This is an official invitation to Colin Kaepernick to attend my son’s next Cub Scout meeting.
I know in my heart I don’t appreciate Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem, but it’s hard to argue he doesn’t have the “freedom” to kneel. After all, America is about freedom. It wasn’t until I taught my son’s Webelos den about the flag, its history and the proper way to treat, respect and display it, that I was able to put into words why Colin has it all wrong.
My goal was to teach the fifth graders the basic history of our flag. Show them a couple versions of what it looked like over the last 240 years. Impart to them why we respect it and then teach them how to properly raise, lower and fold the America flag.
I asked them a question. I showed them the original flag with 13 stars and then the current one with 50 stars. I asked, “How did we get from 13 to 50 stars?” Their answer was simple, “We added states.” We did, but a piece of land doesn’t automatically become a state. Among other things, there has to be a certain amount of people living in that geographic area. I love America and I know we’re fantastic producers, but I don’t think we could have produced enough kids to increase the population of the territories to make them states. We had to get help from elsewhere. We needed immigrants.
Immigrants don’t just show up because you need them. Immigrants need a reason to pick up their lives and move to a new place. America was offering those reasons. We had land for farming. We had business opportunities. Every small town needed bankers, general stores and saloons. We needed blacksmiths, tailors, bakers and surveyors. We needed teachers in the one room school house and professors in the colleges. We needed men to operate ships, wagons and trains. We needed miners, loggers and policemen. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived on our shores because America held the promise of jobs, education and laws that allowed you to become whatever you dreamed of becoming. The one hitch was, you had to work for it. You might not succeed at first, but you could always try again. Every single star on our flag is filled with the stories of immigrants who worked hard to succeed. Within them are the immigrant’s struggles, their failures and their triumphs. Every single star represents the jobs, the innovation and opportunities that were and are abundant in American.
But, the American flag represents more than immigrants and dreams. I asked the Webelos what else does it stand for? Once again their answer was simple, “The Army. Fighting for our freedom.” I think everyone agrees with that answer. I also think everyone is missing the mark.
Yes, the American flag is a visual reminder of the more than 650,000 men and woman who have fought and died for our country. Yes, when it waves it represents the tens of millions of Americans who raised their right hand and swore to, “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” But, the American flag is so much more than a reminder of what our military has done for our country. And that’s the part so many people forget.
It represents the bravery of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. (It takes a lot of guts to thumb your nose at the King of England) It represents the men and women who immigrated and worked hard to make a living in this country. It represents the fact that, as long as you can afford it, you can live in whatever house in whatever city you want. It represents that after high school anyone can go to the best college in the country or have the option to choose the worst college. It represents the fact that, if you choose, you don’t even have to go to college. (Some countries have a government issued test that determines your post high school track. Fail the test and you’re not allowed to go to college). The American flag represents that every single person can have a favorite ice cream store because there’s no restrictions on who can open a business or how many of the same businesses there can be. It represents that everyone can vote…white, black, Hispanic, man, woman, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim. It represents the men and women who dreamed of walking on the moon and the ones who made it happen. It represents the brilliance of the people who decided we should all have a mega-powerful computer in our pocket that allows us to make calls and play Pokemon Go.
But, that’s not all it represents. The American flag represents an America that once accepted slavery…until people stood up and abolished it. It represents a country where people stood up and made a change because they didn’t think alcohol was a good thing. That change lasted until different people stood up and said alcohol is okay and they changed our Constitution. It represents every single law Congress and the President have passed. It represents different groups of people who stood up because they didn’t agree with specific laws and challenged those laws all the way to the Supreme Court.
The American flag represents so much more than the military. It represents who we are and how we got here as a country. It represents the good and it represents the bad in our country’s history. It represents challenges we overcame because people were willing to stand up and make a change. Our country is different. It’s different because it allows average, everyday people the opportunity to challenge the norm and make a difference. But, you can only make a difference if you stand up and do something. That’s what Colin Kaepernick got wrong…he’s trying to make a change by kneeling. If we all sat down when we didn’t like something we’d be no better than a preschooler. If he wants change, then he needs to do something that makes a difference. LeBron James is spending $41 million of his own money to send inner city kids to college. Imagine if LeBron had sat down? 1,100 kids wouldn’t be able to attend college.
To make change happen you have to do…to do you have to have movement and the only way to have movement is to stand.
Instead of standing proudly in front of the the very symbol that represents Colin Kaepernick’s opportunity to make change he chooses to disrespect it. He doesn’t see it as a symbol of what has been and what could be. He doesn’t see woven into the fabric of the American flag the wrongs that have occurred in America and the brave, dedicated men and women who have had to guts to stand up and do something about it. By kneeling in front of the flag he’s burying his head in the sand and throwing away his opportunity to stand up and make a change. Instead of standing proud in front of the flag and appreciating and taking advantage of the opportunity that flag affords him…the freedom to “do something” to right a wrong…he’s thumbing his nose at the millions of people who came before him who when faced with similar dilemmas chose to stand up, take action and make a difference.
You can only get out of the way of a speeding train by standing up and walking off the tracks. Sitting on the tracks and complaining the train is going to hit you won’t solve anything.
To stand or not to stand…that is the question. It may be too late for Colin Kaepernick, but I pray my Webelos understand the American Flag is more than just the military and freedom. It’s deeper. It’s richer. It has high points and it has it’s low points. It has a past that can’t be changed, but more importantly it affords them a future that is theirs to grasp and make better if only they choose to stand up.