Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions but this year the 244th anniversary of our country’s birth feels different. Current events are weighing heavily on our minds and dominating our conversations too.

For the past three months we’ve been fighting a pandemic that’s upended life, brought new hardships and prematurely taken the lives of more than 6,000 Michiganders and 128,000-plus Americans. We’ve had to physically keep our distance from others, missed out on special events and family gatherings and the economy has taken a deep hit.

The senseless murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers last month plus the killing of other African Americans in this country sent protesters into the streets. Tough but necessary conversations are being had on how systemic racism still permeates this nation and what can be done to change that.

As a society, we’re frustrated. Spend any time on social media these days and that will quickly become apparent. Celebrations aren’t the first things on many peoples’ minds.

In the lead up to the 4th of July, you’ll likely hear that well-known and often quoted sentence from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s obvious that more than 240 years after those words were written we still have a long ways to go to ensure that everyone who calls America home is treated equally and can be assured of life and liberty in their pursuit of happiness.

So let’s light the sparklers, invite everybody to the party and resolve to make this country a more just and safe place for us and our fellow Americans.