Years later I confess, much to my shame and embarrassment, that I never visited the Statue of Liberty the three years that I lived in New York. It took the curiosity of a 5-year-old child to reveal the significance of the statue to me.
Five-year-old Soren Dueholm was on vacation with his family, visiting numerous tourist sites, including the Statue of Liberty. When the tour guide alluded to a broken chain on one foot of the statue, it perked Soren’s attention.
“Why is there a broken chain on one of her feet?” Soren asked. His father thought he was too young to comprehend this, but he still had to tell his son about the ugly institution of slavery that lasted more than 247 years, from 1617-1864.
It is over now. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution more than 150 years ago. When we think of our nation’s current social ills and justice issues, are there still not many chains that need to be broken?
We need to break the chains of hunger. In Atlanta, there are children and elderly that go to bed hungry every night because they don’t have money to buy food. Our federal food stamp program has been greatly reduced. At the same time, the number of hungry people in our nation is increasing. Isn’t this an entitlement program? Isn’t it true that no one who qualifies for it can be turned away? The food stamp allotment comes from the yearly surplus in the nation’s agricultural budget. In other words, Congress still determines the amount of aid allocated to the hungry.
We need to break the chains of unemployment by continuing to extend assistance to jobless citizens still seeking employment. Granted, the job market is improving, but it’s not improving fast enough to meet the need for adequate employment for all able-bodied citizens. We need to cease the judgment regarding the large number of people who are still searching for employment. There is dignity in our own labor. We were able to increase wages, so people can survive on what they earn, while providing educational opportunities to develop new skills needed in the marketplace.
We need to break the chains of inadequate funding for the health care of indigent people. We’ve got to stop senseless reductions in Medicaid funding at Grady. This hospital cannot refuse any sick person who comes to its doors for medical assistance. Grady has greatly improved and expanded its services, but it still faces drastic reductions in Medicaid funding. Let’s spread the cause of health care throughout the city of Atlanta. Let’s increase the number of indigent patients that private hospitals are willing to accommodate.
We need to break the chains of fear surrounding the safety of our children and their teachers in our public schools. Remember, it takes a village – parents, students, teachers and guidance counselors – to raise an urban child, faced with so many challenges in their unpredictable environment. We need to find ways to break the chain of bullying and gun violence in our society, most importantly in our public schools. We need to break the chains of danger that our children face. They are frightened when confronting emotional challenges in their lives. We need safe, competent psychological help for reprieve, refuge and restoration of our entire village of families.
We are making some progress, but this is a very limited list of chains that need to be broken. Let us remember that this is the birth month of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the worldwide emancipator of the 20th century. He still charges us to break the chains of injustice – wherever they are found – until we truly overcome.
Rev. Joseph L. Roberts, Jr. – pastor emeritus of Ebenezer Baptist Church
Successor to Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. & Jr. (1975-2005)