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Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Some speculate that Jay-Z said no to the Super Bowl offer to show support for former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Colin Kaepernick took a knee at the singing of our national anthem last year because his conscience would not allow him to ignore the injustices exacted on unarmed black men at the hands of American law enforcement. All across the country we constantly heard about the brutality and gunshots that brazenly took the lives of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling and Freddie Gray. And not long after we heard and saw video footage of that brutality, we heard not-guilty verdicts. The verdict of not guilty was almost as gut wrenching as the deafening silence of white government officials, business leaders and faith leaders. All of a sudden an ethos of ambivalence about black lives was intimated and realized among every class of African Americans. No one was taking a stand, so Colin took a knee.

And then came the fire and the fury of white nationalism. How dare he disrespect the American flag and the national anthem? For many white Americans the flag and the anthem represent a proud history of blood, sweat and tears that won this country's independence from the king and enabled our own democracy. But for black Americans the context of that history was chains and slavery. And evidently it's hard for whites to empathize with that reality. Some say that was so long ago and we should get over it, but the reverberations of history yet enslave black Americans economically, educationally and environmentally. And when police brutality and murder is tolerated and exonerated through the justice system and ratified by the silence of white Americans, it demands our most vehement and vociferous protest.

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To not protest is un-American. For that is what it truly means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Those who are free have a responsibility to ensure the freedoms of the least, the lost and the left out. And those who are brave have the right to express discontentment with injustice.

As a citizen of this great country, I love America. I love its beauty, it's opportunities, its liberties and its pursuit of equality. But America must be brave enough to love me as well. The same bravery it took to abolish slavery, desegregate schools and end Jim Crow laws is the same bravery it will take to unmask and disavow a racist culture that disenfranchises and emasculates black lives. Langston Hughes wrote in his poem,

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I'll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody'll dare

Say to me,

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"Eat in the kitchen,"

Then.

Besides,

They'll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

His poem unearths the essence of who we are as a people by and beyond the color of our skin. And the ultimate manifestation of denigration and disrespect is to be enriched and entertained by our skills on a plantation or football field and not empathize with our blood being spilled inhumanely and unjustly on the streets. It is as if you are whipping us all over again. The freedom and bravery of America always fights against dehumanization and autocracy around the world but denies it within its own borders.

Let's demonstrate our bravery in this generation of America by saying no to the vitriolic language of our president and those who would delegitimize our true heritage and legacy for a more myopic, revisionist and stagnant doctrine of American nationalism. Let us be brave enough to challenge our judicial systems to uphold the civil rights for all people. Let's be brave enough to respond respectfully to those who risk multi-million dollar careers to take a knee against a government that turns a blind eye to unarmed victims being slaughtered in the streets of the greatest country in the world. Let's be brave enough to empathize with those who are poor and don't have the same access, let alone the same prowess, exceed the environments that our public policies have all but enslaved them in. Let's be brave enough to improve health in our urban centers that threaten the sustainability of our communities and safety of our children. It's easy to demonstrate our cowardice by circumventing the real issues. But that's not indicative of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Donte' L. Hickman is pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore City, Harford and Howard counties. His email is pastorhickman@me.com.

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