Labor Day Thoughts

This article originally ran in 2017.  This year another Hurricane Dorian threatens our country.  


My ancestors migrated here, including my Native American relatives, and in their own way they have contributed positively to the development of the county. They have been soldiers, teachers, preachers, farmers, bankers, builders and the list goes on. Our nation was formed out of the fires of Revolution –that cost lives, possessions, and even a way of life. America was built on the backs of immigrants, including those forced by slavery to come to our shores.

Labor Day has many meanings, but one meaning is that we must recognize the incredible effort it took to build this great country. We must remember those men and women who came before us and sacrificed for all of us on this day.

President Barack Obama said in his first inaugural address about our settlers: “It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.”

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it is true that there no longer seems to be a consensus about what it should mean. Our evolution from the margins of society to the forefront of political change is all the more remarkable when we realize we are a melting pot of cultures. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display not only in our urban communities, but increasingly in our rural communities as well.

Today, our country is divided politically. We see conflicts, in our streets and in the media. We see the “us versus them” attitude that prevents us from collectively working to improve our communities, our state, and our nation. Rather than compromise, we choose to not collaborate on hard issues and pass along our problems to our future generations. Lack of leadership, whether at the local, state or federal level, means our problems only grow larger. Anytime a voice is silenced, it eventually finds a place where it can be heard. Unfortunately, too many voices drown out those who offer attainable solutions to real problems.

However, it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize that despite those differences, we have more in common than we can imagine. Nothing brings us closer together as a nation than we face adversity, whether it is a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. “What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” as John F. Kennedy said. Our great strength as a nation comes in our unity, which is the critical component of America’s perseverance.

While we watched Hurricane Harvey batter Texas, Louisiana and other parts of our country, residents continue to struggle with rain, flooding, and destruction. The damage is still not fully comprehensible, and another Hurricane, Irma, is also threatening.

We can see that many American’s have already lost everything – their homes, cherished items and some their very lives. However, the amazing efforts of volunteers have been an incredible sight to witness. We notice the generosity of the American people to give and share with their neighbors. The way we respond to these tragedies is what makes our nation great.

We will work to repair those areas impacted by natural disaster. The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey will take years to restore. It is a quintessential American trait that our citizens are dedicated to ensuring those impacted by natural disasters have the support they need to rebuild. History teaches us we will come back stronger than before, as long as America’s men and women today have the same courageous vision, the same audacity and indomitable spirit that made us a great nation in the beginning.

The majority of Americans still want what those first Americans wanted: a better life for themselves and their children. We must commit ourselves individually, and as a nation, to pass the baton of liberty to the next generation in this melting pot of cultures we call the United States of America. This Labor Day, I am reminded of the true value of freedom, the unique heritage of our nation and the effort so many people who came before us put forth so that we could enjoy the fruits of our labors. Happy Labor Day.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.