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Are We Declaring Independence from the Bias, the Prejudice and the Racism that were Exposed by the Pandemic?

AurthurManor1Here is an Independence Day addresses from Scarsdale Village Trustees Jonathan Lewis delivered at the Arthur Manor Independence Day Celebration:

With common struggle, with shared challenge, comes a common understanding, On this July 4th, it is inevitable we talk about our shared hopes to declare independence from the pandemic around us. Yet, though this topic may be inevitable, as is the inevitable fact that each day we eat, breathe and sleep, we hope a year from now, we are not preoccupied with the all consuming question, when will it be over? When will it finally be over?

Times like this, as our neighbor in New Rochelle Thomas Paine said, try mens souls. In 2021 he would have said, try all of our souls.

And this year has done exactly that. But as we reflect on this year, it is possible that before our very eyes we are developing a common understanding of the importance of government to do good things, of people to unite, of neighbors to realize we share a common responsibility to look after one another, to take care of one another, to think about one another.

Independence Day, in that context, may also mean we are confronting a moment in our national history where we have a chance to declare independence from aspects of our national story that have been harder to confront, to address, to solve, because they are so difficult.

America’s birth, its creation story and independence, has many chapters. One chapter in our creation story is the of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims who before landing signed the Mayflower compact, the first joint declaration of duties and responsibilities and freedoms. It was those conceptions about building communities based on the commitments we make to each other that is a cornerstone of our national greatness, not closing our borders, not thinking about how do I keep a larger slice of the pie than you keep. Building communities that are fair, where we work with each other, respect each other, and welcome each other, are the essence of Independence Day. It is why we fought to be free and why we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal. It is an ideal we aspire to, and it is a long time in coming.

The question before us today is not simply: are we declaring independence from this pandemic? The question before us today is: are we declaring independence from the bias, the prejudice, from the racism, the stereotypes, the inequities that have been exposed by the pandemic, that have been exposed by the cold statistics of who lived and who died, who had access to healthcare, and who did not, who was able to live safely at home, and who worked the front lines by choice and who had no choice. The statistics of life and death in the pandemic exposed fault lines in our society, and shined a bright light on questions of fairness that have been unresolved for years. Some of our ancestors came to America by choice, and some did not, and the inequities unleashed by that part of our creation story remain incompletely addressed and unresolved as well.

If we achieve a lasting scientific breakthrough that eradicates the virus, or eliminates its threat to the lives of those we love, surely that is a triumph. But if we accomplish that and don't accomplish eradicating the racism, the bias, the injustices, the differences and disparities between rich and poor, whites and blacks, haves and have nots, who lived and who dies, if we don't achieve THAT independence, will we have justly honored the memories of the 600,000 Americans who have died?

So let us join together on this day, to honor those who have fallen, by renewing our commitment to the unfulfilled ideals and aspirations of our nation, so everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue happiness. Let us commit ourselves not only defeating the virus, but also the diseases that have plagued our society from its birth, let us declare independence from our human failings, from prejudice based on skin color, race, or religion, from a failure to understand and support those with disabilities that we can see, and those whose disabilities we cannot see. WE the people must struggle for an independence from these human failings, our own failings, and to ensure that they are no longer national failings.

Scarsdale has always played its own rule in this struggle, in the way we debate each other to be better, to rise above our own limitations to set an example. We can see the promise of tomorrow in the community of neighbors here to day. And, even in the landmarks around us in our village. Scarsdale was a route on the underground railroad, we as a community know what is right and wrong and we take action. When we visit the graves that mark the unfortunate and tragic end of slaves who seeking freedom in Canada did not make it, and lay buried in the cemetery of St. James the Less, just a short walk from here, we must acknowledge the struggle that marked their lives is not over. Let us honor them too by renewing our commitment to independence from prejudice.

We see the promise of tomorrow in the eyes of the children here today, in the history of our villagers who fought for freedom and died in the revolution, and the wars the followed. And in the dedication of our neighbors who volunteered at the front lines of this pandemic because they believed in service and making our world better. Let’s honor Independence day, by recommitting our selves to that better America, open, welcoming, struggling to be better, the one we must all still fight for because it is not quite here yet. Thank you.

Jonathan Lewis

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