About two weeks ago marked the Fourth of July holiday for 2023. While the world continues with its business each year, the United States of America celebrates and recognizes this day as our founding fathers’ declaration of freedom—a political, economic, and symbolic severance from the British and the birth of a new nation. But today, what does this holiday truly mean? Some claim it is a celebration of patriotism and nationalism—pride. Others say it’s a treasured tradition that should continue. Broken down to its core, the Fourth of July resonates as a day of freedom in many minds. However, this concept is perplexing when considering who was actually free during the original declaration period. Even though the Revolutionaries freed themselves from the British, millions of enslaved people built this nation in shackles before, during, and after July 4, 1776. Even with advancements since the 1700s, the United States remains far from achieving true freedom for all.
Unfortunately (and ironically), some American leaders at the current moment see freedom as a commodity—rather than a necessity. They act as if freedom is only for a select few and out of reach for others. For example, within the past few months, the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court struck down the student debt relief plan. This program would have freed millions of Americans from debt. And then there’s the strike down of affirmative action, which involved race-conscious policies (and is a system that benefited even some of the judges on that same court). And these decisions come on the heel of the overturning of Roe v. Wade—which, in effect, has limited access to abortion across the country. The saddest part is many of these decisions will cause immense devastation in the long term, especially for communities of color—which includes our Future Foundation students.
Given all the potential long-term repercussions, it is crucial to hear the reactions of those who will live through it—the high school and college students at the current moment. In the days following July Fourth, a set of interviews were conducted with students from all walks of life across the Atlanta metropolitan area and the state of Georgia to discover what freedom truly means to them in the context of these justice decisions and the celebration of the holiday.
The Student Perspective*
Note: High school students are symbolized by “HS”, while college students are symbolized by “CS”.
[Smith-Shomade]: We celebrated the Fourth of July recently. Does this holiday mean anything to you?
- [HS, College Park]: “Not really. Except for the fireworks. They started June 30 and kept going—July 1, July 2, July 3. Everyday.”
- [HS, Atlanta]: “It’s the day that America gained its independence. You know, the declaration.”
- [HS, Albany]: “It’s where we all come together.”
- [CS, Midtown]: “I just see it as a day off. Me being Black, it wasn’t a freedom day for me. I would rather celebrate Juneteenth.”
- [CS, Candler Park]: “It doesn’t really mean as much to me. I know other people go all out and are very patriotic. But it’s just a day off.”
- [CS, Smyrna]: “It’s the one day a year where I like to pretend to be an American. Hotdogs, fireworks. It doesn’t mean we’re free. We just get the day off.”
[Smith-Shomade]: Do you feel like you are free in America?
- [HS, College Park]: “Yeah… because I’m out in the open.”
- [CS, Smyrna]: “I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t even know what to say to that.”
- [HS, Atlanta]: “Of course not. My friend and I could be easily lynched today. It’s like we’re free, but we aren’t.”
- [CS, Candler Park]: “Definitely feel like I have the privilege of freedom. Sometimes, I get frustrated with certain aspects of America. I know America could be better. I have freedom, but I know others don’t. There has to be freedom for other people.”
[Smith-Shomade]: What do you think of the Supreme Court right now?
- [HS, Albany]: “Unfair.”
- [CS, Candler Park]: “I feel like America’s being brought down instead of forward…Between affirmative action and abortion, it’s frustrating because I feel they’re not representing what the majority of people want.”
- [CS, Midtown]: “Ruling out affirmative action was basically allowing white individuals to get into Ivy Leagues with more legacy status. It rules out a lot of people of color because we don’t have legacy status in the same way white individuals do. This brings down the diversity in Ivy Leagues.”
[Smith-Shomade]: Are you familiar with the recent Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action, student debt relief, and LGBTQ+ rights? If yes, do you believe these rulings impact you? And if not, would you like to learn more about the rulings?
- [HS, Atlanta]: “I’m not familiar. But of course. I’d like to look at people who talk about the news on TikTok and listen to podcasts.”
- [CS, Smyrna]: “Yes, I’m familiar. I go to a PWI. If affirmative action isn’t a thing anymore, it will make my school whiter… And you want to learn about different people and different cultures.”
- [CS, Midtown]: “I don’t think they’re impacting me directly. But definitely, the people who are going into college and my community. Knowing that now they have more limited opportunities for college is terrible.”
Our Future: What’s to Come
By only answering a few short questions, these students mightily showcased their awareness of the nation’s current issues and also demonstrated their investment into the impact these issues will have on their peers and communities.
However, while some students were familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions, others shared very little knowledge. Following our interviews, some students went on great tangents about the Supreme Court, while others stayed silent. And although all interviewees call a different part of Georgia home, some of these high school interviewees attend our very own Future Foundation program. However, the distinguishing factor of Future Foundation students is their passion for learning. Even if they did not have any interest or knowledge about the recent specificities of the Supreme Court, they all wished to get involved with the media and news surrounding the rulings—whether through social media or another medium.
It is anyone’s guess of what’s to come in the United States and the world. Today, we continue to see decisions that will negatively impact people of color on a massive scale. But by staying on top of the media, we have an effective way to recognize these injustices. As always, we must be ready to step up—and hopefully before the negativity becomes set in stone.