Commentary: An Independence Day Reflection

The Fourth of July reveals to us how far the nation has come, and how far it needs yet to go.

Posted: 07/03/2014 12:13 PM EDT

The nation’s independence celebration is an event that leads Americans to discuss such principles of freedom and liberty. It is reflection that occurs at this time of year from churches to political events, among civic groups, congregations and community organizations.

But perspectives vary widely based on the background and history of the person doing the assessment. For many African-Americans, for examples, there are some clear areas of progress regarding freedom and liberty since 1776, when most Black people were enslaved in this country. We look at the events following the Civil War and the nearly 100-year campaign to end segregation as evidence that there have been dramatic gains in the quest for freedom and liberty.

But there is a bittersweet twinge to these reflections for many Black Americans. Although the path of progress is undeniable, the nation continues to be a hotbed of injustice in a variety of areas. We’re living in an era where many Americans are questioning the pervasiveness of freedom when young people like Trayvon Martin lose their lives needlessly with little in the way of accountability.

We live in an era where the nation is so saturated with gun violence that its frequency no longer creates much outrage. Whether it’s the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the death of Hadiya Pendleton, the honors high school student gunned down in a Chicago playground, or legions of others, we as a nation have become sadly anesthetized to that scourge. How much freedom and liberty can there be in a land where young people of all races leave their homes with the palpable possibility of violence on a daily basis.

How much liberty can we feel as a nation when one of the basic tenets of a democracy — the right to vote — is under assault in state after state, with the goal of making it more challenging for African-American citizens to go to the polls and cast ballots? It’s a disconcerting scenario, especially after the nation’s highest court gutted the heart out of the hard-fought Voting Rights Act.

There is the chilling reminder now of how stridently angry many Americans are now because some people are now seeking the very freedom and liberty their forebears sought some generations ago. While young children and their mothers seek refuge and hope in a new country, many Americans seem to forget the very notion of compassion and protest in shrill and cruel ways against the would-be newcomers.

So the path to liberty and freedom is steady, although checkered. It is a path with challenges and roadblocks. Still, it is one that must consistently be pursued by people of progressive minds and empathetic hearts.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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 (Photo: Pete Souza/White House Photo via Getty Images)

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