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By Janice S. Ellis, Ph.D., Kansas City, MO –

The Fourth of July is a time to reflect what it means to be an American. Beyond the fireworks, picnics, and parades that are blanketing the landscape this Fourth of July weekend, we might do well to revisit the principles and privileges outlined in the Declaration of Independence and examine their fullest meaning in our daily lives. Not to do so is to fail to take advantage of the opportunities that come with being an American.

As hokey as it might sound to some, it will be well worth it to pause a moment and ask, “What does the Fourth of July celebration mean to me – not just on the holiday, but every day?” We might even ask, “What does it mean in my community, my city, and my country?”

This celebration is a time for each of us to take inventory of the political direction of our country, our state, and our city. Are we making progress ideologically or have we abandoned our ideals? Are all citizens afforded dignity, respect, equal access, and equal treatment under all of the laws of the land?

The real test is whether we can see the Declaration of Independence in action in our own backyard.

altAs we gather with family and friends, perhaps discussing these questions could stimulate and inspire us to revisit the true meaning of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all of the amendments in between. Let meaningful dialogue punctuate – it does not need to replace, but rather just be a part of – the commercialism that usually competes for center stage. Fireworks, T-shirts, and other memorabilia have their place.

Amid all the pomp, picnics, and fanfare, ponder for a moment what it means to be an American, an African-American, an Hispanic American, an Asian American – whatever your racial and ethnic origin. You might examine whether you, as an individual, are truly giving and living, ensuring and enjoying, providing and partaking of all the opportunities this creed affords. Have you bothered to read and revisit its meaning, lately?

What is our role in ensuring that the Declaration of Independence lives?

Too often, we fail to exercise one of the greatest, most powerful rights we as Americans have: Speaking up and speaking out. Speaking out still gets results. This great America, or needed changes in your community, did not come about through silence. Nor did needed changes occur because of complacency, apathy, or complaining without action. Whatever gains made at the national, state or local level are often because of the few or many people’s willingness and courage to speak out, and get involved, when it counted.

Yet, too many of us choose to remain silent about the things we see, the things we experience, the things we encounter. Our silence is often born out of fear of reprisal or feelings of frustration because we are not sure how or where we should make our observations known or voices heard.


Our forefathers went through great measure to frame what it means to be American.

Imagine where America would be, or would there be an America, had George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Payne, and countless others, decided not to speak out against religious persecution, and taxation without representation. Imagine where African-Americans would be in this country had it not been for Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless others who spoke out, and risked their lives to ensure that America’s democratic principles and individual rights extended to all.

There is a meaningful way to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, a way to keep its true meaning alive all throughout the year, by our rededication to the great ideals and values upon which this nation was founded.

Hokey? Then, let hokeyness reign. Fourth of July meaning more with each year, decade, century.

There are important social, economic, and political issues all around that will affect you, your children, your grandchildren, and the future of this country.

Is it too much to expect, as we partake of the holiday celebration of our nation’s birth, to spend a little time discussing with our families, children and neighbors, the principles that got us here, and will keep us?

We must.

Edited and Reprinted with Permission of

Fourth Of July Meaning

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis
Janice S. Ellis, PhD, is an award-winning author. Her book, From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major book sellers. She has written a column for newspapers, radio, and now online, where she analyzes educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. You can see her writings on this website.

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