Americans with heart must come back to the table to restart critical conversations

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By Vernon A. Williams

Each year, there are the parades. The fireworks. Outdoor festivals. Marching bands. Barbeque grills. Picnics in the park. Flag waving. We have grown accustomed to all the bombast, pageantry and grandstanding that comes this time of every year in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the red, white and blue haze clouds reality. It wouldn’t be so bad if the intent was to focus on the positive today for the holiday, then return to critical issues during the remaining 364 days. Sadly that is nowhere near reality. Things that matter won’t be on the agenda immediately or eventually.

Too many in this nation today prefer to party over an imagined grandiose past without thought to those trampled in the brutal stampede of colonialism and capitalism. Americans have become increasingly reluctant to openly discuss ugly truths about their country. They prefer instead to simply ignore more wrenching realities and avoid personal risks.

Too many choose to look the other way rather than face up to atrocities like children piled into filthy cages, toxins poisoning Flint waters, police murdering innocent, unarmed Black Americans, veterans fighting for freedom then ignored on their return home, families going to bed hungry, lack of healthcare a leading cause of death, global warming, mental illness, opioids, crack, and gun violence destroying the generations.

This column is an invitation to join in higher order thinking with deeper sensitivities when it comes to the humanity of a nation considered to be amoral authority. This column is an invitation to engage in honest dialogue on things that matter most. Timing purposefully coincides with national observations of Independence Day – The Fourth of July.

In truth, as bad as things are today, there really has never been a period in the history of our nation that came without hardship, atrocities, deceit, pain and suffering. America is no Utopia. There is an ominous sentiment – particularly among “baby boomers” whose perspective spans generations – that willingness to engage in dialogue is waning.

Take a moment to revisit and absorb this painful excerpt from the Washington Post:

“Valeria was a cheery child. Not even 2 years old, she loved to dance, play with her stuffed animals and brush her family members’ hair. Her father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, was stalwart. Nearly always working, he sold his motorcycle and borrowed money to move his family from El Salvador to the United States. Martínez and his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, wanted to save up for a home there. They wanted safety, opportunity. “They wanted a better future for their girl,” María Estela Ávalos, Vanessa’s mother, said in an interview.

They traveled more than 1,000 miles seeking it. Once in the United States, they planned to ask for asylum, for refuge from the violence that drives many Central American migrants from their home countries every day.

But the farthest the family got was an international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. On Sunday, they were told the bridge was closed and that they should try to cross it the next day. But they were desperate. Standing on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, America looked within reach. The family waded in. Before they made it to the other side, to Brownsville, Tex., the river waters pulled Martínez and Valeria under and swept them away.”

The heartbreaking photo of the bodies of the father and young daughter lying face down in waters off U.S. shores was scorched into minds around the world. There were times when that image would have been enough to command change, to influence thinking, to woo hearts. In June 2019, it was just another news story and reaction was partisan.

There is a level of apathy, indifference and antipathy felt by many of our seasoned citizens. Conversely, millennials have grown up in a period consumed by war, misogyny, xenophobia, racial bigotry, sexual discrimination, religious cynicism, political as well as ideological factionalism and a lack of humanity more resembles of a nation of pagans.

Unbridled materialistic pursuit is so pervasive that young Americans don’t blink an eye learning that one rapper buys his 5-year-old a top-of-the-line Rolex or that another purchased a diamond-studded half-million dollar cell phone case or that a comedian boasts of having a million-dollar car or a megachurch pastor needs another private jet.

Self-indulgence is the order of the day in the U.S., characterized by wretched, unyielding dogma that overrides benevolence, compassion and collaboration. That being said, if I did not believe there was still hope, then I would not have taken the time to share these perspectives.

I believe there are still far more people in this great republic inclined to do good as opposed to evil. Those at the extremes make the most noise, but those in the middle possess the best potential for creating a greater nation. It is just a matter of minimizing our differences and accenting our common bonds.

As exasperating as the process may be at times – particularly when hatred emanates from top rungs of so-called leadership – we owe unborn generations persistence in our pursuit of freedom. Resting, giving up or giving in are simply not options. Even no one walks to talk, we have to be willing to force the conversation.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Never allow it to be said that you are among silent onlookers, detached spectators” in the struggle. Instead, when you gaze into the mirror of time, you should find reassurance in the affirmation that you are an “involved participant in the struggle to make justice a reality.”

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