I just reread Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America” again, and in the second stanza he said these prophetic words:
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings convince and tyrant scheme
That any man be crushed by one above
The poem implores “us” to live up to the expectations we have set for ourselves. Hughes makes it clear that, as a black man in 20th century America, he was not fully participating in the greatness of America. He does not, however, let his exclusion to the full promise of America let him falter in wishing for our “strong land of love” to become a reality.
The angst being felt by some these days can cause a variety of responses: anger, disillusionment, fear, depression, or fuel to get engaged. I urge us all to use the events of this time as fuel to get engaged. Engage in a way that helps us to be a better version of ourselves. Engage in a way that fights for what you believe in, but not by tearing someone else down as a means to that end. Engage in a way where you try to see the vantage point of others as you make your case for your position. Engage in a way that is driven by your love for your fellow man – all of them.
When I think about Hughes’ message in “Let America Be America Again,” I see children lining up to enter Barack Obama Elementary School every day and the bright future that is ahead of them – if we love them enough to give them the support they need. I see these same children coming out of the 24:1 Cinema after seeing “Hidden Figures” and realizing they can be and do anything they set their minds to with support from all of us.
If we are to “Be America Again,” I see the homes we have built, existing homes we have rehabbed, and vacant lots where recently abandoned homes have been demolished all telling families in the 24:1 footprint that their neighborhood – the place they call home – is getting better. Moreover, the families moving in these homes will be able to see a brighter future for their families.
If we are to “Be America Again,” I see all the children in the pre-K facilities we support through our 5byAge5 Initiative being nurtured and loved, thereby preparing them for life and the first day of kindergarten.
If we are to “Be America Again,” I see all my not-for-profit partners working together and aligning their resources for common goals to help the 24:1 community become the place its residents desire and deserve.
If we are to “Be America Again,” I see us loving each other because we cannot be what we hope to be without doing so – not an emotional love, but a fierce I-will-not-let-you-down kind of love.
To fulfill the promise of America for all of us, we must do what Hughes calls us to do in the end of his poem:
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers
The mountains and endless plains
All, all the stretch of these great green states
And Make America Again