President's Message - June 2022


Mary McKelvey

WLALA President 2021-2022

I am intrigued by people who live their lives in service of an ideal greater than themselves, and by how important this quality has been in our country’s evolution and how vital it is to our future.  In the wake of Memorial Day, the dawn of Juneteenth, and the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, it seems the common theme is the tremendous courage of individuals who willingly risk everything for both personal liberty and collective freedom. 

As many of our fundamental freedoms hang in the balance, I find myself compelled to examine the characteristics and motivations of those who voluntarily sacrifice everything to open doors and secure freedom for others.  The passion and selflessness of these brave souls embodies the necessary and potent elements required if we are to continue working toward a more perfect union.  

June is Pride Month and that immediately brings Harvey Milk to mind. His visionary courage moved the needle for the LGBTQIA+ community at a time of unprecedented hatred and hostility.  His bold and unapologetic proclamation of his identity as a gay man and his subsequent election to public office brought fresh hope and inspiration. Milk spoke passionately of the American ideal of equality, proclaiming, “Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets.… We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”  He was passionate, persistent, and proud and he inspired others to do the same.  

Milk understood that we are stronger together and worked to build coalitions between diverse groups. He sponsored anti-discrimination bills and spoke on LGBTQIA+ issues locally and nationally, but also established day care centers for working mothers and advocated for the conversion of military facilities into low-income housing.  He was tragically murdered at only 48 years old.  Yet his brief life continues to have a huge impact because he lived the courage of his convictions. 

Another quintessential freedom fighter who changed the world for so many through her courageous vison and action was Harriet Tubman.   She fought for the rights of women, People of Color, the differently-abled, and the aged, and liberated and inspired countless people through her actions. She repeatedly risked her own life to create the change she passionately envisioned. 

Tubman escaped the horrors of slavery, traveling alone and under the cover of night, to Philadelphia in 1849.  Although now free herself, she voluntarily and repeatedly put her life in danger over the next decade as an operator on the Underground Railroad and made secret return trips to Maryland to help her friends and family escape slavery. With each trip, she exposed herself to certain torture and death that awaited her as an escaped slave.  Most of us cannot even fathom this type of courage. 

But she didn’t stop there.  When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. In 1863, she became the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, liberating more than 700 slaves.

She was involved in the suffrage movement her entire life, fighting not only for the rights of all women, but also for People of Color, the disabled, and the aged.  Tubman was a true human rights activist who fought the larger battle of oppression with an unprecedented courage and commitment.  Her life is a living example of extraordinary courage and what one woman can accomplish in the face of tremendous odds.

History has shown us time and time again that freedom is never free.  The collective freedoms we enjoy today have been earned by the courage and sacrifice of others. More importantly, they can be eradicated if we are not vigilant.  The time for self-examination is now.  We must ask ourselves how we use the freedoms we have inherited – do we use them primarily for individual satisfaction or do we engage our freedoms in the service of the collective good?  If more of us do not focus on the latter, I fear we will ultimately find ourselves in yet another barbarian battle for freedom.  The alternative is a world that works for everyone—a goal achievable if enough can make (even small) conscious sacrifices for greater equality.