Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a Juneteenth celebration hosted by the North Central Texas Alumni Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Inc. It was truly an honor to be with such an active and passionate group of people focused on improving young women’s lives. The sorority is doing terrific work. The outreach to young women and the assistance they are providing to help them realize their goals is an outstanding model of positive activism.
The event was at the Tarrant County College – North East campus, who did a fantastic job of setting up the event.
Singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with the rest of the audience, I got to thinking about the importance of celebrating freedom.
When General Gordon Granger of the Union Army, read General Order 3 from the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas on yesterday's date in 1865, he probably was not aware that he’d marked an event whose celebration would extend formally to 45 of 50 states in the union and be celebrated in places as far away as Paris, France.
Juneteenth is a day of celebration. The 154 years since the slaves in Texas were declared free have seen a long and winding road toward justice and equality. There have been significant steps and significant missteps, and as we continue forward, it will not always be a straight line. However, we need to maintain the faith and confidence that we will stay on the path toward progress for all.
I truly thought on election night 2008, watching a vibrant man with his beautiful wife and children acknowledging the crowds in Grant Park, that we had finally turned a corner toward getting rid of the societal sickness that is bigotry and prejudice. I believed in “Yes we can!”. My heart was full, and hope and optimism were in the air. You know what? I still feel this way! I still feel like the country is growing away from the turbulence and rancor of the past toward a future of cooperation and progress. I feel a sense of enthusiasm and optimism. But I no longer feel it coming from Washington.
The most recent election in 2016 has brought storm clouds to the horizon. The old miseries of hate, prejudice and suspicion have visited us again and this time they seem to be encouraged by the people in power. Since the election, we have seen a rise of hate crimes in this country. We’ve seen a President give equivalence to White Supremacists and protestors decrying racism and nativism. We have seen people of color treated in the most egregious manner, recurring repeatedly and with seemingly blistering acceleration.
People of color, immigrants, people of different religions are all anxious and concerned today - as they should be. More and more the voices of nativism and white supremacy are finding false courage under the cover of a government that is intentionally trying to set white against black or brown, straight against gay, and Christian against Muslim. Why? I don’t honestly know. It certainly isn’t to heal the country and “Make America Great Again”. There is a better way to show the world that America is and should be a beacon of hope to the world, and those who are part of this nation, whether newly arrived or multi-generational Americans.
We show the forces of cynicism that our differences are nothing compared to our similarities. We show them that we are “Out of Many, one”, in that we have the same objectives for our nation; a safe home for our children, a place where the sick and hungry can be served, a place of innovation and opportunity for those who show by their works and not their appearances, that they too are part of the great American experience.
Here is why I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic because of the Women’s March in 2017. I’m optimistic because I saw teenagers in the midst of tragedy stand up and be leaders, challenging the old and tired responses to the shooting in Parkland, Florida. I’m optimistic because of Black Lives Matter, I am optimistic because I saw the real America in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, where white was helping black, black was helping white, Muslims helping Christians and Christians helping Muslims escape the flood waters. There was no regard to skin color, creed, orientation or religious belief. It was people helping people for no gain, no profit, no political benefit. Just acts of kindness and heroism telling us “we are all in this together”.
We know we have problems today. We know it’s not right to tear children from their mother’s arms who did nothing more than attempting to come to this country for safety. We know this isn’t right. We also know it's temporary. We know this because we have seen the hard-fought victories of the past and that this new generation of Americans are just as committed to justice as those that came before.
I believe in this country. I believe in the people of this nation will come to see the right path forward. I also believe that we must be active participants in finding that path. As James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
We have voices to speak with our friends about the nation we want to be, we have legs to carry us to meet new friends and encourage their participation, and most of all, we have votes we must use to bring the change we seek. We have the ability to revive hope and see progress come -- but we must act.