I believe that it is possible that, in the annals of time — should our republic survive this period in history — America will be revealed to be the hollow, shallow shell of what the experiment was meant to be. The kids from Parkland, Florida are proving that it was and should always be the government of the people, by the people, for the people, and not the people with the most money.
But I think that America stopped being that place when we refused to acknowledge that this country was built on the backs of slave labor, and we decided that there would be no accountability for that. We stopped living up to that ideal when we began to delude ourselves that this nation had a manifest destiny to lead the world, but there would be no repercussions for slavery. That lie we told ourselves — that no accountability was and no repercussions were necessary — was the beginning of the downward slide to where we are now.
Just take the original gun control movement: It was white people trying to keep firearms out of the hands of people of color who has once been enslaved. The issues of guns, and the militia, the incarceration of black people and even whose deaths have prompted a response in the current opioid crisis, all of these issues have the same root cause: America's insistence that whiteness was law.
But the sooner we acknowledge our imperfections as a nation, the more chance we have of surviving this turbulent period in our history.
Look at David Hogg, one of the Parkland kids: He's acknowledged that there are racial disparities in how these shootings are covered, and said that he and his fellow students need to use their white privilege to bring attention to the people of color who have been subjected to similar violence who have been ignored. This kid gets it; he understands America.
People of color in this country, in this culture, tend to not matter as much as those who are white; that is the truth of America. In the Black Lives Matter movement, young black people have been shouting from the rooftops until their voices are raw and hoarse, and America hasn't listened. But now that it's white kids who are shouting at the tops of their lungs, people pay attention.
We're in deep trouble in this country, and the Parkland kids know it. When we're willing to sacrifice our children on the altar of guns and a special interest lobby, we've sold our souls, and that's the truth. We have sold our souls, and these kids aren't having it.
The denial runs deep in this country. We are willing to say the sky is purple, and believe the sky is purple, when in fact we know it's blue — for profit, for power, for personal gain, for the feeling of being right or superior. None of those are good reasons to stand by and allow children to be killed and slaughtered.
Look at what's going on in Washington: We have a man in the Oval Office who seems to have no character and no moral compass, and a Congress that has turned a blind eye to all of that. If we can't be real about the nature of the character of the president of the United States, and Congress's complicity in looking the other way, it's hard not to ask what hope there is for all of us.
I'm an eternal optimist, though: I think that anything is possible, including that America might acknowledge its imperfections. The probability that we do is up for grabs.
But, there's a lot that I find inspirational in the Parkland kids. The idea that they have taken ownership of this issue and their lives, and the lives of their peers. The idea that they haven't just taken ownership, but taken action in an era where my generation has absolutely failed.
I'm proud that spirit upon which this country was initially founded still exists somewhere in our psyche, because most of the rest of us have lost our way. We are in uncharted territory. I don't know what happens next, but I'm sure glad that these kids are standing up and speaking out.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.
LeVarBurton is an actor, director and educator. He hosts the podcast LeVar Burton Reads and the founder of LeVar Burton Kids, which is "aimed at promoting critical thinking and inspiring kids' curiosity" and offers the children's app Skybrary.