As we celebrate the 244th birthday of the United States of America, I assert that the right to have a dream, like Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in 1963, is a cornerstone on which our great country was built. The immigrants who came here through Ellis Island had a dream, and our military and police fight to protect us each and every day so that we can live in a country where we can pursue and fulfill our dreams.
However, as King exclaimed nearly fifty years ago, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” So, we cannot be satisfied because police brutality against Black and African Americans is still happening today. We are still fighting for and defending the rights of our Black and African American, Muslim, LGBTQ and other friends who are regularly discriminated against or not given equal opportunity, even though the Civil Rights Act that was intended to create equality was passed 56 years ago.
I have moments where I have lost hope in our great nation. I wallow at times in my cynicism that nothing will change. I become angry that we haven’t learned from our past mistakes and injustices and corrected them. And, I am grieving, as I shared in my last blog, Let’s Give It a Name: Grief. However, I STILL have a dream.
I have a dream that we embrace and celebrate our diversity… diversity of skin color, culture, nationalities, religions, and beliefs, thoughts and perspectives. More so, that our diversity is not persecuted, and we have equal rights for all people. I found a glimmer of hope when the Supreme Court ruled this past month that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination and that President Trump wrongly ended DACA, providing a moment of relief for hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. as children.
But these glimmers of hope are too few and far between. They are often short-lived and uphill battles as our justice system, local, state and federal, continue to be forced to evaluate and rule to uphold the law and defend our “certain unalienable Rights…” that all men and women are created equal as our forefathers penned in the Declaration of Independence.
So, if you’re like me, you might find yourself wondering, “What can I do to help us as a country achieve true equality and inclusion for all people?” Here is what I have come up with so far:
- Engage in respectful conversations with others who have diverse opinions or have been affected by racism or discrimination. Listen with the goal to learn and understand rather than to provide advice, solutions or be right in your position. I have been engaging in conversations with some family members who are struggling with the current climate, feeling like the problem is being blown out of proportion. Instead of “proving” their wrong, I have been practicing more listening and asking questions. When I have an opportunity to share my view, I speak from “I” language or “My take is…”, also letting them know I have just as many unanswered questions, too, that I’m seeking answers by reading credible sources, listening, and engaging in constructive conversations. It’s been amazing to open up this dialogue that can then continue as we learn together, setting aside the notion we have to agree and instead just allow thoughts, ideas and questions be expressed.
- Stand up for your neighbor, co-worker, child’s friend, or fellow American on the street by speaking up when you witness an injustice. Don’t be the bystander that watches the perpetrator but does nothing. Don’t sit idly by, silent, during conversations with a close friend, family member, or superior that is inflammatory, stereotypical, or downright discriminatory or racist.
- Learn about other cultures, religions, nationalities, and lifestyles. Find one thing you could celebrate that you could – or do – embrace that highlights how we’re more connected and more the same than we are different. Travel is one way to learn, as Mark Twain suggested in 1869: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” I have been blessed to travel in the United States and to other countries, and I think everyone should experience the rich history, different lifestyles and wonderful people in our own cities and across our country and the globe.
To help me learn about racism, I am participating in two book clubs. One is with my family, and we’re reading Dear Martin by Nic Stone (a teen/young adult fiction book) about a 17-year-old African-American boy who is racially profiled one night while trying to help his ex-girlfriend get home safely. Reading this book together has helped me be able to talk more openly about race and racism with my family, including understanding my daughter’s boyfriend’s views and feelings as a black Sri Lankan student studying here in the U.S. The other book club is with my church. We’re reading Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, a college professor and psychologist who has conducted research and written books on the topic of racism, race in education, and racial identity development. I find her research sobering and her definitions and suggestions for how to have conversations about race and racism helpful.
- Be kind. Go out of your way to smile at a stranger that doesn’t look like you; open the door for someone whom you may feel threatened by because society or social media says you should be; or be polite and loving to that family member with whom you disagree.
- Reach out and find ways to help those in need. Our church youth group has been organizing food and supply drives for a church in downtown Minneapolis to help those who have been impacted by the recent riots. We put out flyers in our neighborhood with a list of current needs and then pick it up on Sundays and deliver it downtown. Sometimes if feels small, but it’s big to those who are the benefactors.
- Exercise your right as an American on November 3. Our Declaration of Independence urges, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…” To make massive needed change, vote out those who are “destructive of these ends” and vote in those who will uphold unalienable rights for all.
But we need more. My partner, Jen, shared some similar thoughts and conversations she is engaging in to drive change in her blog, With Liberty and Justice for All. What actions are you taking to ensure all Americans’ dreams are realized and that we have equal freedoms for all Americans starting now? I would love to add them to my list.
I am proud to be an American. And I know we can be better and do better as we celebrate our country’s birthday. Be safe and be well!