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This week we have the quintessential summer holiday, the Fourth of July! From my childhood days, it was a family favorite. My mom and her 6 siblings, close friends, and all of the attendant children would gather in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park for a huge picnic. Every family brought their specialty dish and we shared the chicken, ribs, burgers, hotdogs, and drinks. The adults settled into rounds of pinochle, the teens pumped up the music to dance, and the little kids jumped double dutch, played dodgeball, and tag. And of course, Philly being Philly our fireworks displays were “off the chain.” We all loved the Fourth!

July 4th is also special in Philadelphia because it is considered the birthplace of the nation. Almost every year the sitting President of the United States would come to the city to deliver a speech at Independence Hall…the place where the “founders” signed the Declaration of Independence. Philadelphians are used to this “hallowed” position in the nation’s history. As a black person, I was always proud of the fact that Philadelphia was home to the oldest settlement of free black people. But, despite that history, black people in the City of Brotherly Love have never been immune to the virulent racism that underscores the nation. Our “freedom” has always been contingent on the whims of White America and its willingness to grant us the very rights it has carved out for itself.

This year, 2018, is a particularly difficult “Independence Day.” The nation has incarcerated over 2,000 children from Central America and Mexico. Their parents are also detained and separated from them. Unarmed black people are routinely shot by the people they pay taxes to, to protect them. Our prisons are overflowing with Black and Brown bodies — the largest rate of incarceration of any “civilized” nation. We are trembling at the prospect of a Supreme Court appointment that will roll back protections for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and anyone else who does not fit into the narrow box of acceptability American now embraces as a part of its campaign to “make itself great, again!”

I so want this nation to live up to the promises of its founding documents — both the Declaration and the Constitution. I don’t want my grandchildren to have to re-fight the battles I fought 50 years ago. I don’t want them to worry about whether they can vote, or get a fair shot at attending college, or just live! I want the Fourth of July to really mean true freedom and independence. I want this to finally be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Unfortunately, under this current regime (I refuse to call it an administration), we are all learning that freedom ain’t free!

Written by Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Gloria Ladson-Billings is the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies for the University of Wisconsin.

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