I still believe in you, America.

America is a country that allows everyone the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness — in whatever form that may take — up to the point that you harm others to uphold your own beliefs and pursuits. In the same way that you’re allowed to practice whatever religion of your choosing, others are able to wear the clothes of their choosing, pursue (consensual) relationships with whoever they want, and dream the biggest dreams because they live in a country that truly allows the sky to be the limit.

Our country has also reached a limit on how many mass shootings we’re going to let happen. Incidents like Sandy Hook, Aurora Theater, San Bernardino, and Orlando (it’s sad that there are too many to list) try to tear America apart. They try to break down communities, towns, cities, and our entire nation. They try to make every citizen put their guard up and weaken their trust in our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public. I challenge you, America, to challenge yourself to do the opposite. Embrace your neighbor. Smile at strangers. Go to a religious service other than your own or one you’re familiar with. LEARN about the people and citizens around you, and the differences that can, instead of tearing us apart, form a bond based on learning, embracing and knowledge. Break down the fear barriers that even our own politicians profit off of us having. Don’t you think that if you were to form a friendship with the community member that you’re programmed to fear, you’d have a lot less reason to worry than if you continue to view them as a threat?? Why do we continue to play into the rifts that these mass shootings highlight?

I get scared too. I have paranoia too. It can be hard not to carry these fears around everywhere we go. But the less conversations we have and the more hiding we all do, the bigger these differences become. The deeper these holes grow. And that only allows us to continue down this path of harmful reactions to differences and fear.

I’d like to close with a quote from the beloved Greatest of All Time, a person who became a symbol of standing up for your beliefs in a peaceful, smart way that bonded people rather than tore them apart.

“Once we realize we are all members of humanity, we will want to compete in the spirit of love. In a competition of love we would not be running against one another, but with one another. We would be trying to gain victory for all humanity. If I am a faster runner than you, you may feel bad seeing me pass you in the race, but if you know that we are both racing to make our world better, you will feel good knowing that we are racing toward a common goal, a mutual reward. In a competition of love we’ll all share in the victory, no matter who comes first.”

-Muhammad Ali