After a surreal year capped by what was the most consequential election in recent memory, the fragility of our democracy has never been more clear. We watched in horror as our nation’s Capitol was stormed by domestic terrorists intent on overthrowing our government.

As a former U.S. Army sergeant, I was sickened by images of home-grown enemies assaulting law enforcement officers and bursting through the doors and windows of Capitol during a joint session of Congress called to affirm the free and fair election of Joseph Biden as president.

This is a time for community colleges to help strengthen civic literacy and our democracy. This is where we stand up to the forces of hate, where we bring light into the darkness that has permeated our way of life and where we rededicate ourselves to eliminating the racism and systemic discrimination that have gone unchecked for far too long.

Community colleges are the most democratic system of higher education in the country, with doors open to all Americans looking to improve their lives and boost their social and economic mobility. As educators, we have been provided the perfect platform to engage with our students and work to advance the work of diversity, equity and inclusion in our colleges.

Thankfully, the light shines brighter by the day. Vaccinations to neutralize a pandemic that has claimed close to 400,000 American lives to date are being rolled out. The new administration, with a community college professor as First Lady, is far more hospitable to public higher education. And just last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed budget that puts students first and recognizes California’s community colleges for their role in preparing Californians who are on the front lines of protecting public health.

By investing in emergency student assistance and the infrastructure needed to continue bridging the digital divide, we can take the necessary steps to strengthen colleges’ efforts to lead our state to economic recovery.

As I look back on a tumultuous year, I can’t help but be proud of the amazing work that our faculty and professional staff have accomplished to ensure our 1.8 million students continue to receive the education and job training they deserve.