A long, long time ago, when I was in High School, I was adamant that I was moving to Europe, or South America, or somewhere other than the United States. I was angry. We were fighting with Iraq (over oil), and we still weren’t acknowledging how terrible we were to Africans and Native Americans when we first took over this land. I didn’t want to be associated with such a country any more.
In my senior year, I’d made exciting plans to travel to Cancun for Spring break and thought that this might be my big first step towards living in another country. It had beaches, people were happy, and I assumed everyone liked one another. While I had a good deal of fun in Cancun, even my 18 year old self could tell that Cancun life was unsustainable and likely pretty unfulfilling. College started to look like a pretty good back up plan to leaving the United States. At least I’d be leaving my parents’ house!
During college I juggled majors, Engineering, Biology, English, Economics, unsure of what I wanted to be or who I was going to become. It wasn’t until I took a class in the History of Black Economics where we learned about the civil rights movement that I realized I wanted to fight for people’s human rights. Off to law school I would go.
Law school wasn’t what I imagined. Most subjects were unappealing to me, Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Evidence. I went through the motions and did alright, but I only really felt alive during my Con Law class and the Eugene Gressman appellate advocacy competition. In preparation for appellate arguments, everyone had to write an extensive appellate brief and was randomly assigned a position on a case involving the legality of affirmative action. I can’t say that I was definitively pro-affirmative action, it’s a complex matter, but I leaned decidedly in favor of doing whatever was necessary to make people whole for past wrongs, and affirmative action was designed to do just that. While I was slightly terrified of having to stand before someone to make my argument, I was fueled by the fact that I was standing up for something I believed in. I had something worth fighting for.
Because this isn’t a legal blog, I know, you were beginning to wonder, I will quickly share with you the gist of my brief. In my legal and social research around the subject, I’d come to the conclusion that diversity is a compelling enough reason to support a program that utilizes race as a factor, something otherwise illegal, rightfully so, under the Constitution. At the time, universities, corporations and government agencies were beginning to recognize the benefit of diversifying their composition. By bringing together a diverse group of minds and perspectives, they’d learned that they could greatly expand their knowledge base, solve problems differently, and better serve a larger population. Bottom line, statistically speaking you are going to end up with an overall better outcome in the long run when you apply principles of diversity. For anyone who’s ever read anything about investing money, you’ve heard the advice “diversify your portfolio.” Diversifying wasn’t a new concept, it was just new to how we valued one another.
I don’t remember the grade I received on my brief or my argument, but I remember what it felt like to be imagining a world where everyone’s diverse backgrounds, skin colors, religions, sexual orientations, and political positions were celebrated for what they were, a person’s right to be independent, to be fully who they are and who they want to be and to be included as a vital part of what we celebrate as the United States of America.
As I look at our world today, with the media and politicians working hard to keep us separated, using our independence against one another to keep us in categories for their own gain, I am committing to honoring your independence. I am reclaiming July 4th, Independence Day, as a day to celebrate your individuality, your uniqueness, your right to be your beautiful authentic self. I’ll be celebrating all of the battles we’ve won and will continue to win when fighting for the rights of others, and I’ll renew my passion to always stand up for what it means to be an equal member of the world’s largest melting pot. I cannot undo the deeds of the past, but I can play a role in creating an America I believe in. One where we can all be proud to call home.