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Let Freedom Ring: A Reflection for Independence Day

Let Freedom Ring: A Reflection for Independence Day

written by Guy Hewitt

Revelation 21:4 Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

Notwithstanding the beach closures across the Diocese of Southeast Florida, I am excited by 4 July 2020. This enthusiasm is in part fueled by it being my first year in this country but more importantly because of the significant steps recently taken in the long journey to freedom. 

This is a unique moment in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” I believe that America is at an inflection point in her journey towards equality for all, endowing African Americans with those “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  As Orlando Patterson, Harvard professor of sociology, recently concluded, “Despite great progress across two centuries, exclusion and injustice remain the reality for too many black Americans.”

With a focus on Independence, I reflected on the contributions of America’s two greatest sons, George Washington, a master craftsperson in the forging of the United States and Martin Luther King, Jr., a master craftsperson in the ongoing effort to forge a united people. 

Being London-born of Caribbean and Indian parents, I appreciate the challenges of trying to bring a multicultural society together. As underscored by the Brexit vote, Windrush Scandal and a growing anti-Semitism, Britain remains xenophobic and ill-at-ease with matters of race and migration. It, after considerably more time, still is not a ‘united’ Kingdom.

Nothing is more powerful than an idea that has come of age. Amidst the rallies and all the protests following the killing of George Perry Floyd Jr., considerable progress is being made on racial justice and the construction of “a more perfect union.” 

The passing of a bill to remove the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi state flag and the decision by Princeton University to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school due to his “racist thinking and policies” are two significant affirmations that Black Lives Matter in the USA. 

These actions along with abolition of the Eskimo Pie, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat brands and numerous others will to help rid this land of racial stereotypes, racial inequality, and systemic and institutional racism and “establish justice” and “insure domestic tranquillity.” As James Baldwin wrote, “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”  

1 John 4:16 God is love, and those live in love live in God, and God lives in them. James Baldwin spoke of the “miracle of love” and knew the fight for change “begins in the heart.” Love is crucial to the advancement of forgiveness and healing, of justice and mercy, of righteousness and hope. As the Beatles proclaimed “love is all you need.” 

 “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These now famous last lines from the Statue of Liberty poem, New Colossus, a significant part of the American narrative, are finally becoming truly inclusive, representing everyone. I hear a redemptive tone as told in Matthew 25:31-46 in the Judgment of the Nations

Despite an ambivalence towards religion, Baldwin held to a notion of the “New Jerusalem.” While his works capture our contemporary circumstance of injustice and oppression, Baldwin held to a hope of redemptive transformation.  In an interview towards the end of his life, he was cautiously optimist: “I really do believe in the New Jerusalem, I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous – and people are not yet willing to pay it.” 

The price I believe is the cost of learning to love our neighbour as ourself, the reward for which is invaluable. America may yet prove Malcom X wrong as she makes space on Plymouth Rock for all persons, regardless of class, gender, race, sexuality and ability, to enjoy the constitutional gifts that we celebrate and speak so beautifully about today.

I end with the reassuring quote from Dr King on the power of love, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” His faith resonates with me, as does Florida’s motto “In God We Trust.” Let freedom ring. 

The Reverend Ambassador Guy Hewitt was Barbados’ first London-born ambassador to the UK. Following his work against racism in the Windrush Scandal in 2018, he ended his public sector career for fulltime service of God. He is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida

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