As social justice advocates, our relationship with “Independence Day” is “complicated” to say the least. Clearly the liberty and justice promised in founding documents of the U.S. have never been realized, and those same documents contain structural inequality.

So much has been written about this. This year some of us will be revisiting Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Againand Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”

The Empower Missouri staff is taking a long weekend due to the July 4 holiday, so we publish today these brief essays in response to a contest that we announced on June 12. Here are how some of our readers would create change on the way to a better “new normal” than the old normal which left out so many.

There may be debate on what rights humans inherently possess, but as Thomas Jefferson wrote, we are all equal and that life is unalienable. One thing that is self-evident is that these rights are given and denied unequally. In America, the police force is used to enforce citizen’s rights, and, since their inception, they have been denying Black and minority people their rights.

I propose that we ban police officers’ ability to carry guns on duty and other lethal force such as chokeholds. Instead of relying on lethal force, I am asking the police to preserve human life.

By Keyana Cooke, Intern
St. Louis University

We must not just look to reform aspects of our system but to rebuild them. I desire a system in which we create public policies by amplifying the voices of those experiencing injustices and where we continue to make changes as we discover what works and what does not.

As officials listen to these individuals, they would guide public policy on evidence-based practices. I dream of a world where human rights are not politicized or controversial and caring about the general well-being of others is something you do simply because you should.

By Sarah Paulsrud, Former Intern
University of Central Missouri

The time is now to break down all the barriers that hold Black, African Americans and every underrepresented and marginalized group back and create a new world of opportunity for EVERYONE. Every child deserves a chance to live up to his or her fullest potential. The time for action is NOW, and here are a few ways we can do it:

  • Assess yourself, your thoughts, your biases, and any prejudice you have. Only then can we have the courageous conversations that lead to real change.
  • Reform our broken criminal justice system by reforming sentencing laws and policies, ending racial profiling by law enforcement, taking a stand against the private prison industry, and strengthening the bonds of trust between communities and the good officers who see their jobs as a sacred honor.
  • Protect the right to vote by fighting to repair the Voting Rights Act.
  • Protect immigrants’ rights that keep their families together via comprehensive immigration reform.
  • End the epidemic of gun violence in our communities, especially for Black and African American men who continue to be unarmed and murdered in police custody.
  • Fight against environmental injustice.
  • End the school-to-prison pipeline by closing the education achievement gap for Black and African American individuals.
  • End violence against the entire LGBT community.
  • Revitalize the economy in communities through equitable investments especially in communities of color.
  • Hold yourself fully accountable by asking one simple question:  “Would I want myself or any of my family members and friends to be treated the way Black and African Americans have been treated in this country for several centuries”?

By Patrick Walker
Empower Missouri Board of Directors

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