Tom’s first sense of equity was from elementary school.  His school held an annual march of dimes in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt and to support polio research.  Children would bring dimes to school.  They would march around the hallway and then drop a dime into a bucket.  The last child to continue marching was honored by the principal.  Tom collected dimes by collecting pop bottles to be returned to the local bottler.  He was proud to contribute to the cause.  But it bothered him that children of wealthy families always won, even though they made no effort to earn the dimes they deposited during the march.

Tom’s next sense of equity came from junior high.  Children who came from privileged backgrounds were grouped together in classes.  While Tom was brighter than those students, he was placed into classes where the material covered was watered down.  Tom basically challenged himself to overcome the gap by teaching himself.  To the dismay of the school, he was the school’s winner of a statewide math competition.

Tom’s sense of equity was heightened in high school.  The Supreme Court had decided Brown vs. the Board of Education and African American students were allowed to attend his high school.  What that meant was that African American students were placed in classes that met in the basement of the school in what were at one time maintenance rooms.  While Tom had some of the highest grades in the school, he was not selected for the National Honor Society until after the privileged students were asked to join.  When he was selected, he chose not to join causing quite a stir.

Tom’s sense of equity continued in college.  He had one of the highest test scores, but received no scholarships.  Those who didn’t need the scholarships received them due to their influential parents.

Tom had a career that succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.  He amassed considerable quiet wealth.  He chose to use his wealth to make a dent in the equity imbalances that he experienced and still remained.  He became involved with groups which were serving those with needs and ambitions for a better life.  When he saw that he could make a difference, he created opportunities.  Some support was financial, while other support was one of facilitating breakthrough moments.  Tom’s only request of the agencies he worked with was that his efforts go unrecognized.  He did not want those he supported to feel beholden to him.  Also, he would not use any of his contributions as a tax write-off.  Tom felt that giving should be reward enough.

As Tom reflected on the achievements of those he supported, what pleased him the most was that he was able to make a small contribution to resolving inequities that still existed and in fact seemed to be growing.

Daniel Boorstin, the former head of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote a trilogy of American history.  The third volume was The Americans:  The Democratic Experience.  A central premise of the book was that American democracy was a success because what once was only available to the privileged quickly became available to everyone in America.  In effect, our democracy is sustained by ongoing striving for equity.

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“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.
– Benjamin Franklin

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