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Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships

The Fragility of Freedom

freedom flag

It is the eve of November 8th, Election Day, a critical and contentious moment in our nation’s history.

I am currently sitting on a bus sandwiched between three teenage boys, all three who are much bigger than me, and who after several hours of driving are starting to produce a scent I like to call “teen spirit”. We are enroute back to Cleveland from a two-day college tour, amongst which one of our stops was the University of Cincinnati, in the city known for its’ historical influence of the passage of the Underground Railroad.

It seems after 2 years of growing anger and tension in our countries great divide, today should be a day of reflection and a celebration of those giant’s on whose shoulders we stand. So we spent the morning visiting the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in the heart of Cincinnati and spent the morning with Ms. Faith who provided us with an experience we would not soon forget.

As a white woman, I stood in J.W. Anderson’s Slave Pen amongst 30 young African American youth, and I watched Ms. Faith drop heavy metal shackles on the floor of the pen, describing in details the different markings of the pen and how men, as young as 17, were shackled to the beams and left hanging until they were ready to be moved up the river. As I listened to her words, I was overcome with emotion, realizing that the only difference between the young people in the room today and those who suffered such atrocities was a factor of time.

I was also keenly aware that freedom is a fragile thing and is not a universal truth, which is why it is so important that we fight harder to ensure that all young people today are educated to understand the history of those who came before them, in order to ensure that we don’t allow history to repeat itself, as it often does, and that we continue to fight for the equality of freedom of all our people.

Ironically, the Freedom Center demonstrated this truth, through its’ new exhibit, “Invisible”, which walked us through slavery that still exists today around the world and throughout our own country.

Again, history repeats itself, and we often turn away.

fragility of freedom

I never fully understood the sanctity of the democratic process until I saw it at risk this past year. In all my years of education, I only understood that I had a right to vote and I should practice that right. Yes, of course I knew the three branches, the president, the fables, and all the big scandals. However, I didn’t really understand the foundational principles in which our country was founded, how far we have strayed from those founding principles, how incredibly divided and divisive we have become, and how dangerous that division is to the long-term survival of our democracy (regardless of which side of the fence you sit).

I am not specifically speaking of this election alone. After all, this isn’t the first divisive election we have faced. Abraham Lincoln’s presidential run may have still rivaled today’s. Rather, I am speaking about the larger picture of our democracy. I am not sure where we begin to break the cycle that is occurring, but as I sat in JW Anderson’s Slave Pen today, I couldn’t help but feel a level of anxiety for those kids and what is at stake for each of them as they move forward with their education and future paths. In a society so heavily influenced by half-truths and misinformation, how do we fight to develop strong global leaders, with firm principles, and a clear understanding of what makes our country free.

Of course I might also argue that most of the kids we serve have never truly been free.

fragility of freedom 2

In a society of haves and have-nots, we have successfully managed to keep those living in poverty, and most specifically minorities in poverty, in a system that doesn’t allow for upward movement. The whole mantra “hard work leads to achievement” only works if you have the right resources in play, most of which these young people are not afforded. In case you don’t believe me, research it.

There are overwhelming bodies of research that show that young minorities in poverty, can’t simply work hard and pull themselves out of poverty. So again, these young people aren’t free today and as we continue to divide our nation, they seem to further be oppressed by the systems in play. However, this is for another blog… just some food for thought.

fragility of freedom 3

So again, as I sit on this bus, driving back up to “Believeland” I grow continually anxious not only for the results of tonight’s election, but more so for the future direction of our country and what it means for our children and generations to come. Our freedom and democracy has endured and expanded through a civil war, the abolition of slavery, multiple wars, terrorism, the civil rights movement, forty-four presidents, new and changing amendments, etc. Yet, this doesn’t make it invincible. As Superman once said, “with Liberty comes Responsibility.”

Can we reshape the direction we are heading? Can we find middle ground? How do we explain the contentiousness with our children? How do we use knowledge as a source of power, rather than ignorance as a source of control? How do we teach the next generation differently? I don’t have answers, only questions. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

 For breakfast, I had Almond Cacao Oatmeal. I’ve included the recipe below:
1 tbsp cacao powder
½ C gluten free oats
¼ C unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp almond butter
1 packet of stevia

Author Profile: @annemarieg

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