This Saturday is our Nation’s birthday, the day we celebrate our freedom from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776, we declared our independence, and in 1783 the Revolutionary War officially ended. Yet, on this date, not everyone won their freedom, for another 82 years our country would bear the disgrace of slavery, and indentured servitude continued to exist until 1917.

Our forefathers dreamt of a nation where men would write their destiny, where through hard work, tenacity and grit, anything was possible. At least if you were a Caucasian man. True change did not begin until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, and Caesar Chavez. These men blazed the trail for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, equal pay, gender equality, and the rights of minorities everywhere.

This year has felt like a return to the days of inequality. We continue to struggle with gender equality, equal pay for equal work, the rights of immigrants are being voided, and racism has flared with horrific acts comparable to pre-Civil Rights days. In a country who has fought for freedom and basic human rights for 244 years, what have we become? We are fighting our neighbors, turning our backs on injustice, and have once again become a house divided.

We are in a place of great divide, we are arguing about rights, attempting to revoke freedoms, and quite frankly in a place we have not been since the 1850’s. As Abraham Lincoln stated, “a house divided cannot stand.” Our forefathers were hypocritical, and many broke laws they themselves wrote, but at their core, they envisioned a country of equality and freedom. We are perhaps farther from the reality of their dream then we have ever been.

Let us not forget each and every one of us are the descendants of immigrants, most of whom arrived on our shores with a dream and the passion to make it a reality. If we strive to enforce the rights of citizens in other countries, to defend the freedoms of the world, then it is time we changed our perspective and remembered the lines, “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 them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We can no longer allow what we perceive to be differences, color of skin, sexual identification, gender, or beliefs, to be the reasons we justify denying a person the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. This Independence Day should be one of healing and forgiveness. Stop the hatred, stop seeing differences and begin to look for similarities. Be the person to reach across the divide and begin the healing process.

Lawton has seen many great injustices and endured much sadness. We have also overcome hardships, banded together to form a community, and supported our neighbors through struggles. As we reside in the shadows of Fort Sill, we must remember what our soldiers are fighting for, we must overcome the differences, come together and support healing. We can set the example; we can show other communities what healing looks like.

Be safe as we celebrate our Independence. Remember each of you have value and a purpose. Each of you adds value to our community, and each of you has exactly what our community needs. Join me as we work to see past external differences and learn to see who a person really is.

Sara Orellana-Paape lives in Lawton.

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