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Four Years at the Mount

Fourth of July

Not So Self Evident

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

(7/2016) "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." Ė Thomas Jefferson

This Fourth of July marks the 240th anniversary of the nationís founding and, thus, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. My experience of living in the Metro-Detroit area has reinforced my profound appreciation for our nationís founding principles. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" are the lifeblood of the American Dream. Neglect of these rights is the root cause of civil unrest.

The America I know is very different than that of the people living only a few miles from where I live. Over the course of my 30 minute drive to my all-menís Jesuit high school, the neighborhoods deteriorate before my eyes. Shopping centers, neighborhoods, grocery stores, and business centers are replaced by gentlemanís clubs, liquor stores, nearly a dozen medical marijuana centers, and abandoned homes.

Less visible realities also mark this transition. According to a 2009 Time Magazine feature article, 99% of all graduates from my high school attend college while only 25% of freshmen attending Detroit Public Schools graduate from high school. Moreover, Detroit residents experience three times the poverty rate when compared to the rest of the nation

Tragically, an area code is a likely indicator of a childís success rate. What is the source of this fractured America?

While some contend that more money would remedy this insidious cycle, this is a red herring ó a phantom solution. Was it not the tantalizing thought of money that evoked the construction of the sketchy establishments that I described previously? Indeed, pouring money can potentially perpetuate the chaos rather than remediate it.

Others blame racism, violence, and poor educational opportunities. But perhaps these tragedies are mere manifestations of a more deeply rooted issue. When societal values and practices diverge from the principles upon which our society was founded, chaos occurs.

Just think about it: If I wanted to learn how to fix my car, I would read the carís instruction manual. If I wanted to be a better Christian, I would read the Bible. So, if I wanted to restore American exceptionalism in inner city settings, I am logically drawn to our nationís founding document, namely the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence promises to uphold the inalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness." Values and practices estranged from these principles impede the American Dream and promote abject cycles.


The founding fathers intentionally began their list of inalienable rights with the right to life. All other rights are contingent upon the right to live. How can one have the freedom to get an education, vote, or hold office if they are not first alive? The right to life is the foundation upon which all other rights are upheld; thus, if honoring this right is not of primary importance, collateral injustice occurs in a variety of aspects.

In certain sectors of America, specifically Detroit, this right to life is threatened both directly and indirectly. Gang violence, homelessness, and hunger all abet a culture of death. A culture of life grows when human life is honored in its most vulnerable stages. In particular, if new life is not welcomed, all of human life is susceptible to manipulation.


Authentic liberty is rooted in the respect for the dignity of all. Liberty is not the right to do whatever one wants to do. This misguided understanding of liberty always results in someoneís rights being trampled upon. True liberty honors the common good and recognizes that we all have a responsibility to exercise our freedom wisely, respectfully, and virtuously. This is far from the false notion that liberty is the right to do whatever someone wants to do.

Pursuit of Happiness:

Once the right to life is recognized and authentic liberty is honored, the right to pursue happiness is the next logical step. The right to pursue happiness is just tható a pursuit, not an expectation. Happiness does not just come; it is earned through hard work.

I contend that a functional, two-parent home and a sound education puts children on the surest trajectory to achieve the American Dream.

Statistically speaking, those born into a two-parent family have the greatest potential to achieve happiness, and by contrast those coming from a single-parent household are at a much higher risk of living in poverty. While only six percent of two-parent households live in poverty, approximately one third of households run by a single mother are below the poverty line.

Likewise, a childís education is vital to their socio-economic success later on. A shocking 40% of impoverished children are not prepared for primary schooling. Additionally, low income students between the ages of 16 and 24 are seven times more likely to drop out than those from families with higher incomes. Consequently, students with a poor educational background generally economic difficulty at rates much higher than their more educated peers.

My Solution

So if I served in a capacity to make sweeping policy impacts in inner city settings such as Detroit, how would I break the cycles of poverty, abuse, and crime? I think that is imperative to incorporate policies that align our founding principles.

In right to life matters, I would keep human dignity at the forefront of policymaking by celebrating new life and encouraging the family unit. I would instill policies that outlaw abortion and make the foster care and welfare systems more appealing.

Some would argue that contraceptive education incentives responsible parenting; however, I have concluded that contraception abets a use-and-abuse mentality, where men and women are perceived as objects rather than valued partners and potential parents. If women are objectified, so too will the children they carry. Statistics illustrate this very point. Ironically, as society has defaulted to a "contraceptive mindset," out-of-wedlock births and abortions have skyrocketed. In 1960 a mere 5.3 percent of American infants were born to single mothers. In 1990, the number grew to 64 percent of African American infants and 18 percent of Caucasian infants. With contraceptive use at a much greater height in 2012, however, over 40 percent of all American infants were born into the homes of single mothers. Case and point: contraception does not encourage a more stabile family unit, but more functional foster care and welfare system could.

In matters regarding the right to liberty, I would make sure people are encouraged to make lawful decisions by allowing rehabilitation access to incarcerated citizens. I would incorporate fellowship programs that promote a more intimate partnership between police and the community. I recognize that people make unlawful decisions because they perceive a glass celling, in which breaking the law is their only way to survive. That is where laws encouraging the pursuit of happiness come into play.

In order to make sure as many people are set on the best track to achieve the American Dream, I would encourage school of choice options, where a student can qualify to receive bussing services to a more quality school district if they have demonstrated a commitment to their academics. This would make school systems more competitive, and thus, teachers would be held more accountable for the students they guide. Additionally, I think it is key to encourage young people to internships. This would both expose students, new consumers, to a breadth of inner city businesses while also exposing youth to professional environments.

After college, I intend on returning to Detroit and encouraging our founding principles through adolescent development work. In particular, it is a great goal of mine to help restore the education system in Detroit.

Amidst this Fourth of July season, I bid a sincere "happy birthday" to the greatest nation on earth, and a reverential thank you to our military and their families for all the work they do to defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.