Every weekday morning, I say the Pledge of Allegiance with 400 children. These 400 energetic souls attend the grade school where I teach Language Arts. They speak, collectively, over 20 different languages. They come from countries around the world, to the neighborhood across the street. Their joys are the typical joys of children: new shoes, a handful of dandelions, birthday party plans, but their sorrows are deep and their burdens, heavy. Many come from the relentless grips of poverty and school is a safe haven. For most, America is a much safer place than the country they came from.
When we finish the Pledge, “…with liberty and justice for all,” I look around at their faces and I wonder what their futures will be. I know that “liberty” and “justice” will be hard fought in their lifetimes. I fear that these children will inherit an America where their civil liberties have been removed, one by one. I began to worry about this more and more over the months following Michael Brown’s death. Again and again, since the Michael Brown case, I have revisited this piece of writing. The list of victims and wrongs kept growing longer. The stories kept changing, the issues growing and evolving faster than I felt I could keep up with.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Donald Trump has proven that millions of Americans are willing to vote for someone who would build a wall, someone who would not disavow the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. They are willing to put that person in the highest office in this country if the Republican Party throws all ethics under the bus to nominate him. People in this country, founded on freedom, shaped by proud, hard-working immigrants, have no problem openly advancing a racist agenda.
We must begin to take a long, hard look because this is what hatred looks like. This is the foul soil from which institutionalized racism grows, putting down its twisted roots to stay. It is staring us in the face. If we do nothing, it is staring us in the face when we look in the mirror. I’ve had to look in the mirror myself more than a couple of times. We all evolve with the issues, with fear; with prejudice we didn’t think we harbored until we thought harder and dug deeper within ourselves. The anger and frustration we’ve seen in the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and all across the nation over the last year and a half, stem from brutality, poverty, hopelessness, and disenfranchisement. A fuse has been lit. As Americans, we must vote with this thought in mind: When your hand is over your heart, “liberty and justice for all” seems like a promise. We must remember that, really, it’s a goal. And, it’s not everyone’s goal.