For Janet Reese of Bed-Stuy, America’s Fourth of July holiday is a good excuse to enjoy a southern-style barbecue with her sister’s family in Hempstead, Long Island. Janet admits that she doesn’t give much time during the holiday celebration to reflect on what July Fourth, 1776 historically represents to her as an American. “I know what the day in our nation’s history means, but I honestly don’t see the point in having that day be the central theme for reflection,” she says.
Instead, she’s brought back to memories of her childhood in rural Georgia and her loving, well-dressed mother and father, who, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, helped instill in Janet a balance—to understand and never forget the injustices of the world, but not go around looking for trouble either. “It’s not that our family looked the other way,” she remembers. “We knew certain things were going on and we peacefully stood up to raise our concerns. But what was more important than anything was preserving the whole idea of family.”
Janet recognizes that it’s difficult to reflect on July 4th without recognizing that the signers of the Declaration of Independence also owned slaves and that there remain struggles ahead for many American minorities. Despite this, Janet isn’t interested in overly focusing on the negatives. For her, the day gets out of hand when it turns into a jingoist circus or a solemn damnation of the atrocities committed in the past. “It’s a designated time for all Americans to simply live in the moment, enjoy the food and warm weather, and most importantly, cherish the time spent with our family and friends.”