The Puzzle of Democracy and Building an Equitable America


One of my son’s Christmas gifts this year was a 1000-piece puzzle. I’m more excited to work on it than he is. I love puzzles—they are a reminder that things can come together in some unexpected ways. With love and attention and patience, we can figure out how each piece fits together and see the beautiful picture that emerges. I want to spend time on the puzzle but now that the holidays have ended, I know that assembling it will require more space and time than appears to be available to me at the moment. Because of this, the puzzle pieces must be kept together and each piece must be cherished. A decision and commitment need to be made. I have to carve out dedicated space and time.

hands assembling a puzzleAs the parallel battles for our democracy and the survival of our species wage on around us, I focus on my own internal battles as a teacher and a mother seeking to create spaces of peace, comfort, and safety for my students and children.

I make space and time to work on the puzzle that is my current life because I know how valuable the process of assembly is. And like the puzzle pieces, I know that I can’t always see at the moment how each breath is connected to the next. I carve out precious time and space because I trust the process. I sit with myself and tend to those parts of me that feel sad, hurt, angry, and alone. I recognize that my feelings are part of my puzzle and I know that if I don’t tend to them, they will demand my attention in other ways—keeping me stuck in a life that does not give me the peace, joy, and love that I desire. If I don’t confront my own fears of rejection and abandonment, then I’ll reject and abandon those that I love.

family on a boatIf I truly live my best life, I need to be my best self. And my best self is whole. Being alive is not about pretending—there’s no one to fool and even if I could, the farce would not last for long. Eventually, the truth comes to light so there’s no use in hiding who I am or what I am experiencing from myself or anyone. When I am afraid, I must speak it. When I’m enraged, I must admit it. No puzzle piece left unattended.

We can indeed change the story of who we are but first, we must face ourselves and our various puzzle pieces. Our tendency to turn away from those parts of ourselves that are upsetting and shameful, painful or difficult, keeps us from being able to truly face our own truth and assemble our entire puzzle. Our American democracy must face its own history of injustice and institutionalized racism.

puzzle of the united statesI’m inspired by the words of Dr. Maya Angelou:

Tell the truth, to yourself first, and to the children. Live in the present. Don’t deny the past… And know that the charge on you is to make this country more than it is today.

Not one of us alone can do all the work to make this country more than it is today but I can do my part. I know that we can each do a little part of the work and then come together to join the parts that we have done. We keep joining and connecting until we start to see a new puzzle come together, a democracy made of all of our interlocking pieces and personal puzzles. And that final picture is indeed beautiful to behold. Nobody else can tell you what your part is—that work is yours and yours alone to accomplish but rest assured, your part is waiting for you and our collective puzzle will not be complete without you. Without each of us taking on our civic duty to reflect and act.

Sometimes it is difficult to see how the pieces of a puzzle or of democracy fit together without the finished photo on the cover of the box.

This may indeed be where our difficulty lies– we are unsure about our collective vision and whether or not we can join together if our visions are not completely aligned. But that is not our work.

Those that created this country, this democracy, created the vision and the documents that stated that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There are those who believe that America is a country for whites only and that the rules and law, systems and structures should only be for the benefit of those who look like them. As we have now seen, those people are willing to burn the entire country to the ground before they give up their ideal of what America is. They have made their vision clear and have taken up arms against our democracy to defend their cause.

In the end, justice will prevail but the question is, will we be alive to see it? This is our opportunity to usher in an America that truly serves everyone and can again serve as a beacon of hope for all of humanity. There is no need to create a new picture or a new democracy; the vision has already been set. The dream of a nation where everyone is valued for their gifts and talents and all are allowed to reach their greatest potential has already been imagined. The question is, where do your puzzle pieces fit in this democracy, and what deliberate action are you taking to move our country towards that more perfect union?

The Puzzle of Democracy and Building an Equitable America




Guest Author: Kalimah Fergus Ayele

headshotKalimah Fergus Ayele is the author of “Roundtrip Ticket Home” a memoir of her experiences living in different parts of the world. She has over 20 years of experience as a school leader and secondary science educator in both U.S. and international public and private schools. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa, and has also taught in South Africa, Lesotho, and most recently, Egypt. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, Master of Arts in Secondary Science Education at Teachers College Columbia University, Master of Science in School Administration from the College of Saint Rose and Ed.M in Organization Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University.



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