A Year in Review

It would be easy to write a list of all the things that were unexpected about 2020. All the things that went wrong. We were shuttered in our homes for months. Some of us lost incomes, others dug themselves into debt. Our friends and family got sick. We missed them and the places we hoped to travel to and experience with the ones we love.

It’s been a hard year, and I admit I’ve had it much easier than many of my neighbors. I have a job and was fortunate to be promoted. In my new role, I serve as both a strategic storyteller for my university’s central communications office and support campuswide diversity communications. My daughter, Alba, was born, and my wife and I have enjoyed watching her grow into a curious, spirited, and fearless little girl over the past 10 months.

That’s why, out of gratitude for the ways 2020 has been good to me, I’m writing this list to acknowledge the year’s many bright spots.

Writing:

    • Won the silver prize at the Tennessee College Public Relations Association’s annual awards for my profile of former national champion University of Tennessee swimmer and Olympic hopeful Maddy Banic.
    • Wrote the fall cover story for Torchbearer Magazine, the University of Tennessee’s alumni magazine. The profile of Enkeshi Thom El-Amin, a sociologist and alumna who founded a Black community center in East Knoxville and runs sewing camps for kids, is among my favorites to date.
    • Explored essay writing for the first time in many years. The first, my essay about learning to fly fish, was published by Tenkara Angler. Another about experiencing the outdoors with my dad was published as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month series by Latino Outdoors. My most recent essay on my daughter and the hope I have she may one day love soccer as much as I do, was published by Toffeeweb.
    • Wrote a few short stories and poems. My favorite was a Hemingway-inspired story I had initially written in college and intended to fit the style and contents of the “In Our Time.” It was edited by a colleague, Donna Spencer. She and Cassandra Sproles, both editors at the University of Tennessee, have been gracious with their time and helped with both my essays and fiction pieces.
    • Launched an Instagram account, @cinema_che_, dedicated to reviewing films from my ever-growing DVD collection. Just before Alba was born in February (and before the pandemic shuttered theaters), I launched Cinema Che to document and review films I watch at home. It’s more of a practice in memory than any attempt to grow a following. When every piece of information is only a smartphone screen away, I’m doing my best to remember the things I read and watch and why I enjoy them.

Service:

    • Immersed myself in work to support Knoxville’s Latino community. At UT, I’ve become a part of a working group formed to advocate for and serve as a resource to Latino faculty, staff, and students.
      • Mentoring a Hispanic student from middle Tennessee who, like me, loves the Premier League, is studying a social science his parents hardly understand, and has loads of stories of studying on a Friday night then working manual labor jobs with his dad on Saturday mornings.
      • After a year of service on the board of directors for Centro Hispano de East Tennessee, I was named to serve as its board chair for 2021.
      • Participated in UT’s Inclusive Leadership Academy for developing leaders and was appointed to the Council for Diversity and Interculturalism, where I serve as the chair for communications.
    • Speaking and teaching invitations throughout the year. I spoke on story mining and engaging audiences at the Alliance of Better Nonprofits (East Tennessee) summer storytelling conference and presented on the same topic for the University of Tennessee System’s Pandemic to Possibility webinar series.
      • Spoke to UT students about the importance of civic engagement for men of color as part of an Empowerment Day event and also to students in the Honors and Scholars program about narrative storytelling for career development.
      • Led a workshop for teenagers in Emerald Youth Foundation’s career program on how to tell their stories as they pursue jobs, internships, and apply for college.
      • Finished up my fourth year of teaching sports journalism students at UT. It was a strange semester to teach  and learn in, but I’m proud of the work they’ve done, and I’m sure at least one will go on to be much more successful than I am.

There is a lot I’m looking forward to in 2021. Before this year, I was trying to find my place as both a writer and a leader. I’ve gotten opportunities to develop that I’d never had before. I’ve crafted a niche for myself as a feature writer at the university and am playing a role in driving our longform content this upcoming year, which I am so excited for (there is a part of me that will always want to be like David Grann for The New Yorker or Wright Thompson for ESPN The Magazine). I’ve been given a platform to challenge bureaucratic status quo and push people to do rather than say. And, as much as I’m looking forward to growing and learning, I’m just as excited to be together with people again. To hug. To meet together in communal spaces. To disable Zoom for at least a week. Here’s to 2021.

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