July 4th, 2014

For more years than I care to remember, we have attended an outdoor symphony in Tinicum Park in Bucks County to listen to a selection of music, and specifically, the 1812 Overture with its iconic cannons marking the end of the piece and the beginning of the fireworks.

This is a block party in the woods, some three thousand folks come and park, picnic and visit with each other. The kids play with the frisbee, as the sun sets there is a fly over of some old biplanes, and if you are on the right cycle, the moon will rise over the Delaware. I am reminded of the point of July 4th when we rise as one for the Star Spangle Banner, the crowd stills and hats are removed. No doubts there are memories of those no longer with us who have served in our armed forces, and those present who have served are especially silent as the last notes float away in the twilight. We are a free people, independent, and we enjoy a life that much of the world envies even as we in large part take it for granted.

As it grows dark and the music fills the night it is easy to reflect. I for one worry that 238 years into the experiment we call America, we continue to need to find our way and that for many in our country, it is anything but Independence Day. If you read the history of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, you will find that for many, the act led to personnel hardship, ruin or death. For individuals unemployed and living with poverty today, the struggle for independence is no less of a challenge. Individuals were willing to risk everything 238 years ago because of the opportunity that freedom presented for them. We no doubt note that even then not everyone living in America was included in the founding fathers vision, yet the words that resonated then and more so today “that all men are created equal” calls for a country where opportunity is equal. What one does with opportunity is clearly an individual decision, but the notion of equal opportunity as a great leveler and creator of independent individuals is fundamental in our national DNA.

It is of interest that of the ten major cities in America, Philadelphia has the highest percent of the population living in poverty at some 26%. Our call to service at ECS, and all who do this work, is that the way out of poverty — the path to independence — lies with employment. Our focus is to first establish stability, then build through education and partnership the hard and soft skills necessary in this economy to secure meaningful employment, and then connect individuals seeking employment to those needing employees. Meaningful employment provides the means to achieve independence. 238 years ago the Founders sought the freedom of independence to realize the full potential of opportunity in America. 238 years later, that journey continues. Then and now it remains about opportunity for all and this is the real message of Independence Day.

I would like to think, and this is not a unique notion, that opportunity is what America is really about – specifically the access to opportunity. I would also like to think that we are a big enough country with the private and public resources and the private and public means to provide opportunity to all who would seek independence and hold themselves accountable for their own future. Results matter and individual’s results matter the most. If we are to leverage this country’s diversity, we need to empower all of its citizens, as our founders so clearly evoked.

Anything less would ignore the fireworks and ignore our history. Happy Birthday, America. I know what my wish is.