I love music and football. And in many ways my love of both comes from the same place – high school band.
Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was a decent musician, playing four instruments – piano, acoustic guitar, saxophone and clarinet. Working with those instruments and being in the band connected me with a wide variety of musical styles and types; even today it is easier to list music I don’t like than to list music I do like.
I say all this as a preamble to discussing “The Star Spangled Banner” and Independence Day.
Before every football game, we played “The Star Spangled Banner.” We were usually in the stands, on the end, playing more onto the field than to the crowd. I realized early on that despite knowing the words, I’d never paid attention to the message, at all, until I learned to play the music.
I found that when I played it, or heard it played and sung well – some people can mess up even the best music – that it had the power to move my spirit. Today, under the conditions of done well, it is still one of my favorite pieces of music. I’m always moved to sing the words.
That is where the disappointment sets in.
In the nearly 234 years since Francis Scott Key penned those words and this country won its fight for freedom, we have still not figured out how to live up to words in the song.
As we approach this birthday of the country, we are faced with some huge problems. Rampant unemployment, a tanked and stalled economy and growing numbers of citizens facing daily survival have forced racial and class issues – largely hidden until now – out into the light.
We seem to have forgotten what people knew then – that we stand or fall together. Those brave people that fought for this country’s independence – representing a totality of the racial and ethnic groups that lived here – knew that, did that, and the United States of America was born.
It’s that spirit that’s reflected in “The Star Spangled Banner.” We fought hard, together, against the odds, against superior power and possibly numbers. And despite the fear, pain, losses and sorrow, as the day dawned, our symbol of hope, freedom and independence still stood. It blew “fitfully,” tattered and a bit worn from the attacks, but it was still there for all to see. The stars and stripes stood proudly as a symbol of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
But where have all those free and brave people gone?
Is it because we believe we’ve conquered all potential external threats that we’ve decided to conquer each other? Or have so many generations passed that we’ve forgotten that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? We cannot have a growing group of poor and unemployed and have a strong country. Those basic ills impact so much a person’s life and spill so easily into the life of a community … even if we are not able to care for the sake of humanity, can we not see the pragmatic wisdom in caring for our own sakes?
As we celebrate this our 234th year as a country, perhaps we can start to look towards a future where we work to make each other strong instead of just ourselves, because we realize that a strong citizenry – employed, healthy, productive, safe, brave and free – is the foundation for a strong nation.
Happy birthday America!
A luta continua …
Talibah Chikwendu is the executive editor for the “AFRO-American Newspapers” and shares these and other thoughts at www.fromcheapseats.com.