Remember the high hopes we had for 2021? The vaccines would mean an end to the pandemic. A conclusion to the presidential election would mean the nation could begin to heal. The misinformation fever would break, and we could all agree on some very basic facts again.
Well, none of that came to pass. It seems naive to think it was even possible.
But amid the many failures and dismal headlines of the year, some encouraging developments kept flickers of hope alive. Here are some of the silver linings for families from 2021.
1. Our COVID-19 vaccines still offer protection from serious illness and death. So far, omicron seems to lead to milder cases of illness. A pill treatment is on the near horizon. The pandemic isn't over, but the risk to vaccinated people who use masks when appropriate is far lower than before.
2. Fewer children in America are living in poverty. Ideally, there should be none, but let's acknowledge the improvement. The federal government improved the social safety net by passing child tax credits and stimulus payments, lifting 4.6 million American children out of poverty. These interventions showed how public policy can be a force for good in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Additionally, the rate of extreme poverty is plummeting globally.
3. After 43 years of wrongful imprisonment in Missouri, Kevin Strickland was finally freed by a judge -- despite Gov. Mike Parson's refusal to act on his case and Attorney General Eric Schmitt's fight to keep him in prison. The state will not compensate Strickland a single dime for the decades stolen from him, but people from around the world donated more than $1.7 million to help Strickland start over.
4. The population of Western monarch butterflies has declined more than 99% since the 1980s, which experts attribute to climate change, habitat destruction and drought. But this year, there's been a significant resurgence of monarchs migrating to California. Scientists are hopeful this gives the species a chance at recovery.
5. St. Louis, a city that has long needed additional investment, is getting hundreds of millions of dollars from an NFL settlement and federal funds. Also worth cheering: The number of homicides is down in the city. St. Louis may be on the precipice of transformational, positive changes.
6. The U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in China will draw more attention to a horrific situation: The Chinese government is committing genocide, crimes against humanity and torture against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. A bipartisan vote in the U.S. House of Representatives approved imposing economic sanctions on China for goods produced in slave labor camps. It's encouraging to see America using its economic and diplomatic strength to call out these atrocities.
7. We know the criminal justice system can fail to deliver on its promises. But this year, the country watched the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery get justice when their killers were found guilty of murder.
8. Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald charged James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, with involuntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of four students at Oxford High School. Guns used in school shootings frequently come from family members, but it's unusual for the parents to be held responsible. This case sends a powerful message to gun owners: Secure your weapons and keep them out of the hands of children and teens.
9. Workers at a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, became the first American shop to unionize. Organized labor, which has lost members since the 1950s, needed this win. After decades of decline in the middle class, polls show more workers are recognizing the advantages of belonging to a union. Corporations like Amazon, which have reaped record-breaking billions in profits, have led massive fights against hourly workers unionizing. Workers may now be reaching a tipping point.
10. President Joe Biden signed bipartisan legislation making June 19 a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It was an overdue recognition of the long fight for freedom for Black people in America. At a time when state legislatures are banning books that teach our country's history and preventing teachers from talking about racism, this was a reminder that the truth eventually prevails.