Part II: Sweet Apple Pie — Happy 237th Birthday America
I am, as Maya Angelou said, “the hope and the dream of the slave.” That slave who worked the fields dreaming of freedom, of owning a business, a home and farm their own land. My great-great-great grandparents on both sides of my family shared that dream. On both, my mother and father’s side, their great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents and grandparents and parents owned hundreds of acres of land in North Carolina and Virginia. Some of that land remains in our family. The grandparents of my aunt Elberta Armstrong, who died earlier this year, two days after her 104th birthday, were former slaves who bought hundreds of acres of land in North Carolina. This is part of the American story.
I am an American and the descendant of slaves. One of them was the first African-American invited as a guest into the White House. His name was Frederick Douglass. I am also a descendant of a man who led the South’s Confederate troops during the Civil War. His name was General Robert E. Lee. I am a part of the American story.
This is why America, I embrace you as an American and not a minority. I identify with that part of me that connects to the majority. When you look on me, you are reminded that I am a descendant of slaves. I look at you with forgiveness because I am as much entitled to sweet apple pie as anyone. My ancestors built this country even when others tried to tear it apart. You see my ancestors built buildings here that are symbols of freedom that dignitaries and ordinary citizens come from near and far to visit.
The more I embrace the whole, the more I smell sweet apple pie. The more I smell, the more I want for our nation to be better, and the bigger my heart becomes. The better I see you for the sum of your parts. The wider the path becomes, and the brighter the light on the path guiding me to sweet apple pie.
You see instead of relying on the government, my role is to help the government make a level playing field for everyone and that includes working so we can make bake a bigger, sweeter apple pie for the growing needs of a growing nation. Happiness in the words “pursuit of happiness” is the pursuit of that sweet apple pie. And the framers were wise to put language there saying “the pursuit of happiness” not entitled to happiness…” Too many today stay at home waiting for their entitlement, while others work hard and still find the pie too hard to get.
Recently, I visited the Lincoln Memorial with a very open heart. I was moved more than ever by President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and better recognized this one thing, the price for freedom has never come without a cost.
I could see Lincoln on the battlefield, as I read his words, days after thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers died.
“It is for us the living, rather, to dedicate here, to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
That struggle goes on every day here and around the world on battlefields near and far. We are blessed today to witness forms of peaceful demonstration like the one in Egypt where the people came together to overthrow not one president but now two. We are blessed in our lifetime to witness someone like Nelson Mandela keep a nation together and lead it to reconciliation in a way Lincoln was unable to avoid. And I believe in some way, Mandela and Lincoln are intangibly responsible for America electing President Barack Obama as our first African-American president.
So today on the Fourth of July, as you eat your sweet apple pie at your barbeques and family gatherings, envision having your share of the pie every day. Let’s today celebrate our nation’s birthday, remembering Mandela’s words after being released from prison:
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Let’s let the bitterness that divides us go and become the United States of America. Whether it is race, gender, religion, cultural or political differences that divide, let’s move toward a collective spirit where we choose unity over division, love over hate, nation over race and humanity over all other things.
Let us be “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for All.”