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“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.” — Thurgood Marshall
After my daughter watched the documentary Finding Neverland the other night, she wrote me a note that landed deep in my soul.
She said, “Thank you for such a wonderful childhood. Thank you for loving me. And, perhaps most importantly, thank you for always protecting me.”
I sat and stared at those last two words.
Protecting my children has always been a huge deal to me. I know it is for most parents. It’s our job to keep our children safe. It’s our job to be on guard against people or situations that might seem appealing, but are actually dangerous. It’s our job to build resilient children who can pave their own way and stand on their own two feet.
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the role of “the protector.” I’ve thought about how, when I was young and naive, I thought it was a man’s job to protect. Now as a seasoned protector myself, I no longer hold onto that childish view.
In this day and age, we all need to be protectors. We must not only protect ourselves and our families, but we also must protect the values and the causes that we hold dear to our hearts.
This week, when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed eliminating all federal funding to the Special Olympics, the outcry was deafening. “Not on our watch,” said the millions of us who support this organization and believe in the life-changing work it’s doing in our public schools.
Elected officials from both parties also said, “Hell no. We will protect this funding and protect this work, which is at the heart of building a more inclusive, unified and tolerant nation.”
Needless to say, I was relieved and elated on Thursday when I learned that President Trump had rescinded the decision to cut federal funding from the Special Olympics. To me, this was an example to me of what’s possible when we, the people, rise up and use our voices for something we believe in. It was an example of what happens when we fiercely fight to protect what matters to us.
Through its work in our public schools, the Special Olympics is not only transforming the lives of those with special needs. It is also teaching all of our students about the importance of acceptance and equality for all. This kind of education is exactly what our schools should be providing for all of us who seek to learn, live and work in a more inclusive country.
The work of a protector has never been more important and more needed than it is today. What happened this week is one example of that, but it’s not the only one. There are so many other causes and issues we believe in and must defend and protect. This is why I won’t give up on the fight to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. This is why I won’t give up on the fight to protect the Earth — our shared home. This is why I won’t give up on the fight to protect our right to free speech, free press, and to a health care system that actually cares for us at all stages of our lives.
These days, our values are on the line. Our principles and our decency are also on the line. Our whole nation is on the line. That’s why this moment is as good as any to ask oneself, “Am I a protector? What does that even mean to me? What do I want to protect? Am I doing enough to protect it?”
Imagine if more of us saw protecting as our job. Imagine if we saw it as our responsibility to not just protect those we love, but to also protect the values, the freedoms, the human rights and the dignities that our parents and our fellow citizens fought for before us.
Perhaps if we saw ourselves in this way, then our shared mission might become clearer to us all. Perhaps our common ground would be more visible. Perhaps our shared humanity would be seen as something we can all work together to protect and move forward.
So today, think of yourself as a protector. Don’t assign that job to someone else. After all, we are not living in some action-adventure movie where some caped crusader is going to come down and save us.
It’s up to each us to be a protector. After this week, there is no doubt in my mind that we are up to the task.
Dear God, thank you for building a beautiful, diverse world made up of so many different people — all who deserve to feel included. Amen.