Dear America,

Dear America,

I was taught from an age very youthful that the true expression of love is not affection that is blind, nor the expression of admiration if it be dishonest. Life has taught me that if you truly love someone, or something enough, you have the responsibility to not just love them for what they are, but to encourage and empower them to fulfill their potential, and that in those nudges of encouragement we express, in its purest form, the emotion of love.

America, I have loved you for longer than I can remember, but the source of my affection, the reason I am proud to be an American, is not solely rooted in your history, but also your untapped potential. My patriotism stems from the belief, that while you were imperfect from your origins, that we, your citizens, have not just the opportunity, but a responsibility to continuously perfect your union of states, and leave to future generations a country closer to the ideals upon which you were founded.

And so on this morning I am writing to you, America, with love in my heart but dissonance in my mind, to say that I love you, but I do expect better. It is with much concern I write as it seems the luminous flicker of your flame is dimming, the vitality of your dream diminishing by the day. People are beginning to question whether this generation may very well not move us closer to perfecting your union, that we may be moving away from those lights of liberty, justice, equality, and common decency upon which you were founded – lights that once lit the world over.

For over two centuries, people – including my own ancestors – have shoved off from distant origins toward the promise of your shores. They carried with them little else than their hopes and dreams and a firm belief that this country was a place that welcomed all who came in good faith. They were told that these lands were a place that would provide, not a guarantee of good fortune, but instead a fair opportunity to build a life that was decent and an existence dignified, in a land that would not judge them by the tone of their skin or the accent of their tongue – and so they came.

They came from all around the world and they helped build you, and they raised families, and left legacies of hope to fuel the American dreams of future generations of dreamers and risk takers and doers – people who saw not the world as it was, but dared to believe that this nation was capable of helping to create a world as it should be. They came and they continued to come, and each successive generation helped to move this country closer to its founding ideals, ever so slightly bending that moral arc towards its worthy destination.

Yet as I write to you this morning America I am not so sure that the exertions of our ancestors are still hewing that arc towards that righteous destination any longer, nor am I sure that your promise whose shine once captured the imagination of the world has not tarnished and gone dark.

When the sun rises, the voices of visitors from all over the world will rise as well – filling this mall with a unique chorus of accents familiar and languages unfamiliar that the founders of this nation, if they were to sit down next to me, would listen to with delight. Yet, I am unsure whether those people from foreign lands who are now visiting this city, will ever wish to come back. For in cages upon our southern border there are children being kept away from their parents who came, not unlike immigrants of our past, seeking a better life in a land that once promised the opportunity for that and so much more. I am not sure if the immigrants currently working in the parks and shops scattered throughout this beautiful city will write home and encourage their families to come here like previous generations of immigrants did, for never in our history has our president spoken so vociferously against their presence here, nor diminished the vast contributions they make to our country with such capriciousness – and so,

I expect better America.

Through the trees that grace this mall with shelter from the searing sun and sweltering heat of Summer, and across the pond to the east of me and up the hill across the river to the west of me, I see the lights of memorials dedicated to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for you. To memorialize the sacrifices of our fallen is appropriate, justified, and important. However, for those who survived and came home to you – whose lives were forever altered by the horrors they experienced while fighting to protect our lives and right to self-determination, who were denied the proper care and support upon returning home, whose starving bodies lie all across the streets and park benches of this city, and who are left living an existence of desperate destitution right here in the heart of our democracy,

I expect better America.

Beyond the tranquil waters of the Tidal Basin lies a glowing dome set upon massive columns of marble from which the Jefferson Memorial is constructed. A memorial whose walls are inscribed with the words “All men are created equal.” Words written by a man, Thomas Jefferson, who participated in the inherently unequal business of owning slaves himself, who – with our other founding fathers – made a compromise with the devil believing that without such a flawed concession, the experiment of your Union might have perished in its infancy.

I am not so naive to believe that compromise is not sometimes necessary, and am aware that a necessary part of progress is sometimes compromise. Though I would say this compromise in particular has been a curse to our union. The de facto codification of slavery – the original sin of our nation – the suffering it has caused and the perpetual debilitating inequality that is its most enduring legacy, still weighs with dread upon the conscience of our people more than two centuries later. Such an egregious moral compromise should have never been made. The institution of slavery has left an indelible, oft unacknowledged but palpable belief by many, that all upon our lands are in fact, not equal. That hallowed phrase, “All men are created equal”, still rings hollow for not only minorities in this country, but women as well. They have not been treated as equals to their white male counterparts at any point of our history hitherto. They have waited too long, they have compromised long enough, they cannot wait any longer, no more compromises need be made – and so,

I expect better America.

Hidden through the deciduous stands South of where I sit, towers the figure of a black man, a symbol of hope etched out of a mountain of despair, who spoke of his dream upon the very steps that I now sit. Yet half a century after his life was cut short by a bullet, minorities are still not free, discrimination is not dead, inequality continues to grow, and racism still percolates across these blessed lands.

His dream is still far from being fulfilled.

His dream is not fulfilled when minorities are still discriminated against, dehumanized, and systematically prevented from attaining the means to get ahead; not when minorities are still being arrested for simply sitting in a Starbucks; not when immigrants are being deported for doing nothing more than attempting to pursue their own American dreams; not when families are being torn apart under the false pretense of law and order. What is happening may be by order, but it is not lawful.

His dream is not fulfilled when minorities continue to be slain with impunity in our streets by the very people entrusted to protect them; not when our president turns their protests for equality and justice into a rallying cry of divineness and white nationalism and equates those fighting for justice and equality with those spreading hate and perpetrating violence; not when a disproportionate share of those shuttered behind the steel bars of penitentiaries are minorities, whose rights and dignity are stripped when incarcerated, and often not ever returned even when they are freed – and so,

I expect better America.

I look out as a new day dawns and I see your children running around, laughing and enjoying themselves, but I am sad. For I wonder how many more would be here, in your capital, learning about their country’s history if they had not been gunned down while sitting in classrooms and walking through the once peaceful halls of their schools by senseless acts of violence perpetrated by individuals with uncared for mental illnesses using the instruments of war meant for battlefields. I look across and I see your Capitol, a place where 535 elected public servants have done nothing to serve our public by protecting our children, seemingly paralyzed by the NRA who cling to the Second Amendment as an absolute right to own all manners of weaponry. Guns have evolved over the past 240 years, but our views of the Second Amendment apparently have not – and so,

I expect better America.

I look out and see, and know that beyond my sight there lie, many monuments and memorials dedicated to the men of this nation, but I am hard pressed to think of any dedicated to women exclusively, and know there to be none of anywhere near the stature of those I see towering above this mall and upon which I currently sit. Which however sad, does not surprise me, for we live in a country founded by men and still mostly governed, controlled, and dominated by men – a patriarchy long past its efficacy, if such an efficacy ever existed at all. Women are still paid less, work in industries that suppress their wages more often, sit in less seats in boardrooms, occupy less CEO offices, are subjugated to discrimination, harassment, and assault more often, and are still burdened with the responsibilities and costs of child care at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Women, your moment may be here, you may say “Times Up”, and it is long past up, but you are still standing on ground that is far from equal to that upon which I stand, and sadly it is likely to remain that way for a long time to come – and so,

I expect better America.

Beyond my view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol to my East sits our Supreme Court. An imposing building where the scales of justice are supposed to balance the powers of those who have and have not, where just in the past week the justices have not only chosen to help those who wish to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, but also disastrously made a ruling that will allow it to be easier for states to disenfranchise voters and strip them of their most fundamental and basic right as an American. The right for any American, no matter their sexual orientation, to express their love by buying a wedding cake should never be abridged, nor should the right for a person to vote ever be casually dismissed. The ability to vote in this country is a right, not a privilege, the right to be treated as equal is a universal human right – and so,

I expect better America.

To my north and east, beyond my view, sits a house white in color where a man lives who, day after day, proves further that he either does not understand your history, or does not care about it – a dichotomy of which, I am not sure which is worse. His willingness to cozy up to dictators while insulting our allies, his continuous assault on the free press and the First Amendment, his cries of Fake News over reporting that is simply unfavorable to him, his never ending disparagement of our judicial system, FBI, and Department of Justice, his willingness to divide instead of unite the American people on issues of great consequence, his discriminatory statements and derogatory language used to dismiss those people and groups he does not agree with or who are not of the same hue as him, his lack of civility, stability, humility, compassion, empathy, and the outright lies he tells the American people every single day are an absolute embarrassment to the institution that he represents and the house in which he lives, and are the greatest threat to our democracy we have ever seen – and so,

I expect better America.

As I walked around the streets of your capital for the last three days I heard many disparaging comments from Americans about fellow Americans simply because of the toxic political environment we currently find ourselves in and the different sides upon which we stand. Whenever I post something that reflects my political views I am bombarded with hateful vitriol that is – if not a direct result of, at the very least influenced by – the license our president has given to those in our country who are racist, xenophobic, and otherwise biased to express their deplorable opinions. As I sit here on the steps of a memorial dedicated to a man who gave his life so that our Union might endure, I am reminded of words he once spoke,

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And so, I expect better America.

Yet as I watch the sun rise over the pearly dome of our Capitol due east of me, a building built by slaves, whose descendants have gained more and more rights in the very halls their ancestors were once forced to build against their will, I remain hopeful that the troubles, turbulence, inequities, and injustices we face today shall someday pass and be another part of our imperfect history. The fact that there now stands a building dedicated exclusively to the history and culture of African Americans centered between two of your most iconic buildings that were built by slaves is proof that this country has the ability to continuously move towards that more perfect union our founders envisioned. Even with all of the chaos, discord, and division being sewn by the man whose predecessors almost without exception chose to call upon “our better angels”, I remain hopeful. I am hopeful because I know that however wrong we have gotten things in the past, there is inherently something right about your character America. It is in the unyielding dedication of your citizens to perfecting this union and leaving for future generations a country and world that is more just and kind, that my hopes springs eternal.

I love you America, but I do expect better.