The Crowd: Reflections on freedom this Fourth of July

On this Fourth of July holiday week, we pause to reflect on the 237-year-long American tradition that, despite flaws, failures and often disputed compromise of values and dreams, stands for justice and freedom. As our people debate the issue of marriage equality in what some label the final frontier of the equal rights movement; as we come to terms with the enormous task of finding an equitable and fair solution to illegal immigration affecting upwards of 20 million people living and working in the U.S.; and as our citizens continue to be divided along the emotional lines of pro-choice vs. pro-life, we ask, how far have we come as a people, as a nation with standards?

The answer is certain. We have come very far. America has collectively set the world standard for religious tolerance, women's rights, racial equality, ethnic diversity and acceptance, all in an ever-changing vortex of opportunity growth, discovery and prosperity. Not for all, to be fair, but for so many.

This Fourth of July week in America, we are also subjected to the pervasive media reports focused on the personal failure of words from one of the nation's current celebrity targets — one down-home Southern chef turned media millionaire Paula Deen. It is nothing more than a modern-day Salem witch hunt. Who among us, regardless of our ethnic, religious or otherwise individual background, has not uttered a negative or derogatory expression about another person in a moment of frustration, anger, weakness or plain stupidity?

Ultimately, what separates Americans in the final analysis is not the word but the action. And while we cannot deny our bias, our prejudice and the resulting horrific effects on our nation's history, in the end, by and large, Americans judge and treat one another based on hard work, fair play and respect for individual rights. Thankfully, this standard, perhaps above all else, remains a beacon of hope for the future of this ever-struggling democratic landscape.

In addition, we pay tribute on this Fourth of July holiday to the American spirit of generosity and charity. In Orange County and all across the nation, America is blessed with millions of citizens who would share their last piece of bread with a hungry stranger. We come together to provide education for our youth, to fund scientific research, to heal the sick and suffering, to shelter the homeless, to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among us. The outreach is endless.

Recently in the O.C., 375 citizens joined forces in Newport Beach for the 30th annual Cystic Fibrosis Gala held at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, raising an impressive $623,000 net to continue the funding battle to help research for a cure. Chaired by Dan and Gayle Demsher working with dedicated Cystic Fibrosis Guild president Sue Hook, the evening honored donors, including Ken and Debbie Johnson receiving the annual "Breath of Life" award. Cystic fibrosis is a fatal, hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.

Again this season, radio personality Shawn Parr served as master of ceremonies for the evening. The highlight of the presentation was the annual return and emotional address by 26-year-old Stacy Motenko, who is living with the disease.

Major support for the cause came from American Airlines, Lithocraft, BJ's Restaurants, Helene Galen, Ron and Dianne Higgins, Tom and Penny Ling and the evening's honorees, the Johnsons.

Standouts in the crowd included Costa Mesa citizens Jim and Peggy Normandin, Chris and Heather Pullis, Frank and Mel Quattrocchi and Brett and Linnea Rubbico. Newport's Dan and Danni Good joined friends R.J. and Adrienne Brandes, Jack and Mary Norberg, Mike and Mary Zollman and Jack and Barbara Tingley, making a difference for Motenko and so many other young people fighting to prolong their breath of life.

Fourth of July blessings to all Newport-Mesa citizens. May the standards of justice and charity continue to be a hallmark of excellence and a source of pride in this community and this nation.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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