While too much happened in 2012 for me to touch on everything, there are a few points I’d like to make as we usher in the New Year. I will take my cue from Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, whose recent article in USA Today struck a deep chord with me. As the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, the coming year of 2013 reminds us of the profound social changes we have achieved as a country. At the same time, many events of 2012 painfully reminded us that justice and freedom are still under constant assault: the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the mass and multiple shootings in Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York make clear the many hurdles we must overcome before we can achieve the just, safe, and equitable society of our dreams.
Like 1863 and 1963, 2013 is starting off as an exciting year. America’s first Black president has been sworn in for his second term, the country is decreasing our human presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, private tech companies are spurring space exploration by sending their own spaceships into orbit, and social media is connecting people around the world like never before. And, as was true during the United States of Lincoln in 1863 and of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, in 2013 it is apparent that we will find ourselves amidst many important struggles—to make rigorous and relevant education accessible to all students, to keep our communities safe from crime, drug, and gun violence, to make middle class security attainable for all people, to reign in corporate and individual greed, materialism, and consumerism—just to name a few.
If Lincoln had been satisfied with the Emancipation Proclamation, we may still have slavery in this country. If Martin Luther King had softened after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, we may still live in a segregated, profoundly unequal society. If we have learned anything in the many years since then, we should know that we must never stop working to strive for a more perfect union! And, in this vein, let’s make 2013 a year for Great Causes. Let it be a year to invest in something greater than ourselves. If you lack a Great Cause, you can start by picking up a newspaper or, in 2013, picking up your handheld digital device. Almost all major headlines present an important cause—from financial equity to civil and social rights, environmental justice to gun control issues.
Before I proceed to addressing my teachers, students, and corporate followers individually, let us all remember these words, spoken by John F. Kennedy, a tireless advocate for social justice: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” If you allow this adage to be your guiding mission in 2013, the moral arc of history will bend closer to that of justice for all men and women in our great country. Let’s commit to doing our individual part! Let’s Go People, seek to make a difference every day!
Here are three simple ways that each of us can make a difference throughout 2013:
1. Adopt one cause to commit your time, talent, and/or treasure in 2013. Many agencies and non-profits need help during these tough economic times.
2. Clean house, declutter, and donate your excess to those less fortunate. Consider all of the clothes that you no longer wear and how they can bless someone else.
3. Pay attention to daily encounters—every day you will meet someone who will need a smile, a hug, a kind and uplifting word, or some type of assistance that you can provide in that moment. Help someone everyday!
Remember: To he or she that much is given, much is expected!