“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…” –Abraham Lincoln
On this day, almost 150 years ago, President Lincoln stood before a crowd at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA to deliver what would become one of the most well known speeches in U.S. History. Lincoln honored the soldiers who had died in that battle and simultaneously redefined their sacrifices not only as a means of preserving the Union, but as a means of ending one of the most unjust practices of his time—slavery. He reminded listeners that, although many sacrifices had already been made, much more work was needed in order to end slavery and bring about equality for all.
In some ways, we are still struggling for the equality which Lincoln—and the founders of this nation before him—envisioned. Children go to school hungry, overcrowding and underfunding means that they do not get the proper attention or the quality of education they deserve; city streets are bare of trees and trash clogs the gutters; men and women lose their jobs, their homes are foreclosed upon, and they are forced onto the streets where they must spend their time struggling for survival rather than finding a new job to support themselves and their families. Although at times these struggles seem insurmountable, there are those who are dedicated to ending them, no matter the sacrifice, just as Lincoln was. Some of these noble people are AmeriCorps members, such as Volunteer Maryland’s VISTAs and VMCs. They dedicate a year to serving in a community whose need is great. They sacrifice time, energy, and higher paying jobs to make a difference in the lives of others. They might not eradicate poverty, end hunger and homelessness, or restore the Chesapeake Bay in their single year of service, but they mobilize and inspire those around them to lend a hand in making change, just as Lincoln did. The world may little note nor long remember the work they do, but those whose lives they touch will never forget them.
While these problems may be more visible close to home, it is important to remember that we are not alone. I recently finished reading “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a book which tells the stories of women around the world who have faced poverty and oppression and sometimes (though not always) overcome these difficulties through their own strength and with the help of others. The struggle to emancipate women worldwide echoes Lincoln and the U.S.’s struggles to end slavery. On this, the anniversary of the Gettysburg address, I would encourage you to look at the struggles in your community and around the world and think about how you can make a difference.