I was asked to speak on a program with three other columnist for Constitution Day a few weeks ago. This is some of what I shared.
Freedom of speech and what it means to me has meant different things throughout my life. With age and life experiences, I process things much differently today then I did when I was young.
The 1st Amendment declares the right to free speech, is a right afforded to every citizen of the United States. There should be no dispute when free speech is used to highlight issues that affect the citizens in the United States. The 1st Amendment states that “all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” Every citizen has that right!!!
The need and importance of free speech is evident every time I feel one of the 1st Amendment Rights have been assaulted or abused… I ask you to think about the following questions.
1.) In your opinion, are the 1st Amendment Rights more a goal or a reality for some of the citizens in the United States today?
2.) In your experience, have these rights been a reality for all of the citizens in the United States in the past 40 years, 20 years, 5 years, or even the last year?
3.) What do you expect to be the reality for your tomorrow as an equal citizen in the United States?
In answering remember that equal means equal so everyone has the right to the promises made with the 1st Amendment.
Free speech comes easy for some and harder for others because of their past experiences…their history, which may be starkly different than yours, predicates how they feel, react and get along in their lives.
It also affects one’s willingness to openly discuss how they feel, with people who do not share or understand their past experiences. Considerations of other differences which are real are often dismissed because they are complicated when one questions whether or not equal opportunities have truly been available. We are all born into various economic differences, for some that is an immediate advantage to others.
• Have you ever questioned the fairness of disparities in education, recreation or economic possibilities simply because of lack of opportunities within some communities?
• How do children and their families really survive when they have very little access to basic needs like food, shelter and love, which contributes to one having equal advantages throughout life?
These are unpleasant things to talk about and yes that fact alone affects whether or not someone is willing to speak out, which is their right. They also carry the burden of sometimes having to prove that they are doing what they can because others view the socioeconomic aspect as weakness which is not their burden or concern.
I am inspired when I see people come together to speak out about injustices and bring attention to the public that we, as a nation still have problems in 2017. Living in ignorance does not make a bad situation go away, especially if that situation denies some citizens the rights that are promised in the 1st Amendment.
When our forefathers came together, to build a foundation for this nation, they did so wanting to get away from being oppressed and treated unjustly. That fact alone should make all of us angry when we see injustices happening to any citizen. You do not run from injustice only to employ injustice. Freedom of Speech is one way in which, we the people, can keep things in check.
I must admit, there have been times when I, myself, should have spoken out boldly and loudly for injustices that I knew in my heart was wrong, but sometimes, I failed to address it, because it was not happening to me. I tried to excuse my silence by telling myself that I as a solitary person could do nothing…but that was not true for me or for any of us. Sometimes for change to happen it takes one voice…if for nothing else than to inform others which makes them aware.
As I mentioned earlier, a person’s history plays into how our individual experiences shape what we accept, expect and even tolerate.
In 1788 neither women, nor impoverished men, black or white could vote. The only people who could vote were black and white men who paid taxes and or owned property …basically the elite.
That factor has had an underlying presence in how have based their views and opinions when we talk about race, gender and freedoms in America. Change is difficult and no one likes to give up a good thing. The question is, is it good for one or is it good for all? It has to be good for all. When it only benefits a few, it goes against the freedoms and opportunities promised to all Americans.
I remember when I was in grade school and every Friday, each student in class would get a copy of the Weekly Reader, which summarized current events, at whatever grade level you were.
One particular issue focused of the fact that America was becoming a cultural melting pot, and how that diversity would add richness to our society. That was the first time I had ever heard that term, melting pot, which to me meant acceptance. I was excited to think that perhaps this meant everyone could actually have opportunities for careers and lives that had not been an option to automatically expect in my world. I remember going home that day and telling my mother that maybe one day I could be president, because the county was changing and we were a part of a melting pot.
She looked at me, smiled and hesitated before she said, “maybe you can.” You see, due to my mother’s history and experience, she had given up hope of ever seeing a person of color as President of this country. I was so young and she did not want to discourage my ideals and tell me I would have to speak up and demand to be treated as an equal throughout my life.
I shudder when I think that sometimes anyone of us has had to demand that another person treat us respectfully and fairly as an equal. That is a right we all have.
Equal should mean equal. Having examples that look like me was and is as important as having examples that look like you were and is to you. A beautiful thing happens when we have an equal playing field, everybody is in the game working together to be better as a whole. When one wins we all win.
The focus should never be on race, gender or even sexual preferences. That is personal and none of us had or has control of that. The synergy of what we each offer due to our differences improves the outcomes for all of us.
In the following poem, “My House Too” I share personal experiences and thoughts.
My House Too
Benjamin Banneker built the first American ticking clock
Tick tock, tick tock went the wooden clock
It is on his watch
The plans did sprout
A free black man – in charge
Part of the team
That surveyed the land
To build the house
That represents the land of the free
The home of the brave
Yes, he was free
And he was black and he was smart and he was brave
He had to be
He left a mark on history
He had a part of what became
Our nation’s home
Which was built by slaves
Who toiled to build the house we love
The house took a while to feel like it was all of America’s house
Or even my house
It took a while to feel I would be welcomed as a guest
Not there to serve or clean or wait upon
But there to participate in the debate
In the things that make this country great
And accepted at my home
In the house that represents the land of the free for you and me
Martin had a dream
And we all dreamed too
That one day
Black, white, yellow, red and brown
Would stand together as one
Then the actions of many
Brave black, white, yellow, red, and brown
Found they could come together
And work together to make our foundation strong
On November 2008, I cried with so many others
When I saw with my own eyes
A nation which I love
Become colorblind…a melting pot
The majority dared to stand together for change
Refusing to believe the lies that stemmed from hate and bigotry
A nation who refused to participate in the negative debate
About the lack of someone’s pedigree or their family tree
A nation which stood behind a man who loved his wife, his family, his God
A man with principles not purely defined by black or white
Because he lives his life as black and white
A man committed to unite what was morally right
It was then, that the house
Built by slaves
To represent a nation of the land of the free
The home of the brave made history
When President Barack Obama
Walked through the door
To his new house
The White House
I finally felt the freedom to feel like the White House
Was my house too.
We all need positive examples that look like us, especially when we are children. This empowers us all to step up our game in life. This has not always been embraced. Sometimes we all have to admit that facing the truth unveiled with time is sometimes very ugly. Although it is hard to admit that within the truth, our history which is not always good is history that belongs to each of us. In order to make this country as good as it can be we have to trust and believe in each other as equals and continue to work together as we use and protect our Freedom of speech. That is what will make us more united and strong.