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Stephens: May our patriotism be seen in our involvement as well as our celebrations

We had a great celebration of our freedom on Thursday.  Many came together in our town square for the Stars and Stripes Fest.  Others found locations nearby to see the spectacular display.  All the fireworks were to declare the greatness of our nation.

Once again, it was easy to see why in 2016, Covington’s celebration was voted “Main Street America’s 2016 Best 4th of July Celebration.”  Why in 2018, WSB-TV called it one of the best in the Atlanta area. This year the Southeast Tourism Society selected our Stars and Stripes Fest as one of the top 20 events for the month of July.  This society selects events from a 12-state area.  What an honor for our fair city.

When we bought our home in Covington in 2012, there was no fireworks show in the sky above the Square to celebrate the Fourth.  We had to go to Porterdale that year.  But beginning with the first year of Ronnie Johnston serving as mayor, we saw the birth of a new community tradition.

As a community, we owe a great deal to Robert Foxworth. Ten years ago, he approached some friends and neighbors about a Fourth of July fireworks show in his hometown of Porterdale. As the show grew, a bigger stage was needed.  In 2013 the show was adopted by Covington. And each year has seen the show grow more impressive.  Many of us have had the pleasure of enjoying these great shows.

To make sure the tradition will continue, Foxworth has led the effort to create a nonprofit called, “Friends of Covington Fireworks Inc.”  Serving with Foxworth, who chairs the board, is Craig Treadwell, Frank Turner Jr., Marcello Banes, and Ronnie Johnston.

This new structure will help assure that this tradition will continue year after year. Any funds that remain will be used in the following year’s celebration.  Something this good must be more than the vision of one.  It has become a community responsibility.

I think we all need to be reminded that each generation must pass on the precious gifts of freedom. Let us not be like the young boy who yelled out from the living room, “Remember that vase that has been passed down from generation to generation, well this generation just dropped it.”

Now that we have enjoyed the celebration of our freedom, let us recommit ourselves to using those freedoms to make sure those who follow us will have even greater freedom and opportunity. I think I can paraphrase author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia, who wrote, “Your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God.”  In the spirit of July 4,  I would write, “Your freedom is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God 

We are patriots not merely by celebrating what we have been given.  Rather we are patriots by how we use the freedom given us to make our community, our state, and our nation even greater.  We are not satisfied with what we are, but we strive to be all we are meant to be.  We do this by seeking to be informed. 

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration, passed by the Continental Congress, had a vision of what it meant for a people to be free.  His words become the very heart of the American Revolution.  He once said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”  Let us continue to see our nation as work in progress, extending the gifts of freedom to all who live in our land.

Of course, the other great document of our national history is our Constitution.   It is the very framework of how we function as a people.   In our time, a lot of the spotlight has been on the Second Amendment of the Constitution. This is the one that ensures our right to bear arms. But James Madison who wrote those first ten amendments known as our “Bill of Rights” recognized that the right to words is the foundation of all our freedoms. As he wrote in the first amendment, the freedom to choose one’s own way to God, to be free to express our feelings and thoughts, to have a press not controlled by the government, to gather together without fear, and to petition the government.  He knew the power of words.        

The right for me to write these words and you to read them is a part of our free press. Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  He further is reported to have said, if he had to choose between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government he would not hesitate to prefer the latter. Again, the power of the freedom of thought and expression.  And the need to be informed to use that power.  You can trust our local media, where the facts are checked before they published. That is not always true of social media.

Some may be a little confused as to what election is next for us. We have what seems like a busload of people,  going around the country to run for President. Now when we do choose in about 16 months who will be our President, It will very important. And with all the caucuses, primaries, and conventions it is a long journey but for us in Covington, it is not our next election.  

I feel the same confusion about the Sheriff’s race.  Do you realize it is almost year and a half before we elect a new sheriff? Three fine men are running for this office, the incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown, CPD Capt. Ken Malcom, and Clay Ivey.  But this is not the next election before us.  Half of the posts of the Covington City Council and the office of Mayor will be before us in the next few months. I challenge you to get informed, get involved, and make sure you take it one election at a time. If you are not registered to vote, do so now.  Don’t be uninformed. Contact the candidates as ask your questions.

B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.