With Liberty and Justice for AllDr. Omar H. Ali / March 3, 2017
The following address was delivered by Dr. Ali on February 24 during a Naturalization Ceremony for New U.S. Citizens at U.S. District Court in Greensboro with the Honorable Catherine C. Eagles, presiding
Your Honor, Judge Eagles, thank you for this incredible invitation and honor to share a few (brief) words in celebration of … you, our esteemed new fellow citizens. Congratulations.
A very good afternoon to you, Salaam wa-Aleikum, Bon jour, y Buenos Dias (that’s all I’ve got. If you know other languages, please teach me.)
I am here with my darling wife, Diana Munoz, herself an immigrant from Colombia, and our two beautiful children Pablo and Samina (who are playing a little hooky by getting out of school early).
Each of us have our immigrant stories. I was born in South America, the son of immigrants: my mother, Lucy (Maria-Luz), came from Peru in 1962 in search of new opportunities as a woman; my father, Meer Hamid, came from India in 1959 as a Fulbright student to study engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, just one year before the Woolworth’s sit-in movement here in Greensboro ignited and caught the imagination of people across the nation to challenge racial segregation and discrimination.
My father heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak … and he also heard his engineering classmates struggle to explain why racial segregation was ‘tradition.’ He pushed and prodded them, but mostly he kept his head down, focused and finished his studies. As he tells me, he had been inspired by the openness of Americans he had first gleaned on the silver screen, watching movies in India as a teenager, and then meeting Americans when he first arrived for graduate school.
Both of my parents instilled in me a deep sense of curiosity, gratitude, and love of life, work, and family, for which I am eternally grateful. They also instilled in me a deep sense of justice.
While many came and continue to come to this nation in search of freedom, looking for new opportunities, for openness, for freedom of speech (which my wife says she so cherishes in our nation). While many people came to this nation to seek such opportunities and freedoms, many millions of migrants came to this land as forced laborers, as slaves, as captives of war, or as Indentured Servants, not on their own volition, not on their own terms. Of course all came to a land that had already been occupied for thousands of years by Native Americans, including in this immediate area the Saura and Keyawee.
Each of you have been on a journey. Unique journeys that form part of the masses of people that came to this nation, that came here to Greensboro, in Guilford County, the southern terminus of the Eastern Seaboard Underground Railroad, where white Quakers and African Americans worked together … Here in Greensboro where young people fought to extend civil rights to all … Here in Greensboro, a site for refugees, where we say through our actions as the plaque reads at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Here in Greensboro we welcome people from all walks of life, wealthy, working-class, and poor. This is our city, the city that you are helping to make and re-make, even better.
My mother performed the very ceremony you just underwent in the Spring of 1967; my father only has vague memories of this ceremony when he became a citizen in the late 1960s as well.
Years from now you may not remember the details of what was said here. But I guarantee you that you will forever remember the feelings you had. So soak it in and rejoice.
Like you, I have dreams, for my family and our community—for the continued possibilities for people to live, love, learn, create, and grow. Like you, I take seriously my role as a citizen. So when we pledge allegiance, with hands over our hearts, stating “with liberty and justice for all” let us remember to next open up our arms, and our hearts, and always (always) speak up for those who are marginalized, who do not enjoy the protections of citizenship.
Silence is compliance. Citizenship is an active duty and responsibility. I am proud to stand here with you. So, please, let us stand now and proclaim: “With Liberty and Justice for All” Let’s say it … “With Liberty and Justice for All.”
You are perfect in helping to make these United States of America a more perfect Union.
Your Honor, guests, and fellow citizens, thank you.
Dr. Omar H. Ali is dean and professor in the Lloyd International Honors College at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.