Hear the Cries of Civil Disobedience: Social Justice is Being Born
America is a global leader. We lead the world in industry, technology, and innovation. Our nation represents prosperity and strength. We are a place where if you work hard, anything is possible.
Yet, in recent years, we have witnessed a divided America. Issues of race, immigration, environment, media, and the validity of science stand as barriers between us. Images of protests and riots as well as the sharp words of political opponents make us feel like there is no common ground. We cannot see a path forward. But history provides perspective.
Throughout American history, protests, riots, and political dissent have helped us alter our course. Social disobedience often gives way to justice. Consider the uprising of early Americans in the Boston Harbor. In 1773, colonists rejected the monopoly imposed upon them by the British government by denying the passage of ships carrying British tea. This riot resulted in the destruction of 342 tea chests as they were dumped into the harbor. We proudly refer to this early act of defiance as the Boston Tea Party — a spark that lit the fire to create our beloved country. Almost 100 years later, slave insurrection and human defiance of laws, led way to the Civil War and the eventual emancipation of enslaved humans in 1863. Then again, only after civil unrest in the 1960’s, were African Americans granted equal rights to that of White Americans under the law. This episode of social justice was achieved after years of protests. Today, we stand in a country where all people regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity are afforded the legal right to justice.
Despite the promise of justice for all, many Americans have not experienced the full weight of justice. Women in America are paid an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man is paid. In America, an African American male is six times more likely to be incarcerated than a White male. Racial minorities are more likely to drop out of high school than their White counterparts. These disparities result from US systems in place for centuries. Unfair systems like redlining, restrictive covenants, under resourced minority schools, over policing of Black and Brown bodies, and discriminatory institutional policies have resulted in decreased opportunities to build wealth and health for specific groups of people. So today, injustice meets political and civil unrest. Our fierce desire for freedom and justice was born on American soil. The spirit of protest is as American as apple pie.
Throughout history, protests have addressed social injustice. Protests have created a diverse nation of more equal opportunity. On the other hand, the civil injustices that remain continue to leave our country vulnerable. Only 33% of American students are reading proficiently by 4th grade. Underperforming students are predominately African American and Latino. The persistence of racially segregated and unequal communities and schools is the foundation of this disparity. Underperforming students are more likely to drop out of high school than students who read proficiently by 4th grade. Fewer American high school graduates mean fewer Americans prepared to enter a job market that is increasingly technical and global. Recently, our increased interaction with web-based communication shows us that our international neighbors are just a click away. We need our citizens to be ready for battle — whether that battle is physical, mental or intellectual. By disenfranchising Americans with systemic disadvantages, we diminish our nation’s ability to persist as a global leader. Divided we fall.
Despite our divisions, our commonalities are powerful. As Americans, we value our freedom. The hope for something better motivates us. We want to improve our lives. We want to see our children thrive. Our protests have been a manifestation of these wants. America means freedom, diversity, opportunity, and the right to fight for better. We are a great nation made stronger by change. Social injustice has been met with protests again and again. And after every turmoil, our nation is reborn more diverse, more just. Now we must embrace that diversity and nurture every bit of potential within us. No one should be discarded. We need all of our soldiers to march for America — creating, calculating, building, caring, coaching, providing a diverse array of skills. Our global culture will demand a proficient workforce with diverse skills. Now is the time to strategically plan to nurture our most potent natural resource — Americans.
Dr. Khadijia Tribié Reid is a Pediatrician, wife, mother, and child advocate. She is currently the Pediatric Medical Director of MedNorth Health Center in Wilmington, NC. She is also a candidate for the Master of Public Health Degree at Gillings’ School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Tribié Reid is passionate about helping children and families reach their full potential.