I remember in fifth grade I was given the opportunity to sing the patriotic song made famous by Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA (Proud to be an American)” on the steps of the Mississippi State Capital. In every practice, I would try to sing it as perfectly as I had heard it on the recording, but my music teacher, Carrie Hawkins, would always challenge me to take the song and make it my own. “Add some soul!” “Give it some Justin!”
And when I would question her as to why, because I was a rather shy kid and did nothing to stand out at all, she would tell me that America is founded on the fact that everyone has a voice, and everyone deserves to be heard, even if it is in a different way.
For some reason, I am thinking about that today as we sit in remembrance of 9/11. It is crazy to think that 17 years ago the world changed. It is even crazier to think that to these students in my classroom today, that fateful day is almost nothing more than a day.
Yet as I think about all that this country is and is not, all of our imperfections, our disagreements. The ugliness of our history along with the glories of it, I am convinced that now, more than ever, everyone deserves to be heard. Perspectives deserve to be shared. Understanding deserves to be sought after. Love deserves a chance to win.
Our President ran on a mantra of “Make America Great Again”. I would say that America doesn’t have to be great. God is great. That’s enough for me. I would say, however, that America deserves to never quit trying to be better. The almost 3000 lives who died on this day, countless soldiers who have fought, and continue to fight, deserve that effort from us. The beaten and downtrodden of our societies deserve that.
Every man, woman, boy, and girl deserves that.
So today as we remember, I want to challenge you to add your voice to the American diaspora. Add your dream to the American dream. Add your soul to the mix. Give American some YOU! We’re better together. And any voice that would seek to divide us?
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Take a moment, and let’s be better.