In January, the Mayor of NYC was asked about what he had learned about himself and how he leads the city through the 10 months of turmoil following the outbreak of COVID-19. His answer was “the value of sleep”. (NYPost)

As a longtime non-profit leader in NYC, a city at the forefront of the initial pandemic and still very much suffering from health, economic, and safety aftereffects, I answer that question quite differently. First, I thank the frontline workers who early on put their lives in jeopardy and worked tirelessly day after day for our health, our transportation, our food, and our security– they worked on behalf of us all.

As to what I have learned, we RISE.

1) Resilience: I witnessed the resilience and survival of young people and their families combatting what truly was a perfect storm of uncertainty and insecurities around education, health, food, housing, finance, safety, and equity. And, I saw my team and community members stretch their flexibility muscles to think about ways to do even more for others.

COVID tested our strength; we rose.

2) Introspection: I witnessed friends and family take time to contemplate: what do I want from life and what’s important. Working from home afforded many of us the ability to slow down our lives and think about how we want to spend our time, whom we want to spend it with, and where we wanted to live. We gained the perspective that we are a global community with the entire world going through this health crisis together– a first for most of our lifetimes.

COVID changed our thinking; we looked inward.

3) Self-care: I witnessed gratitude. Many of our simple joys disappeared: Simple hugs and handshakes. In-person get-togethers. Theater and dance on stage. The gym. A plane ride. Fresh air.– all things we previously took for granted went missing. Instead, we recognized the need for human connection, culture, and self-care as ways to feed our souls.

COVID shifted our needs; we simplified.

4) Empathy: I witnessed humanity. Clanging of the pots out windows at 7 pm thanking frontline workers. Neighbors were checking in on each other. Friends were taking care of aging parents. Frustrations and protests growing for equity with #BLM. Most of us felt something for ourselves and for others– we realized we were connected.

COVID expanded our ability to feel; we cared about each other.

My sincere hope, as we move beyond COVID and rebuild our lives back to a semblance of “normal”, is that we remember our year of learning and maintain our ability to RISE together.

(And, I don’t know about you, I don’t need more “sleep”, I want to live, I want to travel, and I want to hug, more –that’s also what I’ve learned.)


  • Ruth Rathblott

    Expert| Inspirational speaker on diversity, inclusion, belonging; nonprofit executive

    Inspirational Speaker Ruth Rathblott is an award-winning CEO who is committed to creating inclusion for all. She is a leader who has spent her entire career focused on providing opportunities for those who face obstacles. Ruth was born with a limb difference and currently speaks on issues of inclusion and diversity, the gifts of being unique, the freedom of accepting your differences, and rising above life’s challenges. Ruth has been a leader in nonprofit organizations for more than 25 years; 15 of which she spent at Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, where she played a central role in its expansion. It was here that she fostered a deep appreciation for inclusion within education and opportunity, which successfully propelled the students to greater achievement. For the past eight+ years as CEO of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF), a NYC-based college access and success program for underserved youth, she directed the HEAF vision of providing a continuum of educational, developmental, leadership, and personal resilience opportunities. She currently serves as a Board Member of The Lucky Fin Project. Ruth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Goucher College and a Master of Social Work degree from Boston University. She was honored as the youngest alum ever awarded the Goucher College Excellence in Public Service Award. In 2014, she was given the Smart CEO Brava Award and profiled as a CEO in the NY Times Corner Office, which featured her passion and motivation for “things I want to be a part of.”  Ruth has also been identified and received the Trailblazer Award from the Community Resource Exchange in 2019, and the Unsung Hero Award from the Female Founders Alliance in 2020. In addition to Corporate Speaking Keynotes, Ruth received Certification from American Management Association in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (2020) and has been a guest on several Webinars and Podcasts — including Sree Sreevisan, Mayshad, Tevis Trower, et al — in 2020-21.