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Halifax Community College hosted its third annual Constitution & Citizenship Day, Sept. 17. The event took place in the 100 Building. Federal law requires that any agency receiving federal funds acknowledge Constitution Day.

HCC History Instructor and Department Chair Shaun Stokes, who coordinated the event, gave the keynote speech. Dean of Curriculum Programs, Dr. Pocahontas Jones gave a reading of the Langston Hughes' poem, “Let America Be America Again,” and HCC Foundation/Institutional Advancement Administrative Assistant and student Sherry Agee recited the Preamble. The audience sang “God Bless America,” which was followed by a question and answer session for students.

Shaun Stokes

Democracy and the American Dream: Perspectives

When the framers of the Constitution drafted, ratified and implemented the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land, they were creating a work of history and politics and something that would last a lot longer than many had anticipated. The embodiment of the concept of a constitution was extremely radical for several reasons. First, there was the placing of priority power not in the hands of a person but a document. Second, this was the birth of a representative democracy. And, third, it was the birth of a coalition that would place the power in the hands of people who would elect those who were their representatives. This was tremendously counter to what they were used to when dealing with an autocratic, divine rule concept of a king. The establishment of three branches of government served somewhat as a political chess match with the checks and balance system just to insure that no one branch would be superior. However, at the very core of the new found government could be summed up in the first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution: “We the people.”

Granted at this particular junction in history, women had no political clout, though some women had influence, African-Americans slave and free were only counted as three-fifths of a person, poor white men had no stake or claim to fame in society and Native Americans for all intents and purposes did not exist when figuring and configuring the United States population. Thus, it was political egalitarianism, and a fraternity that was based on property holding since this class stood the most to lose economically and socially. Nevertheless, as time progressed and as the Nation expanded, rights were slowly accorded to the previous marginalized and disfranchised persons.

When we speak of the American dream in the context of this speech it is not the striving to be middle, upper middle and wealthy class and the quasar quality lifestyle to be a part of the bourgeoisie. It is the dream to take hold of, embrace and live in the true essence of what the word “freedom” means. Thomas Jefferson in his seminal work on the Declaration of Independence, opened the document with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, with the rights that cannot be taken away or abridged we find ourselves in a quandary while enjoying the best of times and the worst of times. Though we sometimes may not be affected personally, we know people who are affected, teach people who are affected or just generally meet people who are affected with the crisis of not being able to embrace the totality of the “American Dream.” In our country, we have a population of 299,398,494 people according to the 2006 census estimate. Out of the roughly 300 million people in America, in the state of North Carolina 20.2% of children 18 and under live at or below the poverty level. In the same year approximately $6.6 billion was spent on back-to-school shopping for a total population of 55 million students' grades kindergarten through twelve. More alarming in National trends is the prison population which in July 2003 exceeded 2 million and more than 10,000 were under age 18 and about 10.4% of the African-American male population aged 25-29 were incarcerated when compared to 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% white men.

Hence, a somewhat balanced perspective of the roots of democracy and the American dream have been presented. It is up to us as Americans to change the statistics and help all Americans live out the true creed of democracy and to realize that the power lies as President Abraham Lincoln said, “for the people, by the people and with the consent of the people.”