Youth and responsibility: Olivia Holt on partying, voting, race

Youth and responsibility: Olivia Holt on partying, voting, race

Why We Wrote This

Georgia student Olivia Holt is at the classic moment of change from child to adult, being challenged not just by pandemic isolation, but by coming to grips with America’s racial reckoning. She’s among twelve 21-year-olds featured in a Monitor global report on how the pandemic is shaping young adults.

Dylan Wilson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

Olivia Holt, at her parents’ home in Evans, Georgia, has faced a year of challenges – studying remotely, her own case of COVID-19, the national racial reckoning – and felt some youthful freedom was deserved. It sometimes didn’t sit well with her parents.

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January 22, 2021

Jacksonville, Fla.

It was my first Florida-Georgia game – a familiar football tradition in the Deep South. I was lucky to have a ticket for last fall’s game, thanks to my sister’s boyfriend, who plays offensive lineman for Florida.

I just came here for a good time, to escape from a year with a lot of challenges, mostly due to the pandemic. There had been delays and cancellations at school. I’d been troubled by upheaval over my dad being sidelined for two months with a life-threatening illness, and the complications I could have brought to that with my own case of COVID-19. And on top of it all, I’ve watched the effects of national racial unrest.

This big game was about more than the conflict of the red Bulldogs and blue Gators on the field. There was also the question of whether the game should have been played at all: More than 30 players and coaches on Florida’s team had tested positive in the weeks before the game. The matchup is also about the cultural energy in the tradition of the game known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” The drinking can fuel explosive behavior, and 2020’s game was held the Saturday after the presidential election – the day Joe Biden was finally declared the winner. And red and blue collided here in more ways than one.

And yet, when politics clash in America, the colors in mind can be much plainer – Black and white. I grew up in a mostly white community in Columbia County in Georgia. Even when I came back home to Evans, Georgia, from college to vote a few weeks before the election, the disparity was clear: I was one of only three Black people standing in line for early voting.

While my county might have voted Republican red, Georgia turned Democratic blue for the first time in decades. On Election Day, my family buzzed with excitement. My mother, who is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, wore pink Converse sneakers and pearls on Election Day to show support for her fellow sorority sister, vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. It was a little bit corny, but I get it.

Growing up in a predominantly white area inspired me to attend a historically Black institution – Savannah State University. The city of Savannah, which is about three hours away from my hometown, felt like a second home to me. And yet, because of the pandemic, a lot of what makes Savannah State great has been taken away.

A Black college campus isn’t just a place for education and extracurricular activities. For a lot of Black students, it’s a safe space. It’s a place to express yourself freely.

While I didn’t participate in last summer’s protests, I stand in solidarity with movements like Black Lives Matter. Honestly, how could you turn away from what happened to people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor? I watched the entire 8 minutes and 46 seconds in which Mr. Floyd lost his life last May, and I was shaken. As for Ms. Taylor, the more I learned about her case, the angrier I became. As if that weren’t enough, I watched the video of another Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot as he jogged in a town about an hour from my college. 

The racial tension from the protests of the summer absolutely poured over into the November elections – and the days that followed. I couldn’t even escape it at the game. When my sister and cousin and I walked into the stadium, we saw a Black man look at us with a playful smirk, and chant loudly, “Biden! Harris!” Almost immediately, a knot of white Donald Trump supporters formed near the man and chanted back, “We want Trump! We want Trump!”

I wasn’t scared or anything. I did what most people do. I pulled out my phone and started recording. It was one of those scenes that goes viral on social media and whatever “fight” breaks out on the video pales in comparison to the fight that breaks out in the comments section.

That said, I came for football, not a fight. I came to relax. It’s weird to think that I could be at peace among 18,000 people in the middle of a pandemic, but I think it’s possible to stay out of harm’s way with social distancing and wearing a mask.

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Back when I partied at an Atlanta club in July, I did so against my parents’ wishes and without a mask. I didn’t think I could get COVID-19 – until I got it. While my symptoms weren’t bad, the fallout in my house was. My dad was understandably upset, and my mom had to pull out her Bible to mediate the situation.

I’m hoping the uncertainty of 2020 clears up in 2021. Now, back in Savannah, I’m a first-semester senior. I want to finish my degree in middle grades education and see where life takes me. One thing’s for certain – the clock is ticking. And the pandemic has made something perfectly clear that applies to the game of football and the game of life – we don’t have a moment to waste.

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