Back in August, I took a road trip to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I went to participate in Family Day and my son’s graduation from Basic Combat Training (BCT). He is the first of five sons to enter the military, and being the road trip junkie that I am – and the proud Army mom that I have become, HOOAH! – I did not pass up the chance to travel for the festivities. I have traveled to the southern United States plenty of times, but this time, my heart was heavy due to the recent events in Charlottesville. Thinking that racism can sometimes be more blatant in the south than in the north, I had a few apprehensions about traveling so far with my twelve and thirteen-year-old children. Would there be some kind of spill over from Charlottesville? Could we get caught up in the wrong moment with people looking to perpetuate more violence?
My few fears were not assuaged by the comments or warnings my family and friends gave, saying things like “Stay on the Interstate,” “Don’t stop or drive at night” and “Are you crazy?” Despite these warnings, I traveled to South Carolina and do not regret it. In fact, I saw and learned quite a bit about the people of the United States while on the road.
The recent headlines and social media would have all of us thinking that true equality and its partner, inclusion, are light years away. We may believe that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are only realities for certain people and that those who don’t fit a particular demographic are seen either as criminal or undocumented. However, I saw and experienced some things while on this road trip that gave me hope.
My first clue that we would be okay occurred as I entered Wisconsin from Minnesota. There was a flag of the United States formed by foliage on the hillside of the highway with a sign that basically stated, “Let’s Pull Together and make it Great”. I considered this statement a positive sign considering Wisconsin was a red state in the last election, but the word “again” was absent from the sentiment. I chose not to read any more into that statement other than to say to myself that “Pulling together” meant that for the country to be “great”, we ALL would have to do something. I saw this as a call to action for all who lived near or passed by. ALL. OF. US.
My next clue began the following day on the University of Southern Illinois campus at Carbondale. We stopped to see the solar eclipse with thousands of others in the totality zone with one of the longest viewing windows. There were people from all over the country and world on campus that day, and there was an aura of harmony that surrounded us in that space. When people have a common goal, nothing can stop them from succeeding—not even gridlock traffic or sweltering heat. As we traveled to Chattanooga to stop for the night, I met complete strangers who asked me “Did you see it? What you think?” instead of the usual “Where you from?” I saw these instances as proof that when you focus on common experiences, it’s easier to see our common humanity.
Once we arrived at Columbia, South Carolina and met up with other military families, I knew for sure we would be okay. We were there to support our new soldiers and to honor our military, and none of the discourse happening in other parts of the country permeated our attitudes. We were Americans first, and in that moment, we were happy and proud to be American.
When my son, who had been isolated while in training, asked about current events, I made a comment about Trump putting his foot in his mouth. My son quickly informed me that he refused to participate in a potentially derogatory conversation regarding the “Commander in Chief”. This is the same son who suggested we move to Canada after the last election. He stood up and refused to be divisive, while knowing that such a stance may not be favored. That comment gave me hope for the future—the future that will be dominated by him and other millennials. If he could so easily set aside his own personal opinions to be a voice of harmony, others may be willing to do the same. I don’t mean to suggest that we set aside our convictions, but we could all spend a little more time picking our battles so as to maximize positive outcomes. It’s fruitless to complain about negative situations when the same energy can be used to create positivity.
My last stop of mention was Louisville, Kentucky. I actually hadn’t planned on driving through, but a flyer I picked up in North Carolina kept nagging me. It was for the Muhammad Ali Center. Understanding that we may not pass through this part of the country again anytime soon I stopped at MAC anyway. It was the best part of the trip! It even eclipsed (pun intended!) the addition of two new states to my road trip annals. Muhammad Ali’s message put into perspective all the contradictory feelings I had been having about politics, the military, the future of our country and the meaning of life in general.
His life as a boxer and humanitarian was embodied by 6 core principles:
- Confidence – Belief in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s future
- Conviction – A firm belief that gives one the courage to stand behind that belief, despite pressure to do otherwise
- Dedication – The act of devoting all of one’s energy, effort, and abilities to a certain task
- Giving – To present voluntarily without expecting something in return
- Respect – Esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, oneself and others
- Spirituality – A sense of awe, reverence, and inner peace inspired by a connection to all of creation and/or that which is greater than oneself
I left with a renewed sense of commitment for the fight for true equality and energized to continue to walk the talk. So, I end with a question: What are you doing to promote inclusion? Are you sitting on the sidelines watching others, or are you raising a voice, fist or a sleeve in action?