About 15 years ago now, I spent a few years working with the San Antonio chapter of a charitable organization called “SERTOMA” (SERvice TO MAnkind). Each year, I served as either a Committee Chair, Judge, or both for a scholarship essay contest local middle school kids on their summer break were invited to enter.
It was the same essay prompt every year: answer the question “What does Freedom mean to me?”
Every year we’d get a range of answers from kids of all walks of life.
It was amazing, thought provoking, and sometimes heart wrenching to see the differences between what freedoms some of us take for granted and what freedoms some among us are still having denied to them.
One young Black girl wrote about her great-grandfather and grandfather fighting across World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam in service to this country, only to be denied the freedoms they were sent overseas to defend upon returning home.
One young child of both Hispanic and Native Peoples’ heritage wrote about what it meant to his family to have established here in what is now known as South Texas before America was even colonized. The cycle of losing and regaining freedoms as six different national flags have been hoisted over the land they have always occupied creates an entirely different perspective.
A first generation female immigrant from a war torn country in West Asia and North Africa (a region most Americans incorrectly call the “Middle East) offered an entirely different perspective.
A Muslim boy who often found himself persecuted by his public school peers, and even school staff, had yet another viewpoint to offer us.
All stood in contrast to those of multigenerational American families of North European descent.
Today my teenage daughters — who share very recent Hispanic and Germanic heritage through their mother’s genetics and a true multigenerational melting pot mix of Northern European and multiple of the Native Peoples’ tribal nations from my side — would give you a very different answer than they would have a few years ago.
So, this Independance Day, I am going to assign you the same starting essay prompt:
“What does Freedom mean to me?”
After you have answered that question either in writing or at least as a thought exercise, I’d like you to be honest with yourself about your answers to these follow-up questions:
1. Have the recent Supreme Court rulings on voters’ rights, womens’ rights, and health care rights and religious freedoms changed your answers at all from previous years? If so, how?
2. Should all Americans have the same freedoms?
3. If you answered “No” to question 2, what specific freedoms do you feel should be denied to which specific people; explain why? (Do women have a right to personal body autonomy? Do women have a right to Health Care Privacy under HIPPA protections or not? Do interracial couples have a right to marriage, or not? Do same sex partners have a right to marriage or not? etc…).
4. If you answered “No” to question 2, do you have the moral fortitude to be open and honest with your answers to question 3? If not, why not?
5. If you answered “Yes” to question 2, what are you willing to do to ensure all have access to them? Would you vote at every opportunity no matter how inconvenient it is made to do so? Would you help those being denied their rights to circumvent unjust laws? Would you use your privileges or even give them up to help others attain equal access to the same rights? Would you offer you time and/or money to candidates working towards securing those rights for all? Would you run for office yourself? What tangible commitments are you willing to make today so we an all have true freedom?
Photo credit: Glen Le Lievre