December 5, 2017 by

I attended a segregated school in Meridian, Mississippi. What I remember is our school looked quite different from the one attended by the white kids. Our school was housed in an older wooden building attached to a brick structure that contained about a dozen classrooms. The school sat on an open lot of red dirt. Yet, I remember our neighborhood as a safe refuge.

The white kids went to a school that was closer to my house than the one I attended. Their school was a two-story stucco building that was the whitest white. It always appeared new or as if it was just painted. At least that’s the way I remember it. This school sat on a paved lot that was enclosed by a fence. There were several play structures on the playground. Our school had none.

There were striking disparities between the schools and the neighborhoods they served. Young and innocent minds would soon learn that the disparities were symbols of power and privilege.

Yet, each day black and white children would rise, put their hands over their hearts and repeat in unison the Pledge of Allegiance, culminating with the words “with liberty and justice for all”. Obviously, these most fundamental American ideals are experienced in entirely different ways depending on race and class.

There are those who take great offense when the stories about black lives conflict with the myth of American exceptionalism. Too often, these narratives about the “American Dream” include dehumanizing stereotypes, low expectations, impoverished communities, and the disproportionate incarceration and killing of young black men.

As Americans, we’re still struggling to fulfill the high aspirations contained in our Constitution by creating a “more perfect union”.

A willingness to honestly listen to each other’s stories and demonstrate some degree of empathy is the basis of true community. Unfortunately, our state of denial places more value on honoring nationalistic symbols than addressing real injustices.

Western culture is suffering from a deadly cancer called racism resulting from the exploitation and domination of people of color for 400 years. The consequences are inevitable, as our world grows increasingly interdependent and less secure.

Truth and reconciliation have been used in places such as South Africa to promote racial healing. These efforts rely on a willingness to listen to the stories of the oppressed and the oppressor. Toward this end, a grass-roots effort involving cross-cultural, interfaith and interracial dialogue is desperately needed.

Be assured that meaningful truth-telling, genuine forgiveness and social transformation will require more courage and commitment than all the wars we’ve ever fought. However, it’s the only hope for true peace and prosperity. Who better to promote this dialogue at this time than the National Football League and its players?

An old African proverb might represent the spirit of a new social movement: “I am because we are, we are because I am.” Let the Pledge of Allegiance and our national anthem inspire us to take a stand, or knee, in re-dedicating ourselves to the unrealized promise of liberty and justice for all.

Leon Beauchman is an American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow and president of the Santa Clara County Alliance of Black Educators. He recently completed a book of poetry entitled “Blue Prophesy: In Search of Meaning in the African American Experience.”

Posted in: Race