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Let Everyone's Light Shine

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Jerome Delay

This week marks the 400th anniversary of more than 20 African slaves being sold on land that is now part of our country. Many organizations are commemorating this with services or recognition of some sort. We should be aware of this date and focus on how we can use it as a reminder to work together to create a brighter future for our children and our country.

The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students is a nonprofit focusing on education of Georgia children up to 5 years old (I serve on their board). In an email, the organization said, "a group of religious, educational and community leaders came together in Atlanta ... to join others all over the country in considering what this bitterly painful milestone demands of us in shaping our nation's future." Their decision was to focus on hearing every voice, specifically children's voices. Among other things, they suggested singing "This Little Light of Mine" along with children, as a reminder to let their light shine.

The New York Times created an entire project wrapped around the 1619 date, with a multimedia approach, including last weekend's Magazine. The words on the cover, overlaid on a picture of an ocean, state that in 1619, "America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began."

July 4, 1776, does not mark the beginning of our nation, according to The New York Times Magazine. Instead, Nikole Hannah-Jones says: "Black Americans fought to make (our ideals of liberty and equality) true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all."

The 1619 Project's goal, as stated in the Magazine, is "to reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."

At least they're honest about their goal: to revise our nation's history and reframe it with African American slavery at the center.

Yes, our nation's history included slavery. It also includes our declaration of freedom from Britain, our Civil War, the emancipation of slaves, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement and helping defeat Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. We are all of this history, which is intertwined and connected. Yes, our history of slavery is part of our country, but it is not all of who we are or all of who we can be.

As background to understanding the scope and scale of the African slave trade, it's worth your time to visit the Slave Voyages website. It's a joint effort created by "a multi-disciplinary team of historians, librarians, curriculum specialists, cartographers, computer programmers, and web designers, in consultation with scholars of the slave trade from universities in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America."

It traces the ships transporting African slaves to and from various locations by ship, date and number of people. The time period tracked is 1501 to 1875. Of the people tracked, 366,000 landed in North America, over 5 million in the Caribbean, 658,000 in Spanish mainland Americas and 3.5 million in Brazil, which was the last Western country to abolish slavery.

Today, according to the Global Slavery Index, there are about 40 million people still held in slavery. The United Nations has been working to end global slavery since 2015. Since then, the three countries that have done the most to end slavery are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the United States. The worst 10 countries -- including North Korea, Congo, Russia and Somalia -- currently house 17% of the world's slaves.

As a country, we should be proud that we are leading globally today, but we should also ask ourselves how we could be better. As I write in "Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening" (Center Street), out next month: "Are we a perfect country? No. But if we work together, for the benefit of all Americans, we can get better."

I add that "The real challenge to us is, can we both appreciate the good parts of our history and acknowledge the bad without enduring the ongoing self-flagellation ... it would do nothing to help us reach our goals of creating a better country for all."

How can we work toward our goals? By focusing on the future, on our children, and helping our lights and their lights shine as brightly as possible.

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