I feel so fortunate to be an American living in this great nation with the beauty of our diverse people and cultures. I am humbled by the sacrifice of so many, over time, to win – and maintain – our independence as a country, beginning 245 years ago. I am grateful for those who serve in the military, at home or abroad, acting as peacekeepers and night-watch people in hostile, even volatile locales so that we may be free.

I am grateful to live in the U.S., where we have access to clean water (in most cities), many food options, and an infrastructure that supports easy movement between towns, cities, and states. I give thanks to the men and women who blasted roads through the sides of mountains to connect our excellent roadways so we could experience remote, breathtaking places, and feel free.

I am blessed to live in this nation, where we have an emerging 5G network and other rapidly developing technologies. Where we have companies with the ingenuity to devise not one, or two, but THREE COVID-19 vaccines in record time and then produce what appears to be an almost unlimited supply of the shots for those who want them, so that we can emerge from our shelters and be free.

Yet, as we celebrate July 4th, the day we won our freedom as a sovereign nation, my gratitude and wonder are mixed with impatience and unease. Because not all Americans are truly free. As civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer wrote, “Nobody’s free until everyone is free.”

So, until we eliminate systemic racism, homophobia, and poverty, we are not free.

Until we truly address hunger and homelessness, we are not free.

Until we implement better mental health systems and stand guard against human trafficking, we are not free.

Until we address the root causes that drive people to senseless acts of violence, we are not free.

Until we can engage in spirited debate and agree to disagree, yet remain friends, we are not free.

Until we can put our differences aside and work for the common good – even when our own best interests may not be prioritized, we are not free.

And, until we can ask fellow Americans if they feel these words from our Declaration of Independence apply to them and get an affirmative answer, we are certainly not free:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Most Americans have been given much and have accomplished much. Yet, we have so much more to do. As we celebrate Independence Day and reflect on our freedoms, let us cherish the progress we’ve made, while digging deep, with the grit and fortitude necessary, to address the prejudices and inequities that exist among us. Only then will we all be truly free.