America: The Story of All of Us

Published : Monday, March 20, 2017 | 2:45 PM

Spring is a time of rebirth, reawakening, renewal. This year, I am needing spring more than in years past. I feel the need to reflect more deeply. I feel the need to process everything happening in the world around me. I feel the need to try to make sense of it all.

I am a history buff; always have been. As such, I always try to put things in perspective to connect and understand the past, present, and future.

I was born in 1966, a time of great change and transformation. Civil rights laws had just been enacted. Everyone was given the legal right to vote. Equality of opportunity and, in the eyes of the law, the promise of America seemed to have arrived at last. The American Dream seemed finally to be open to all. And the first moon landing was only three years away: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” What an amazing time to be alive, I thought. Yes, there was pushback. Sure, there were strong differences of opinion. Certainly, change was hard. But Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words appeared to ring true: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

From my sheltered upbringing in a relatively quiet Los Angeles suburb, I embarked upon my high school journey at a boarding school in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona, Arizona. Boarding school took me outside my comfort zone and I learned to appreciate that. As part of my school experience, I lived with an elderly woman in a hogan on a Navajo reservation (a hogan is the traditional Navajo hut of logs and earth). Then I lived with two different families in Mexico, attending church with the family, and school with their children. I became immersed in these cultures. The world opened up to me in ways I could never have imagined possible.

After boarding school, I went off to college at UC Berkeley in the early 1980s. My horizons broadened further as my world became more inclusive. I met my wife, Michelle. She was Catholic and did not share my Jewish faith or my Eastern European roots. Her heritage was African-American, Cherokee, East Indian, and Caucasian. We married in 1990 and in 2001, my wife gave birth to twins. Our children are America: they embrace every part of who they are. They do not identify themselves as exclusively African-American, Jewish or Catholic (we celebrate Christmas and Hanukah). My children are the American Mosaic. They check all the boxes that comprise their birthright.

Recently, my 15-year-old son had an incredible experience retracing the journey of the Freedom Riders during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Along with a number of high schoolers, he visited the Baptist church in Montgomery where Martin Luther King began his career as a minister. He saw the bus stop in Montgomery where Rosa Parks first boarded a bus and refused to move to the back, as African-Americans had been compelled to for generations. My son met countless individuals and families who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement that challenged America to live up to the true meaning of its creed: That everyone is created equal. That everyone is entitled to life and liberty, and to be treated with dignity and respect. He met Jeff Drew, the son of a couple that had provided refuge to Martin Luther King, Jr. He met Bill Baxley, the lawyer who prosecuted one of the perpetrators of the tragic Sixteenth Street Baptist church bombing. Along the way, he met and spoke with people from all walks of life, in the city and in the countryside.

On his return, what did he conclude? He did not return bitter and angry that his ancestors were subject to systematic prejudice and discrimination. He did not return with hate in his heart. Instead, he said, “Everybody has a story to tell. The deep South is full of deep stories that need to be heard, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to listen to a few of millions.”

His reaction gives me hope that many in the younger generation do not see the world through a black or white lens. They see the human heart. They listen to and embrace everyone’s unique story. They hear and honor the diverse voices of America.

In my adult lifetime, I have never felt there was a more important moment to reflect upon and pay tribute to what makes our cherished country so unique and special. We are a country that believes in the “marketplace of ideas” that provides opportunity for self-expression and the freedom to voice one’s perspective, both individually and collectively. Our unique democratic values afford essential rights, freedoms, and responsibilities that allow individuals to flourish and boldly pursue their dreams and aspirations.

And so I encourage you, as parents, to take advantage of this teachable moment in history and discuss and celebrate with your children our country’s democracy and its commitment to ensuring the individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Our unwavering commitment to democracy, freedom, and equality for all is what has made and continues to make America a beacon of light and liberty. America is not the story of some of us. America is the story of all of us. Take this opportunity to share and celebrate your unique stories with your children. Remind them that America is great because we are diverse. America is great because we are inclusive. Let us celebrate ourselves. Let us celebrate one another. We love and embrace each other for who we are. At High Point—at our very core—we are America. We are the coming together and celebration of our shared stories and traditions and our common embrace of liberty, freedom, and human dignity for all.

Perhaps President Abraham Lincoln best described our great nation and its embrace of democracy for all, when he proclaimed in the final words of his 1863 Gettysburg Address that “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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