On this Fourth of July, I reflect on what America means to my family—and what it means to others. I am the grandson and great-grandson of Jewish immigrants to this nation, who escaped Eastern Europe before the violence of the Second World War likely would have killed them. To my family America meant survival, and freedom from religious persecution. With the help of generous government programs like the GI Bill, America ultimately meant opportunity and security. This is my family’s story, it is an American story, and it is one shared by many.
But I know that my family’s story is not the story of Black Americans who suffered 250 years of chattel slavery, followed by 160 years of terror-enforced apartheid and explicitly race-based exclusion from opportunity. My family’s story is not the story of those native to the continent, who have seen their land stolen, their people exterminated, and their way of life appropriated. My family’s story is not the story of other immigrants, just as desperate and hopeful for safety as my own great-grandparents, who are kept away by restrictive quotas and decisions to label them illegal.
My family has been the beneficiary of what is best in America: a place of refuge and safety from violence and intolerance, a place where the laws and the Constitution can protect against exclusion and the worst of human nature. But I and my family are acutely aware that what is best in the country has been denied to millions, that the promise of equality has been withheld, and that the rights promised by our founders have not been secured.
On this Fourth of July, I remind myself again that it is our obligation to deliver the promise and to secure these rights. Two hundred and forty-four years after our founders declared a new nation, founded on the principles of equality and universal rights, those principles are still not a reality for all.
We have a lot of work left to do. I pledge to work alongside you.