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We Hold THESE Truths...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." The Declaration of Independence used to be one of my favorite historical documents. In general, I enjoy the history of all types - American, British, European, fashion, literature, film, you name it. I've always been fascinated with the past, and how different things were back then. It often makes me open my eyes in amazement at the courage of the individuals, or shake my head in frustration at the setbacks and limitations they've faced or encountered. I guess that's where my love of period shows and films come from. The intricate details of the costumes, language, physical settings, and even artwork are always present. It must've taken a lot of studying and research to make it as authentic as if we were living in that era. I might even consider wearing some of the fashions they wore back then. It's certainly a lot better than some of the fashion fads right now! But I'm getting off-topic here. So...

On 4 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, PA, to sign the pronouncement declaring themselves a new, independent nation no longer under British rule. The final draft was penned by Thomas Jefferson, who would later become the nation's third president. Historical documents have long been the cornerstone of a nation's growth and progression. For instance, the Magna Carta has been regarded as the foundation for democracy itself, even though it was initially signed in England in 1215. The U.S. Constitution became the supreme law of the land, with new amendments added over the years to include more rights, including extending the right to vote to women and blacks. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 abolished slavery for good (although it took an additional two years for the message to reach all of the states in the nation). Even JFK's 1961 inaugural address remains an important part of our history. The one section of the Declaration of Independence that is well-known to this day is the second paragraph, which states that all men are created equal and they are endowed by God the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Since it's initial signing in Congress in 1776, this paragraph became the Americanized version of the Magna Carta, which states the rights of human life itself. But there's just one problem. What about blacks? Aren't they created equal? What about Asians? Aren't they created equal? What about Latinos? Aren't they created equal? What about Native Americans? Aren't they created equal? What about Jewish people? Aren't they created equal? What about Muslims? Aren't they created equal? What about indigenous people? Aren't they created equal? What about gays, lesbians, and transgender people? Aren't they created equal? What about non-binary people? Aren't they created equal? What about women? Aren't they created equal? What about kids? Aren't they created equal? Do you know what's sad about this? For most of our lives, the U.S. history taught in our schools only celebrated the accomplishments of white men. And sometimes white women. But they never included many of the accomplishments of blacks, Native Americans, indigenous people, Latinos, or other minorities. They only highlighted the struggles of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, the eradication of the Native American tribes across the U.S., the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and many bad things minorities went through in our history. They also only highlighted certain blacks who were considered "essential" to our U.S. history - Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglas, just to name a few. But what about the good things blacks contributed to our culture? Or even the lesser-known stories that are so often hidden from the history books? Like the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was the first black regiment in the Civil War? What about the Buffalo Soldiers, AKA the 9th & 10th Calvary, which patroled from the Rio Grande to the Canadian borders, as well as the Mississippi River to the Colorado Rockies? What about the countless black mathematicians and engineers at NASA that helped helm many of the rocket launches? What about Phillis Wheatley, the first black woman author of a book of poetry? What about Ida B. Wells? What about Sojourner Truth? What about the 5000-8000 black cowboys that lived in the West after the Civil War? What about Thurgood Marshall? What about Shirley Chisholm? What about the black musicians who laid the foundation for jazz, blues, and popular music? Furthermore, what about the contributions of Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, indigenous people, gays, lesbians, transgenders, and women of color? Even beyond what is considered "essential," or even "acceptable" to be taught in the classrooms? Don't those and more deserve to be in the history books? It shouldn't be white-washed. There are lessons to be learned from history, both good and bad. We shouldn't have to pick and choose what should be taught in history classes. Don't we owe it to our ancestors, regardless of color, sexual orientation, and gender to have their stories be told in classes out of reflection, education, and even change? Here's another problem I faced in recent years learning more about the Declaration of Independence. For a document that's beloved by historians and citizens alike, it was written and signed by old white men. They didn't consider blacks, Native Americans, women, or even kids to be equal to them. Sure, there was a clause condemning the slave trade in the final draft, but the delegates from the Southern colonies wouldn't sign the declaration because they relied on slaves for their crops. Selfish? Yes. Stupid? Most definitely. (Want to learn more about this? Check out the musical 1776 starring William Daniels as John Adams [yes, that William Daniels, AKA Mr. Feeny!] for more information if you're not up to going through the history books.) This was troubling for me to learn, and especially difficult for me to hear. I admired this document as an important part of our nation's history. Without it, we wouldn't have been our nation. Think about it - another country would've ruled over us for an extended period. There were reasons why the Boston Tea Party happened and the American Revolution began. We wanted to be free to be our nation. The thought of another country ruling over us and forcing us to follow their religion, legislation, pay their high taxes, the education system, and so much more is frightening. This is a big reason why we revolted and wrote the Declaration of Independence. Come to think of it, that's why many nations around the world revolted and fought for their own independence. And so many others are still fighting for their freedom to this day. And yet, as the Second Continental Congress debated over this important proclamation, they didn't consider people of color, women, or even kids equal. It was if they believed that there were the only ones right and knowledgable, and everyone else was beneath them. When you think about, that's sort of warped thinking. Even more so, what led them to think this way? Were they so frustrated with where they were at the time as a nation that they hurried to get the message to King George III and ended up not considering the contributions people of color, women, and even children made to society? Or were they just that thick-headed and believed that they should exert authority overall? I wish I had the answer to that. Up until now, I didn't consider why the delegates didn't consider others who may have been different in their eyes but still wanted the same things as they did. (I realize that not all of the delegates felt this way, but it's still a lot to think about when they didn't include the voices of blacks, women, Native Americans, and children in the Declaration.) And guess who I blame for my recent change of heart about the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson? My mother. In case you've been living under a rock lately, a lot is going on right now. There's a pandemic that's spiraling out of control because our nation is so antsy and selfish to get back to normal, and they don't consider the repercussions of their choices. There's civil unrest over the recent killings of innocent black people at the hands of the police, those who are supposed to protect us and not abuse their power. There's an election coming up in November, and many people are frustrated with what's going on right now politically. In other words, things are quite topsy-turvy right now. One of the things that have been happening is clarity over systemic racism and what it entails. Whether that's being open about it in your daily life, at your job, or even in passing, it's forcing all of us to have the difficult conversations with one another and within ourselves. It's also challenging our beliefs and what we were taught in school and our personal lives. Case in point: This past weekend, I was talking with my mother about my plans for this week's blog. It's timely as it's during Independence Day weekend. I've always considered this an important holiday celebrating our freedom and being together with each other over a grill and seeing some great fireworks displays. Unfortunately, the grilling and fireworks may not happen this year because of the pandemic. In recent weeks, or even further back, I've heard many blacks say that they don't celebrate Independence Day because the blacks weren't considered "free" until Juneteenth - a special day on 19 June when back in 1865, a message arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing that all of the slaves were free. This took two years for the message to arrive at all of the states at the time from its initial signing in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. This particular celebration is significant for many blacks to this day and I'm just now starting to see why. Going back to the story, I went out for a walk to brainstorm some ideas and work up a sweat (going out for walks nowadays has done wonders for my sanity!). After coming back inside to cool down and have some lunch, I watched a rerun of a game show called Password Plus to come up with new ideas for sharing puzzles on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. (I started sharing these puzzles from Password Plus and Super Password about a month and a half ago to help pass the time and bring a little levity in an otherwise dark time. Plus, it's fun to share some trivia from 1979-1989 to see if anyone remembers these things!) On one particular episode, the answer to the puzzle was Thomas Jefferson, with much praise from guest celebrity Gene Rayburn about his contributions to American history and his home, Monticello. After the episode ended, I talked to my mom about how the Declaration of Independence was one of my favorite historical documents. But I was also troubled by some of the information about Mr. Jefferson that came to light in the past few weeks. Even though he was an important figure in our history, Mr. Jefferson was also a slave owner. Wait, what? Someone who wrote a clause condemning slavery in the declaration before it was eventually removed was a slave owner? Sad but true. What's even sadder is that I discovered from a Facebook post about how he had fathered six children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. He set the children he fathered free, but not Ms. Hemings. Although she was permitted to leave Monticello by Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, she was never technically freed. (Just for the record, I did look up more information about this from other sources, and it is indeed very true.) Want to learn more about Ms. Hemings? Here's a link for you to look at Do you honestly want to know how I'm feeling about this new information? Like Soren the young barn owl from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. There was one scene in particular that stands out to me right about now. Soren admired the brave warriors who protected the owl kingdoms for many years. Their mantra is simple: mend the broken, make strong the weak, and vanquish all evil. While at the Great Tree, Soren looks over the many scrolls and books detailing the battles his father told him and his siblings throughout their childhood. He is so engrossed in reading these war accounts he doesn't hear someone join him. One of the guardians, Ezylryb, asks Soren how he likes the books. Soren replies that he's heard these stories so many times as a young owlet, but he never expected them to be... "Like hell?" Ezylryb asks? Yeah. That's me right now. I've long admired the stories of great warriors, orators, leaders, and heroes of old, ever since I was a child. But I never got the chance to delve into the details of what actually happened, or even see that those I've praised and adored from afar may have not been all that good, to begin with. Until now. In all honesty, I feel betrayed by what I was taught in school for all these years. And I have an inkling that many others feel the same way as well. I realize that no one is perfect, and every one of us makes mistakes. But shouldn't we at least have those imperfections of the great people we admire published in our history books to discuss how and why their thinking and actions were wrong then, and even ask ourselves how we can move forward from making the same mistakes again? History does tend to repeat itself with certain ideas and legislation that was wrong then and still recurs by some people so set in their ways and even selfish in bringing them back. It's important to look back on it and see with a clear and renewed vision of how and why it's wrong to pursue it in modern times when it didn't even work back then. I would like to say something very important: I'm not an expert in history, nor do I pretend to be. I love learning and soaking in as much information as I can each day. But this is just my observations and thoughts about this important document, U.S. history, and even human rights as a whole. Where am I going with this? Well, I'll tell you. Recently, I made the conscious choice to not discuss politics on my social media pages because my political beliefs should be shared between me, my family, and those who know me the best. Plus, I find myself constantly hitting a brick wall trying to share my opinions with others who have different ideologies and beliefs from mine. Especially since I react emotionally than thinking things through. Am I getting better at letting the comments sink in for a few minutes instead of responding with a snide remark? Or even staying silent? I hope so. But in the meantime, I've been staying away from topics and comments where I know the debates will be heated. I don't have time for stupidity or people so set in their ways they won't listen to others with a different point of view. In case you're wondering what I do believe in, I'll give you a hint:

Call me whatever you want, but if you don't agree with these basic ideas or even the basic human rights itself, then we have nothing more to discuss. In recent years, there have been many protests and demonstrations across the world over so many things - systemic racism, sexism, immigration, police brutality, healthcare, you name it. And yet every time these are going on, there are always several people that say "What good is protesting? Nothing will get accomplished." Or "Go back to your jobs." Or "Go back home and stay in the kitchen." Or anything along those lines that make my eyes roll. I will only say this once: dissent IS patriotic. Our forefathers dissented for freedom and change these many centuries ago. How is it any different now? Only now, we're dissenting for equality for blacks, Latinos, Asians, indigenous people, Native Americans, Jewish, Muslims, and so many other cultures that come to our nation for opportunities not afforded in their homeland. We're dissenting for women's rights and equality. We're dissenting against children being separated from their families and being locked in cages. We're dissenting for the removal of statues and pieces of history that goes against the very fabric of what our nation stands for. We're dissenting for LGBTQIA+ to be accepted and treated with respect. We're dissenting for the future of our environment and for scientists to be heard. We're dissenting for higher minimum wages so everyone can afford to keep their homes, have food on the table, take care of their health, and even go to college. We're dissenting for student loan forgiveness and affordable education for everyone. We're dissenting for so many things more than ever because we believe in EVERYONE having the same rights and opportunities that are often taken for granted by so many others. It's important to realize that we're all HUMAN BEINGS, and every one of us should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just a select few. It doesn't matter what religion you follow, or what your political standing is, or what gender you are, or what the color of your skin is. Each of us deserves the same rights that those delegates called for on 4 July 1776. Only now, it has to include all colors, all religions, all sexual orientations, all genders, and all ages. The only way we can move forward as a nation is if we can have those difficult conversations about our history, systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, and much more. Then, we can acknowledge that we were wrong in our thinking and take a more loving and tolerant approach in appreciating the gifts and skills each of us has to offer. And then we can use our newfound knowledge and understanding of one another to create the change we so desire. That's a big step and leap of faith right there. Usually, on 4 July, I would have an observation or a message of hope and gratitude for our nation's birthday and our freedom. This year, it's going to be quite different. If you recall, I said that the Declaration of Independence used to be my favorite historical document. It isn't anymore, sadly. I may never understand why the delegates who signed and fought hard for our nation's freedom didn't consider giving the same rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to those of different colors, women, or even children. I may never understand how Thomas Jefferson, who so eloquently wrote the final draft of this important document, was a slave owner himself. I may never even understand why some of the legislation and ideologies from our history are being brought back into modern times now when it was wrong and didn't work back then. I'm not trying to start a debate with anyone, or even say this holiday is no longer important to me. But what I will say is that from here on out, 4 July should hold a different meaning for all of us. Yes, it's a celebration of our nation's birthday, and it's our independence from British rule. Yes, we should celebrate the many freedoms we have and often take for granted, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to vote, and many more. We should enjoy each other's company at barbecues and watch fireworks displays together. But more importantly, we should take a moment to reflect on something that should ring true right now: our nation is not the same as it was back in 1776, nor should it go back to that era. We should first and foremost remember to move forward with new ideas, innovations, and new hopes. It's no longer true that white men are superior to minorities or women. It's no longer true that blacks and women can't vote. It's no longer true that only a select few should have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's no longer true that only those with wealth and privilege should have opportunities like the best education, a good-paying job, a nice house, and live in an affluent neighborhood. So many things need to change. And it has to start with ourselves. These are uncertain times right now, and even a little bit uncomfortable for many of us. It's certainly uncomfortable for me, too. But the only way we're going to have to make a change and move forward is to go through the difficult questions within ourselves and with each other. If I can recall correctly, it takes a long and arduous process to create the perfect ceramic pot and vase. It has to go from being shaped and molded in clay to being put into the fire to retain and form its perfect shape. Even then, there is still the painting and final design to create the result. Change is sort of like that. We have to go through our shaping and molding, being put into the flames to be formed into the right shape, and then be carefully designed to reach that perfect creation. Nobody ever said that change is easy, but all of us must grow and thrive as human beings. If we try to resist it, the change will happen despite our efforts to stop it. As Spock often said on Star Trek, "change is the only constant." It's also noteworthy to point out that this isn't the 18th, 19th, or even early 20th century anymore. Gone are the days of women being told to stay at home and not working (although there are still some women out there who are homemakers, and men too, and that is a very worthy job to have.). Gone are the days of blacks being segregated and not have the same rights. Gone are the days of homosexuality being considered a crime. It's time to move forward. Moving backward and staying in one spot is no longer an option. Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox again. I lied. I'm getting back up on my soapbox again. (If anything, what's going on right now is forcing me to be bold and look at things differently. Things can't stay the same forever, and they shouldn't have to stay that way. Every one of us is growing and learning every day, and it may be that these tumultuous times might teach us that being the same person that we were before things were upended is not always a good thing. As Lewis Carroll said, "I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.") Well, the second paragraph to this day rings true for so many of us. But the fact that only a select few regarded themselves as equal and should have the unalienable rights endowed to them by God is disheartening. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shouldn't belong to just one group of people, or even one gender, or even one race. It should belong to EVERYONE - white, black, indigenous people, Asians, Jewish, Latinos, Muslims, gays, lesbians, transgenders, non-binaries, women, and kids. We are ALL endowed by our Creator with these rights, and even though it was written in 1776, that particular paragraph should be rewritten to include ALL of us. We all have something to contribute to our nation's history, whether that's science, mathematics, fashion, art, literature, music, theatre, sports, or even dance. We shouldn't have to leave out the accomplishments and the struggles that minorities and women endured from our history books. I may never look at Independence Day the same way again. I may respect our forefathers and the immense battles they fought for our freedom. I may respect American history and the foundations of our great nation. I may even respect the struggles they went through. But now that I see the reality behind the day, I might just consider celebrating it differently. Sure, I'll still go and enjoy a cheeseburger, fries, and watch fireworks for the day. But deep in my heart, I will remember the struggles and successes that every one of our ancestors fought for because ALL of us make this country great. Not fear. Not superiority. Not systemic racism. Not prejudice. Not hatred. Not division. COURAGE makes a country great. UNDERSTANDING EACH OTHER makes a country great. RESPECTING ONE ANOTHER makes a country great. (Which has to be earned, not given, by the way.) INTEGRITY makes a country great. HELPING OTHERS makes a country great. EQUALITY makes a country great. UNITY makes a country great. OPEN-MINDEDNESS makes a country great. INTELLIGENCE makes a country great. TOLERANCE makes a country great. CURIOSITY makes a country great. HONESTY makes a country great. HUMILITY makes a country great. EMPATHY makes a country great. GROWTH makes a country great. FRIENDSHIP makes a country great. LOVE makes a country great. I hope all of you have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day. Never forget the foundations of our nation. But also never forget the contributions ALL races, genders, religions, and sexual orientations have made to our country as well. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, women, blacks, indigenous people, Asians, Jewish, Latinos, Muslims, all underrepresented minorities, gays, lesbians, transgenders, non-binaries, and kids are created EQUAL. That they ALL are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. How's that, Thomas Jefferson?

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