2020: Courage, passion and curiosity honoured

Virtues to remember: Li, Bush and Craig fought to make the world a better place in 2020.

Is choosing “people of the year” a good idea? As The Day pauses for the holidays, we celebrate three inspiring individuals who each made an extraordinary impact on the world this year.

The first patient to arrive raised no alarm bells – coughs are hardly uncommon in the winter months. But then another arrived, and another.

They were struggling to breathe. Their temperatures dangerously high. And no matter how hard the medics tried, some of them were not getting any better.

For one doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital, the warning signs were impossible to ignore.

So Dr Li Wenliang took out his phone and cautioned his colleagues: they must wear protective equipment to avoid falling victim to this strange illness.

Not everyone appreciated the advice: four days later, Dr Li was summoned to a meeting with local officials. They forced him to sign a letter, stamped with the red seal of the local police force, accusing him of “making false comments” that “severely disturbed the social order”.

But Dr Li’s fears were not unfounded. On January 10th he started coughing. The next day he had a fever and two days later the doctor became yet another patient on the wards.

As the virus spread around the globe, Dr Li defied the officials to send a final warning to the world, posting the letter onto Weibo from his hospital bed.

The resulting anger forced the authorities to apologise, but it was too late for Dr Li: he died in the early hours of February 7th aged just 33.

Dr Li is credited with ringing the first alarm bells about Covid-19, but he is not the only person to have hit the headlines for their bravery and resilience this year.

For new congresswoman-elect Cori Bush, 2020 has been a momentous year. In November, the nurse and pastor became the first black woman ever elected to represent the state of Missouri in the US Congress.

Bush’s story actually started much earlier, in 2014, when police in Ferguson shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown and left his body in the street for four hours.

Bush saw the photos online and was incensed. She drove to Ferguson and started protesting. She did not stop for 400 days – despite being teargassed – walking so much she wore down two pairs of shoes.

The Black Lives Matter movement galvanised Bush to consider yet another career. She ran unsuccessfully for office twice, in 2016 and 2018. Then, in 2020, she had a breakthrough.

After her victory, she declared: “To all the counted outs, the forgotten abouts, the marginalised and the pushed asides. This is our moment.”

Across the Atlantic, teenager Mya-Rose Craig is also fighting for equality. But Craig is not a politician; she is a birdwatcher.

The British Bangladeshi ornithologist was only nine days old when she went on her first trip to see some herons. Since then, she has started a blog and set up Black2Nature, a charity introducing VME children to the natural world through camping trips.

Now aged 18, the “Birdgirl” has not let lockdown slow her down. In 2020, she became the youngest Briton ever to be awarded an honorary doctorate, finished school, wrote a memoir and held the most northerly climate strike in the Arctic Circle.

Is choosing “people of the year” a good idea?

People power

No, say some. Li, Bush and Craig may each have acted inspirationally this year, but the same can be said for hundreds of other people. In China, Dr Li was not the only medic to risk it all – seven of his colleagues were also detained. And it is impossible to quantify the impact any one individual has on the world; choosing only three people to receive praise and attention is deeply unfair.

Yes, say others. After a difficult year, it is more important than ever to recognise those who have gone above and beyond what is expected to try to make the world a better place. By naming Li, Bush and Craig as “people of the year” we can celebrate their virtues and say thank you for their sacrifices. And choosing three individuals for recognition does not diminish the actions of others.

You Decide

  1. Which three people would you nominate as People of the Year?
  2. Can an individual ever change the world?

Activities

  1. Write a diary entry from the perspective of either Li Wenliang, Cori Bush or Mya-Rose Craig.
  2. What do you think will be the biggest news stories of 2021? In groups, come up with a list of five predictions for next year, and then design a newspaper front page featuring your top predictions.

Some People Say...

“The work of the individual still remains the spark that moves mankind ahead even more than teamwork.”

Igor Sikorsky (1889 - 1972), Russian-American aviation pioneer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that winning the most well known Person of the Year title, the Time magazine Person of the Year, is not necessarily an honour. Every year, Time features a person, group, idea or object that “for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year.” While the title often goes to those regarded as having a positive impact – such as ebola fighters in 2014 – both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin have also been named Person of the Year by Time.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether or not it is actually useful to name an individual as Person of the Year. When teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Person of the Year by Time Magazine in 2019, some commentators pointed out that the title was an antithesis to Thunberg’s own message: that her words should be the story, not she herself. Even before being named by Time, Thunberg had turned down prizes, saying: “the climate movement does not need any more awards.”

Word Watch

Warning signs
Many doctors are still haunted by the memory of the 2002 - 2004 Sars outbreak, caused by a different coronavirus, which caused 349 deaths in China and 811 worldwide.
Weibo
One of China’s biggest social media platforms, with over 445 million monthly users. When Li died, the news received 1.5 billion views on the site.
Incensed
Angry. Brown’s killing sparked months of protests and riots in Ferguson. The city is in Bush’s new congressional district.
Breakthrough
Bush’s team made half a million phone calls, signed up more than 2,000 volunteers and knocked on 25,000 doors during their campaign. Bush also overcame being hospitalised with coronavirus.
Ornithologist
A person who studies birds. At 18, Craig is the youngest person to have seen half the world’s birds, or about 5,000 different species.
VME
Visible Minority Ethnic. The term includes all minority ethnic people who describe themselves as non-white, and might fear discrimination in the countryside. Craig prefers to use VME over BAME or BME.

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