Liberty and justice for all. Those freedoms are promised as part of America’s democracy, but for some, it is not as simple and clear-cut. Why vow to ideals that are not true?
In grade school, many read the Pledge of Allegiance every day as it has become a part of the daily routine for numerous schools across the nation. For Nika Elugardo, citing the Pledge meant standing up and reciting a collection of words that did not truly resonate with her.
“When I was a kid I did not like to complete the Pl edge of Allegiance. The flag was a little bit of a painful reference for me because as a young child in the first grade, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance and then we would sing this song, My Country tis of Thee,” she said.
“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing, land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims pride. Can you believe they made me sing that?”
Finding a sense of belonging in a country where she felt lost seemed impossible for the longest time. Designing laws, creating proposals, and fighting for change as a public servant has aided Elugardo in being proud to represent the United States of America and the state of Massachusetts.
On Monday evening at the Marsh Memorial Chapel, Elugardo, a Massachusetts State Representative, spoke to a variety of Springfield students, staff, and community members. Her discussion was a part of the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. lecture.
She reflected on Dr. King’s speech made to the Massachusetts House of Representatives on April 22, 1965. Elugardo spoke about the progress that has been made in regard to racial and economic justice and what else needs to be done.
Elugardo was elected in 2018 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and represents the 15th Suffolk and Norfolk District. Her duties include managing the communities of Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and Roslindale.
With more than twenty years of experience in community and economic development, Elugardo has fought for equality her entire career, and won’t stop till liberty and justice is truly archived for everyone.
Growing up in poverty and transition, Elugardo learned from a young age to advocate for herself, soon becoming “a voice for the voiceless.” Elugardo spoke about amplifying the voices of the unheard and how important it is to continue working for what is right.
“Whether you are a physical trainer, or an educator, or planning on going to law school, or whatever it is you are going to do, whatever it is, you are going to amplify your own voice so that you can amplify the voices of others,” said Elugardo.
Elugardo continued by emphasizing how change is a process that is a long journey, but results will come. It can be a process that seems impossible at times, one where progress seems slim.
Involving each generation and acting on passion and drive will result in new reforms. The power is inside every individual, now it’s time to take the initiative and continue this fight for racial and economic equality, she said.
“The number one thing that is true for everyone is to recognize that your power is inside of you, said Elugardo. “Nobody gives it to you, you are born with it. Everybody has it and you can exercise it anytime.”
After Elugardo’s keynote speech, four awardees were honored for their dedication to achieving racial and economic equality in the Springfield community as part of the second annual Springfield College Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards.
Among the award recipients were Springfield College student Kris Rhim, staff recipient Renetta Robinson, and community member recipients Awilda Sanchez and Sophia Jeffrey.
“I hope to inspire black and brown students to speak up when things are wrong, amplify the voices of the underrepresented, and run for positions like the student trustee position that can create real change,” said Rhim.
It was a special night at Springfield College reflecting on racial and economic progress, as well as honoring members of the Springfield community for their dedication to improving equality.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College Marketing & Communications