By Donna Lewis Johnson
Special to the AFRO

Way back in the summer of 2019- when people socialized within inches of one another- my job as a communications director with a D.C. nonprofit ended. I received a severance package paid over three months along with the opportunity to provide freelance writing services. 

At first, I didn’t fret about landing a new job before my benefits ended. I figured my resume would make me attractive to any employer seeking a highly skilled and educated candidate equipped with years of relevant experience. 

I couldn’t have been more off-base. Eight months later, I’m still searching for full-time employment, despite having a terminal graduate degree in writing and a thirty-year career in strategic communications.

Despite the hardships of being unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are ways to remain productive and help with financial stress. (Courtesy Photo, Strong Black Woman Blog)

As a Black woman over 50, I gotta think I’ve come up against the triple-threat of ageism, sexism and racism. I’ve seen younger people, White people and men my age get jobs I competed for and almost won.

I cried over the first 10 or so rejections, cursing the injustices I have spent my career trying to vanquish. But tears don’t stop creditors from calling to collect. So, out of a need to survive, I pivoted from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. “I may be down but not out,” I prayed. 

With tremendous encouragement from family, friends and clergy, I began to focus on my professional skills and heart’s desire. I love to write and love to help children become stronger readers and writers. I decided to privilege my passions rather than waste time applying for jobs I probably wouldn’t get. In December, I became a substitute teacher at a local middle school where most students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Inside of classrooms lacquered with blue and yellow paint and freckled with broken desks, I have helped sixth and seventh graders discuss literary elements and read text critically. Not every student engages, but the many who do create a blossoming bouquet of smiles. 

Just as I was getting into the groove of teaching, the school closed in compliance with the State of Maryland’s prudent action to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Like tens of thousands of area workers, I was suddenly out of a job. 

But, hey. I’ve got plenty of experience facing bouts of unemployment. Many of you do, too, having weathered the federal shutdown of 2018-2019. 

Surviving unemployment is a job unto itself. I could list the feat on my resume. As a veteran of the unemployment wars, I want to share seven actions for getting through the tough time. 

  1. Cancel all automatic payments.

While convenient in good times, giving your creditors the key to your bank account is never really a good financial practice, especially if your income has taken a nosedive. When your money is funny, contact your creditors immediately to cancel the auto-pay option and to negotiate payment arrangements.

  1. Ask your bank to suspend or refund non-sufficient fund (NSF) fees.

Don’t have enough money in your bank account to cover a transaction? Banks charge fees for the mishap. At $35 a pop, the fees can put your account further in the red. Go to your bank branch location to talk with the manager. Ask the rep to refund the NSF fees. Alternatively, you can call your bank’s toll-free number. But visiting a location can net better results. 

  1. Sign up for public benefits. 

I know, I know, it can be demoralizing to find yourself needing help from a government program. Get over it! If you’ve paid taxes, you’ve paid into the programs. Go ahead and sign up for Medicaid, food stamps, or any other public benefit you need in this challenging time. 

  1. Cultivate the person you dreamed of becoming. 

You’ve got time on your hands. Use the gift to think clearly and critically about what will create sustainable joy in your personal and professional life. Then, turn your if-only list into goals and an action plan. 

  1. Recognize your resources.

As gloomy as things may appear, look for the sources of life, love and hope in your life. Talk with loved ones. Make a meal from whatever food you have in your fridge or pantry. Take a free online course. Splurge on imagining new and improved circumstance. 

  1. Give back.

Share a smile with a stranger who’s standing six feet away. Use social media to spread joy and factual information. Say thank-you for each new day. 

  1. Follow the light

If you believe in a positive spiritual force greater than yourself, now is a good time to seek guidance from the higher power. Pray to the power, read the texts associated with your beliefs, join online worship services and practice your faith.

Wishing you the best. #InThisTogether

Donna Lewis Johnson is a freelance writer and regularly contributes to the AFRO.