by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from "The San Antonio Express-News" March 9, 2019
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. He is available for luncheon talks or workshop presentations. You can contact him via email at [email protected] or visit his website at www.mexicobytouch.com.)
Contrary to what some may be saying, America is already great, and it always has been. We are among the largest democracies in the world. We have the most powerful military. We’re free to worship as we choose. We have a free press. And we’re free to speak our mind, even if what we say sometimes is ridiculous, uninformed or harebrained.
But what really makes America great is its people. People like world-famous chef Jose Andrés, a Spanish immigrant who emerged as a leader of the disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. He organized a grassroots movement of chefs and volunteers to establish communications, food supplies and other resources, and started serving meals. His organization, World Central Kitchen, served more than 2 million meals during the first month after the hurricane devastated Puerto Rico.
People like those in the Cajun Navy, informal ad-hoc volunteer groups of private boat owners who assist in search-and-rescue efforts in Louisiana and adjacent areas. Formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they were reactivated in the aftermaths of the 2016 Louisiana floods, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and the 2018 Hidalgo County flood. They have been credited with rescuing thousands during those disasters.
People like those who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps build affordable houses for low-income families to call home. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built thousands of affordable homes for American families in the U.S. and worldwide. Here in San Antonio, Habitat for Humanity volunteers build 40 to 50 affordable family homes every year.
And people like Brinley Williams, the 7-year-old from Hugo, Okla., who was given an American Girl doll when she was in the hospital for kidney problems and decided that she wanted to give back to others. So she sold lemonade and helped out in a restaurant to raise money to buy dolls for sick kids in St. Francis’ children’s hospital. She and her parents even customized the dolls so that they’d resemble the girls receiving them.
America achieved its greatness, and continues to demonstrate its greatness, by being a mosaic of different cultures. This country of Native Americans and immigrants who came from around the world (albeit some involuntarily) absorbs elements of different cultures to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. E pluribus unum. Out of many we are one — “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We have an amazing capacity for adjustment, self-correction and renewal, unequaled among the nations of the world. We possess a deep commitment to, and respect for, each person’s inalienable rights as inscribed in our founding charter. It is the basis for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Our American birthright belongs to everyone.
President Harry S. Truman: “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
Condoleezza Rice: “The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity or nationality or religion. It is an idea — and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.”
Yes, we can. And that’s how I see it.