The Time Is Now

Patience and flexibility were not one of my original virtues. As a teenager my grandmother was stunned by my unwillingness to move on one issue or another, and my dad shared in her astonishment. If I saw some injustice, I had no reason to see why it couldn’t be righted instantly.

The other night I learned the most remarkable story about a local favorite, Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents and many achievements; he was a writer, a scientist, a printer, a statesman, and an ambassador. He said history would judge him and well it has, he kept his stance on many issues until he the day died. One of those issues haunts us, slavery.

Benjamin Franklin tried to abolish slavery when the first constitution of the United States was written. He took a stand that the freedom we had won, applied to everyone. He lost that debate, and he learned the extent of the stand — of many others, that the continuation of slavery was a necessity to them. The arguments against his position were ridiculous; and included that we needed people of color to labor in the South because it was too hot there, and slaves could handle the heat! As I learned of these arguments, I could see the beginnings of what led to the civil war. Even worse, I could see why there is still the level of inequity that continues today.

Benjamin Franklin lost his hope in eliminating slavery in the constitution, but he did not give up his belief in eliminating slavery. Franklin tried to educate those who did not see slaves as people by sharing an allegory based on the white slaves of Barbary. Between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by Barbary pirates in North Africa between the 15th and 19th century. The common belief about these white people was they could or should be used. Sound familiar?

It’s important to note that even Benjamin had changed his mind about slaves. When he was younger man, he “owned” slaves, he published notices in his paper about run-aways and slaves for sale. He believed as others did that Black people were inferior and could not be educated. His friend Samuel Johnson sought to change his mind by taking him to Dr. Bray’s schools for Black children. The next year, Benjamin became a donor and went on to explain that this gross misunderstanding was simply that we did not offer Black people education. As you think of the people we support, why are we not creating the same opportunities?

As human beings we seem to have a pattern of holding some groups of people backthinking that these humans of a lesser value or level as we see ourselves; often we use this lenses with other tribes, religions, gender identities, national origins, or abilities to our own. Our role in this world is BIG, we need to lead and live with the belief that everyone belongs ‘next’ to us including all of our team members and the people we support. Everyone deserves opportunities for education, experience, employment, community, being loved/valued, and emancipation/liberation. This is no small requirement, like Benjamin Franklin we will all be judged. Like Benjamin Franklin, why isn’t the time to make this happen now?