July 4, 2020This is surely the most unusual Independence Day since the original announcement of the Declaration. I can think of no better time to pause and reflect on what America's independence Day means, to whom, and why.
For a change, we are compelled to change our habits and traditions, which provides time and opportunity to broaden our view of what we've called "history", the narrow stories that led to a day of hot dogs and fire crackers.
In light of COVID 19 and BLACK LIVES MATTER, there is no better place to begin to examine who WE are what WE are celebrating than this outstanding post from NPR. It requires only six minutes to listen to the words of Frederick Douglass, written and delivered more than 150 years ago. This amazing reading is done by his direct descendents, and is followed by some brief reflections from these inspiring young people. It is eerily suitable to our present times.
If six minutes sounds too long to you, remember that GEORGE FLOYD struggled for breath for nearly nine minutes before dying under the knee of a uniformed police officer in broad daylight... while being filmed! If you find that the words of Douglass make you uncomfortable, compare your discomfort to dying in a gutter while repeating I CAN"T BREATHE.
Deal with your discomfort and listen:
|CLICK Here to listen|
Then, since this is a picture book blog, I'm linking you back to a post from seven years ago. It begins with a reflection about Superstorm Sandy and its disruption of celebrations, featuring reflections, some traditionally-themed titles, including one that attempts to shine a bit more light on George Washington as an enslaver. A last selection with my thoughts on why it (and other stories of community strength and support) should be celebrated on this holiday.
If you have the time and interest, CLICK HERE to read in full.
Just in case you used your available time viewing the speech delivery above, I'll save you that second click by copying that final content here:
Finally, consider this story about another New York City icon, the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. As the backmatter says, it has two nicknames, "Big John" and "Saint John the Unfinished". The cornerstone was set back in 1892 and it is still under construction. ME and MOMMA and BIG JOHN, by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by William Low, tells this remarkable story through a fictional family based on real New Yorkers. How does this fit with the Fourth of July? Think about that line in the document Washington signed: the right to the pursuit of happiness.
Work on this massive cathedral was halted to divert funds to the ever-present needs of the neighborhood community, to those who lacked the means for survival, let alone pursuing happiness. Eventually the need for trained workers and the need for jobs coalesced to produce an apprenticeship program for craftsmen AND craftswomen to complete the construction. This book wins the trifecta of story, story-telling, and visual power.
So, my wishes for your holiday are for some thoughtful reflections that allow deeper appreciation for the freedoms you have enjoyed throughout your lives, and a broadening awareness of the many ways in which such freedom, respect, and SAFETY to pursue happiness as equals have been systematically denied to those who are not White. A first step toward remedies is recognition of the problem. As someone recently said, you can't treat a cancer until you realize you have it.