The steps that brought Americans this far

On this Election Day, I’m not going to talk about my right to vote or the ability I have to go to the polls and vote without being discriminated against.

I’m not going to talk about my right as an American to speak my opinion at the ballot box versus the ignorance of complaining about a candidate or an issue when I didn’t vote at all.
Almost every time Election Day rolls around, I think about one of those moments in my own life when I’ve never felt more proud to be an American.

It was the summer of 1999 and I was visiting our nation’s capital.

My pride didn’t come as I walked the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building or as my tour bus drove past the White House.

For me, it was that moment from television and movies when I found myself standing on the steps of Lincoln Memorial overlooking the reflecting pool.

Those marble steps have become an iconic place not just because of the memorial, but because of the people who have sung, spoke and shared their dreams to thousands of people from those steps.

Before I even took time to reflect on the stairs, I stood inside the memorial and stared up at the carved face of a president who saw more pain and suffering than most of us could ever imagine as his country was literally torn apart.

The Great Emancipator stood on his laurels and freed the slaves of the South knowing it would only cause more anger, but that it was the right thing to do for those individuals.

While we know many of the struggles he faced as a president both in his public and personal life, I think the monument is only fitting to show the man as larger than life.

It’s fitting, too, that the memorial features those steps that have become a platform for dozens of protests and speeches over the years.

Anyone who knows American history knows of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that­ was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and no doubt played a role in allowing for President Barack Obama to serve four years as U.S. president and have his name appear on the ballot again today.

Suffice it to say it’s pretty amazing that it wasn’t even a century ago that African-Americans were not only not allowed to vote, but they could not drink from the same water fountains or eat at the same lunch counters as white Americans.

I believe we are truly lucky in this nation to have the ability to stand on the steps of a monument erected to a former president and speak our minds, whether it be against Jim Crow laws, against the Vietnam War or in favor of jobs and health care reform.

As I stood on those steps at just 17 years old, I knew they had much meaning for this nation.
And now more than a decade later as I prepare to cast my ballot, I think back on the generations that have paved the way — and remember how lucky I am to be an American.

Shay Burk

Veteran Tribune reporter Shay Burk writes whatever is swirling around her mind each week. Read her columns on Tuesdays for her humorous thoughts on everyday life.

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