What did I learn from the pandemic? What did I lose?

I, who had never been involved in politics before, ran for office for the first time in a pandemic. My name is Cynthia Mendes and I'm currently the Senator of District 18, East Providence and Pawtucket. 

Never in my wildest dreams, never in my ancestors wildest dreams would have ever imagined that I would run for office. And win. Never in my wildest dreams did I know that I would be doing that in a pandemic. 

Much of my inspiration for daring to believe in change and justice came from the things that my father taught me. My father was a man who believed in sacrifice and community. He gave up law school to be an inner city minister and a prison chaplain for 20 years. I lost my father to COVID-19 in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of my campaign.

I lost a lot in COVID. Almost lost hope. But I didn't. Because a lot of things, partly because of my community and their faith in change, and, and me, partly because of the deep trust that I had that compassion and justice finds a way to move forward. But partly because of the way I think about hope.

Hope is not something that is handed to me. Hope is a work. Hope is something you do. And so on the darkest days, the hardest days, I decided not to look for hope, but to do hope, to talk to people, to make calls to believe and envision for a better Rhode Island, and whatever way that I could possibly forge that I would do that, even when it got hard. 

And so rather than waiting for hope to show up. I did what I think is my legacy, what my dad did with his choices, and my great grandfather did. My great grandfather was Henrique Mendes. He was the captain of the ship, The Ernestina, who brought most of the Cape Verdeans here. And he believed in creating a way for people to get here from Cape Verde. He created a pathway. And my dad believed that nobody should be left behind. Nobody should be forgotten. 

I believe that we should have justice represented in our highest places of decision-making. What my legacy means to me is that hope is an action. Hope is a deed, and hope is something that we do. That is what got me through COVID.

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