One perk in which I have found gratification this year as head the Burlington County Bar Association, is the honor of writing the President’s Message each month. The President’s Message has proven an ideal platform through which I can encourage an open dialogue about the importance of increasing diversity within the Association. There is so much talent in this county and, throughout history, there have been instances of unequal treatment because people may be in a protected class or are perceived to be in a protected class. No one should be limited in their ambitions solely because of these reasons.
In my President’s Messages this year, I’ve addressed hurdles placed on women and African Americans simply because of their gender and race. National Awareness Months are an opportunity to draw controversial subjects like sexism and racism into the open – with the hope that one day everyone will truly be treated as equals. February was Black History Month and March was Women’s History Month.
May is “Awareness Month”. It is celebrated by people espousing many noble causes – and a few weird ones – in an effort to draw the national consciousness to important causes and to allow for a little fun. In the latter category, May gives us the encouragement we need to celebrate National Salsa Month, National Egg Month, National Chocolate Custard Month and, most appealing on the rare day when there isn’t any work to do, National Get Caught Reading Month. (And no, I didn’t make any of those up, although someone did.) Of course, there are other far more important subjects addressed in May as well; notably National Military Awareness Month, National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and National Older Americans Month. As with months about African Americans and women, an ideal society would consider every day, every month a time to celebrate our military, Asian Americans, and older Americans, but, as almost inevitably happens, it becomes easy for us to push the trials of others into the background as we go about our own daily lives.
As our nation continues to struggle with controversy over immigration, it is important to remember that all of our families emigrated to this country, if not recently then at one time or another. Some were immediately accepted and absorbed into the national culture, while others have struggled with large-scale persecution. Progress has, of course, been made. Largely forgotten today are the struggles that Chinese, Japanese and Southeastern Asian-Americans suffered, both in their effort to gain admittance to the United States and then to assimilate into the culture. Others continue to struggle, maybe because they look different or because they hold onto beliefs and customs that the Constitution tells them they have the right to preserve, but society judges them for because they appear different.
Another equally significant subject that May’s list of Awareness Month subjects addresses is ageism. During National Older Americans Month, our country has the opportunity to recognize that many older Americans suffer a form of discrimination based solely on the fact that they have lived long lives. This form of prejudice is highly illogical, considering we all hope to achieve long life, but it is very real.
Unfortunately, the President of the Burlington County Bar Association does not have the power to fix all of the problems of society – a one-year term simply is not long enough to do that! – but I can address the issues and, maybe, make one step towards bringing them closer to our consciousness. And maybe, just maybe, the next time any of us see a member of the military, an Asian American or Pacific Islander, or an older American who looks like they could use a little companionship, we will share chocolate custard, an egg or some salsa with them. Regardless of whether it is May or not.