This week’s column is my son Malik J. Fountain’s essay for the annual VFW Voice of Democracy essay contest, “What Makes America Great?” In the state competition, he represented VFW Illinois Post 311 Benjamin O. Davis and Illinois VFW 16th District.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The opening words of the Declaration of Independence encapsulate what I believe to be what truly makes America great. The United States of America is great because of the ideals that it is founded upon.
The ideal that human beings have equal value — no matter their gender, race, or religion. That no man has the right to rule over another or that a man by virtue of his birth should be subject to another.
That we all have equal value in God’s eyes because we are all his creation.
America is great because of the people who call it home and have made it the greatest nation in the world. When Thomas Jefferson penned the words to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and our Founding Fathers signed the document on July 4, that same year, they were not only declaring their independence but stating the foundational values of this great American experiment in democracy.
They wanted to create a nation that was built on the ideas of liberty and justice and whose government derived its power “from the consent of the governed” or, in other words, the people, who would have a say in their own future.
They wanted the “self-evident truths” to be what guided the American people rather than the whims of a tyrant or a king. This is what makes America truly great.
We are always striving, day by day, and from generation to generation, to live up to the ideals that we were founded upon, although America has not always lived up to its ideals. We have stumbled and we have fallen along the way.
But one of the great things about America that our Founding Fathers built into our Constitution is that we can amend. We can change.
We can do better. We keep striving for a greater America.
Abolitionists strove for a greater America and the Union survived the Civil War. Women suffragists strove for a greater America and won the right to vote. The Civil Rights Movement strove for a greater America and here we are today.
When I was just 10, I went to an Air and Water Show. I witnessed 91-year-old Tuskegee Airman Julius Jackson jump out of an airplane with the Army’s Golden Knights. After his jump, Mr. Jackson stopped as he walked by me as people congratulated him and said, “Young man, stay in school.”
I will never forget that moment and the honor of meeting living history.
Veterans like Mr. Jackson have made America great. Even when our country did not live up to its ideals, people like the Tuskegee Airmen and others who have fought for our country — whether in the military, sacrificing their lives — or as protesters calling us to live up to our values, they all believed in the truth of the ideals that this country was founded upon.
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal … ”
America’s greatness is its ideals and its people. Its ideals have drawn people from all over the world — the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—to our shores.
Its ideals have woven the fabric of people from all across the world into the beautiful tapestry that is our country. And although, at times, we may disagree and have our disputes, we are still united as Americans.
Together, we are American. And we are truly what make America great.
Send letters to email@example.com.