For most of our lives, the 4th of July has been a mid-summer celebration bookmarked by parades and picnics. This year, it’s no question, our celebrations will not look the same. We face considerable challenges as a country. A global pandemic and a country facing the realities of our long history of racism, fueled by recent, senseless acts of violence against Black Americans.
And while the turbulence of 2020 may not seem celebratory – I am reminded of the storied and mixed history of why we celebrate July Fourth — Independence Day.
For some, our forefathers are celebrated today, for signing the Declaration of Independence where “all men are created equal.” Yet for many Black Americans this year, the words of Frederick Douglass may ring true:
“The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine.”
As Douglass rightly noted, our country was founded on the correct principles of freedom, equality, and justice. However, we have long been on the road to living up to those ideas. And as the more than 2,000 protests and uprisings taking place in cities across the country reminds us the journey is nowhere near complete.
And at the same time, the pandemic has changed the way we work, worship, celebrate, grieve, and heal. For many, the pandemic has had a very personal and community impact. Many of our local leaders have been on the frontlines fighting the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. With record-breaking new cases continuing to be reported, it is time for us to lead by example. From encouraging and showing residents how to stay safe by wearing face coverings in public to adhering to social distancing guidelines.
As local leaders – we cannot hide like other levels of government, because our residents are at the front door. We see them in the grocery store, in our parks, and taking to the streets in protest. And we know many of them are making decisions based on their intimate knowledge of their communities and for the greater good of our residents’ health and prosperity.
Meanwhile, the impact of COVID on all communities has not been the same. Black communities are disproportionately seeing higher rates of infections and deaths from COVID.
This disparate impact reflects decades of historical inequities that exist in many of our communities. From lack of access to health care and the fact that many Black residents are often working in essential jobs that increase their exposure, the data point rings true that from infant mortality to life expectancy race still remains the strongest predictor of success in this country. But local leaders have an opportunity to change this trajectory – starting in this moment.
As we move into the second half of 2020, we look to heal our communities. We are at an inflection point in this nation which presents an opportunity for adopting policies, practices and procedures that promote equity. This July Fourth presents the perfect time to come together and rededicate to a common purpose – building stronger communities and a more equitable country.
About the Author:
Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter: @ceanthony50.