Our Duty to One Another

Blake is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a student at Bowling Green State University. His time in Afghanistan and his experience helping young people with drug problems have given him a firm idea on what to do to be a good citizen and what makes a bad citizen.

On the ideas that make someone automatically a bad citizen:

There are a lot of bad citizens in this country. One of my roommates is exceptionally racist. He’s very vocal with his caustic viewpoints. I think that is destructive for a community. I’ve fought for the freedom of speech. But if you’re willing to think that way, you can’t be a good citizen. I don’t think anyone who wants to take away other citizens’ rights (like he does) can be a good citizen.

His thoughts on the distinction between a good citizen and a good person:

If you don’t serve your fellow citizens in some way, shape, or form, you don’t qualify as a good citizen. Being respectful is important. But it just makes you a good person (and there’s a difference between being a good person and a good citizen). Right now, I think what Wal-Mart is doing for Hurricane Harvey is great citizenship. The things Wal-Mart is doing – sending money down, supplies down – things that it is in no way obligated to do, is (exemplary).

There’s a lot of people that aren’t doing anything. That don’t care. And, to me, that’s invaluable. You can’t say you’re a citizen of the country if you don’t want to vote, if you don’t want to be active.

A moment of his that exemplified great teamwork and citizenship:

When I was stationed down in Texas, a couple of our dorms got condemned because they were in poor condition, and people couldn’t live there any more. The base fell into a logistical nightmare because we couldn’t change the number of soldiers on base. I worked alongside a staff sergeant, and together we had to figure out how to bunk people. We figured out who we could work with in the outside community to find apartment buildings soldiers could live in. We were using all resources possible to avoid putting people in tents. After two months of constant work, we were able to get the dorm capacity back to normal, and, (in doing so), we generally improved the quality of life on base.

On the things, past and present, Americans need to know:

People need to know the things we’ve done wrong. There are too many students who don’t know what the Trail of Tears was, who don’t know that during World War II we had internment camps for Japanese citizens, who don’t know how we’ve treated Cuban refugees.

Students also need to know how they can serve their country. We don’t talk about getting into political roles, about doing military service. A lot of those things are taboo in high schools, in my experience. I saw a lot of eighteen year-olds come into the military who didn’t know anything about the service.

His two foundations of American identity:

The base of being an American citizen is understanding our Constitution. We don’t have to understand every interpretation because that can be complicated. But if you can’t understand our Constitution and the ideas it represents, that’s a problem.

I also believe that Americans believe in helping people. There are a lot of people in the world who call America a bully. But to me, what we’re actually doing is trying to be good neighbors, be a big brother. We are one of the biggest economies in the world, and we’re trying to protect and help people.

How he thinks we can collectively make a huge difference:

Take a moment this evening and look at the weakest points we have (as a country). It doesn’t matter if you have money. If everyone in our country takes the time to find an issue, writes about it to members of congress, and says what could be done to fix a problem no matter how minor, massive change would sweep the country. For the first time in forever, elected officials would hear the voice of the people. We vote for political ideals, and hope for the best. But we don’t ask anything from our elected officials. If we start doing that, if we start asking questions and asking for basic things, that’s what is going to ignite change and help our fellow citizens.

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