On Independence Day, Rely on Others

"Diamonds are freedom, independence, schools, jobs, hospitals and roads. They are the catalyst to a strong, self-reliant future for Africa. They are development diamonds, not blood diamonds."

These are the words of Serwalo Tumelo, Botswana's secretary of finance and development, whom I met last week while I was on an extraordinary tour of Africa as a Youth AIDS Ambassador.

The information was a fulfilling and welcome relief from the usual news that crosses my desk and laptop every day. The important, heavy stuff: Jessica Simpson and John Mayer broke up; Lindsay is in rehab, Britney is out of rehab; Nicole is not eating, or pregnant.

These mundane issues have evaporated from my consciousness: no thoughts of hemlines and red carpets.

Diamonds don't just represent Hollywood glamour or a token of love on an anniversary -- they are much more than that. They are the economic fuel needed to build a strong, independent infrastructure for culturally and environmentally rich yet economically underdeveloped countries.

No matter where you travel, you realize that different countries, people and cultures have certain inherent needs and desires that are the same.

Sheila Khama, the CEO of De Beers, Botswana, attended school under a tree when she was a young girl. She recalled to me her thirst for knowledge, her desire to better herself and the fact that she was not alone in this quest for independence, intellect and happiness that is rooted in freedom and consciousness.

As I journeyed across the cradle of civilization, feeling oh-so Angelina, Brad and Madonna on chartered planes, I was eager to learn about the plight of children who had been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, and to understand and experience this continent.

What I realized is how much we take for granted every day. Freedom and a future are not guaranteed to everyone. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, JFK, RFK or even Paris Hilton could attest to, they should not be taken for granted. (I can not believe I just used those names in a single sentence without a punchline.)

Unfortunately the only freedom Paris was fighting for was her own, and her big civil rights issues were that she hated orange jumpsuits and would not be able to shop or party for 23 days. Thanks to the media circus that Paris has devoted her life to, we have witnessed that even a calculating, vapid heiress is human and dependent on her family -- not just for funds, but for love…and a hug from her mother.

No matter how independent, aloof and pious she appears, once shackled and sentenced, she cried like a sick child in Soweto, a homeless migrant worker in Haiti.

Or like Myrlie Evers when her husband Medgar was shot and killed in the civil rights movement of the '60s.

Born on the Fourth of July, 1776, was America's sovereignty. Our forefathers proclaimed "all men are created equal," but some 190 years later, a great number of Americans were still fighting for that equality. And that fight was not confined to our shores.

In the 1960s a wind blew through the consciousness of society across the globe. There was a new awareness, an awakening of spirit, a collective yearning from people of all races to stand up and be counted, and not be judged by their skin color. King, Mandela, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy.

Where would we be without those heroes who made great sacrifices so we could live the American Dream? And are we so egocentric to think that dream only exists in the United States?

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