: A mother’s first Christmas without her daughter who was shot at a sweet-16 birthday party; a newlywed grieving the loss of her husband with whom just a year earlier she had exchanged vows in downtown Youngstown;  a community mourning the loss of a local salon owner and her husband killed in a tragic crash in Florida, leaving a 24-year-old son whose family holidays will never look the same.

On a community scale, many of us hope the inconvenience of downtown Youngstown construction will finally be over and that business owners can hang on until it is.

The choice of a new president of Youngstown State University should ring in hope and promise a new era, but instead it has many of those who bleed red and white feeling betrayed by the process – leaving a new leader facing distrust and starting at a disadvantage.

Frankly, sometimes it is hard to be optimistic. For me too, this year is ending on a difficult note, with a father slipping deeper into Alzheimer’s, and surgery on the horizon for another loved one.

I recently bought my new planner for 2024. Yes, I still write everything down (while also using my online calendar).  But before setting the 2023 planner aside, I took a moment to look back at the previous 12 months laid out before me.

For me, the process was eye-opening as I remembered all the good things 2023 gave to me in my own small world. My hard-working, caring son graduating early from Kent State University – embarking on a new career in finance. My compassionate, full-of-life daughter is starting her journey for a master’s degree in arts administration.

Throughout the calendar were penciled in first meetings that led to new relationships and friendships this year. I’m grateful for those I’ve met who share the same passion I have for racial equity and mental health awareness and for those who have mesmerized me by their determination to remain in the Mahoning Valley, working under the radar to move the region forward, using their talents to uplift others.

I was with some of those new friends on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where I advocated for mental health issues and shared with legislators how Coleman Health Services is battling the crisis across the state. A chance meeting with other Valley community leaders who also happened to be in D.C. led to a two-hour dinner that likely wouldn’t have taken place here at home. During shared plates, we exchanged perspectives and unearthed shared values that ironically will lead to a greater understanding of each other back in the Valley.

Also, on that trip, I visited for the first time both the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. I was awed by the powerfulness and poignance of the MLK monument. The FDR memorial was serene yet revealing. What struck me were the quotes that seemed to transcend time. It was as if they were reaching out from the past with an urgency to anyone walking by.

In 1936, FDR spoke these words to those who would later be referred to as the Greatest Generation:

“This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” 

It made me think what a huge responsibility this nation had as it soon would be embroiled in the Second World War.

I walked further and stopped. This FDR quote I needed to read more than once:

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

It made me reflect on the upcoming 2024 presidential election that will no doubt escalate the already volatile divisiveness in our country and fill many of us with anxiety about what the future holds for our democracy.

I realize that 2023 was all part of the journey leading us to what could be turning points overseas in 2024, as well as at home, and in many of our own lives. My wish is that we ring it in recognizing a greater responsibility to our families, community, country and our world, that in the new year we offer one another more grace, search for the connections we likely all share, and strive for greater understanding.

Here’s to 2024.