America's Promise: Liberty and Justice for All?
By Eric McDonnell
Did you know that we live in a world where every 30 seconds someone buys a selfie-stick on Amazon? In the current climate of me-focused culture and our “selfie” obsession, there is an inherent conflict between caring only for myself vs. caring for others. They do not have to be mutually exclusive. What we need to realize and pay more attention to is the fact that we exist in an interdependent state of being.
Since 2009, the World Day of Social Justice (#wdsj) has been observed by the United Nations on February 20th. The U.N. includes multiple issues within their definition of social justice. It encompasses everything from poverty, to unemployment, to exclusion that results in economic harm or social ostracism. The theme for 2019 is "If You Want Peace & Development, Work for Social Justice."
Every year, we are bombarded with hundreds of "observance days”. We celebrate everything from the important days, like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to the questionable. Hello, National Pizza Day. I believe that The World Day of Social Justice is essential and raises imperative questions. What is my responsibility to other human beings? As individuals and societies are we responsible for fighting for social justice?
I believe that we do have a responsibility to care for ourselves AND to care for those around us.
“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” – Helen Keller
I have enjoyed the privilege of spending my adult life merging my personal and professional passions. As a child growing up in public housing, struggling with the pains of debilitating poverty, I experienced the benefit of social supports that created access and opportunity for my mother and me. Because of this safety net, which was mostly other human beings choosing to care for my well-being, I was able to mature into a self-sufficient and successful adult. I’ve built a career dedicated to fighting for social justice because of my experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to touch almost all aspects of our communal lives - quality early child development, economic opportunities for families, safe passages and neighborhood safety, and career exploration and youth employment. I have always fought to ensure that there is justice for those I support in the community.
While I believe there are moral reasons to care for others, I do also think that it is in our individual best interest. In the book, ‘The Rich and the Rest of Us,' the authors cite the fact that the wealthiest 1% of U.S. citizens control nearly 42% of the wealth. And, the top 400 citizens have wealth equivalent to the bottom 150 million citizens. Stop for a moment and really think about those numbers and what that means for the disparities that exist around us every single day.
Their conclusion is not to disparage capitalism or personal wealth. It's about the belief that this disparity is economically unsustainable. Their stated reality is that our economy will collapse if these disparities persist. If this is true (and I believe that it is), then anyone who desires to thrive and experience personal success should also fight for equity, access, and opportunity for all. A rising tide lifts all boats.
“The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place.” – Marian Wright Edelman
Today, I am honored to serve as COO at Galt Foundation, a non-profit employment enterprise that matches ability to need. We provide staffing services and support to employers seeking quality talent by placing skill-aligned job-seekers with disabilities. Currently, Galt has 3,000 employees working for more than 100 employers nationwide, and we aim to become the world’s largest employer of individuals with disabilities. At Galt, we are fighting for social justice and opportunity for our sisters and brothers who experience barriers and challenges every day. It’s one more stone in my personal social justice path.
In 1942, Congress officially adopted the Pledge of Allegiance. We all know it by heart…to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Unfortunately, after over 70 years of reciting the pledge, we are not fully living up to the commitment. What if we measured ourselves, not by how often we recite the pledge, but instead, how often we live out that commitment? On this 2019 World Day of Social Justice, may we all strive to live up to our pledge and commitment by fighting for the liberty and ‘social’ justice for all.