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Symbols Shape What We Think and Believe in America

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America is a nation of symbols. These symbols are emblazoned in our minds, often at an early age. They are all around us. As citizens in this land, several symbols come to mind.

The Statue of Liberty certainly resonates with both native-born Americans and naturalized Americans. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” is one of America’s greatest expressions of freedom. I believe everyone should take a trip to New York and see it. It will make you proud to be an American.

Having taken a few history courses, we learned early on about the White House. Of course it is where the president of the United States of America and his family live. The position of president is the most powerful in the world and therefore his residence is guarded every day. I taught high school in Washington, D.C., and was honored to see it.

Every March, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated. The pink ribbon has become a symbol of passion and progress. There are many events held throughout the year that raise money for a cure for this disease. All of us have relatives who have had breast cancer. Pick up a pink lapel ribbon, cap or T-shirt and wear it proudly.

You can’t discuss symbols and omit the smiley face button. It has been around for years and always brings a smile to our face.

All of these symbols represent hope and happiness. Yet, there are symbols that represent oppression and inequality.

As we can all painfully recall, nine worshippers were killed in a Charleston, South Carolina, church just weeks ago. Upon discovery, the alleged killer was pictured with a Confederate flag. Since that time there has been a renewed and systematic effort to remove it from the statehouse grounds in Columbia, South Carolina. On July 11, the Confederate battle flag was removed without incident.

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South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said, “No lie can live forever. That flag is a lie.” Many agree with his assertion. The removal of the flag delivers a blow to a symbol that stands for injustice and segregation.

Now the state of South Carolina will be able to host conventions and groups that had refused to convene there because of the flying of the Confederate flag. Arguably, the state lost millions of dollars over time because of the flag.

Now that the exhilaration has subsided for a bit, let’s reflect upon this event and pose a question or two.

First, what if the nine worshippers were alive today? Would the flag be up or down? My view is that the flag of the Confederacy would still be up and the battle to take it down would still be waged.

The second question is now that the flag is down, what does that mean for race relations in South Carolina? I would like to believe they will improve mightily and that hate will turn into love. The officials there took a big step forward in taking that flag down.

So we can now see that good does come out of tragedy. Evil cannot exist in the hearts of people when good walks through the door.

Ken Blanchard teamed up with Phil Hodges on a book some years ago titled The Servant Leader. Blanchard was on the faculty at UMass when I was a graduate student there. In their book there is a section titled “Naming the Demon of Fear.”

It could have been in the South Carolina flag debate that both sides were wrestling with the demon of fear for different reasons. Sometimes we are held hostage by fear of the unknown and what might happen. For those of us who grew up in the segregated South, we overcame fear and conquered it.

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For the younger generation, especially college students, a different kind of fear lingers. It may not be as obvious, but it will still challenge you. Since you are in college, finish what you started. Graduate from college determined to make a difference.

If you see injustice, racism and sexism, speak up and speak out. Don’t complain in your inner circle and then be silent when it is time to express an opinion. You will find out soon enough that you will have to make a choice in leadership between being liked and being respected. I chose being respected many years ago.

If you are already in the workforce, then you must do your very best every day. You don’t have time to waste time. The job market is tight and you can be replaced in the blink of an eye. Your work ethic will be one of your defining characteristics.

Be a symbol of high ideals. Carry yourself in a manner that will exhibit character, ethical behavior and compassion for others. By doing this you will lead an enriched life.

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