What is America?

What is America to me? There are two Americas. The first America is the land of my hopes and dreams. It is the land of my youth. It is the land I was introduced to by my parents, my grandparents, my church, and my community.

This America I have envisioned is a place where the worth of all persons is a guiding principle. It is a place where I learned that common respect enabled me and my school mates to work together and play together in spite of the differences that existed between us.

This America is the land that my forefathers struggled to bring into existence. It is the land whose promise is expressed in the lofty words of our founding document. When I read “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” my spirit soars.

When I read of the patriotic resolve of my distant relatives such as Mansfield French who founded several colleges and was deeply involved in the Freedmen’s Bureau and Captain John Higley who was responsible (according to family history) for keeping the Connecticut constitution safe from the prying fingers of the King’s Governor of Connecticut Colony.

I am certain that many of my friends have similar stories of patriotism and daring exploits in their family history. Let me state without equivocation that such acts on the part of family heroes must not be taken as a measure of nobility. They do not afford us any right to privilege. Rather, they place upon our shoulders a greater responsibility to live up to the example they have set for us. They had a vision of what is possible in the dream of a more perfect union. A desire for what might be. This is the America of my vision, a nation where patriots strive to bring the noble principles of equality, unity, and respect for others to fruition.

And yet, there is the America that stands in opposition to all that I envision. That too is my America. It is the America in which my ancestors “found” a land inhabited by others and claimed it as their own in the principle of white supremacy. This is an America who enslaved proud people from Africa, stealing not only their labor and freedom, but trying to violate and diminish their very humanity. This is a sordid America. This is not an America of our past only, but of our present.

And so, we are embroiled in a great struggle between the America our founders sought but were not capable of bringing into existence and the America they did bring into existence. The vision of a just America where equality, unity, and respect for all still awaits us beckons.

I pledge myself to the arduous work of creating the philosophical and structural framework for that America, the America so many have prayed for, worked for and died for. I encourage all my friends to take upon themselves this “great and marvelous work.”

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