On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural speech in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” In essence, he challenged an entire nation and a generation to work for the good of the country, not to just take from the country.
Kennedy’s challenge can also be applied, in a small way, to our Greek-American communities scattered throughout this great land. The United States is the great melting pot, but America has allowed our immigrant citizens to not only become Americans, but to hold on to their ethnic identities, and the Greeks are no different from the other ethnic groups, except, that we are the descendants of the Ancient Hellenes whose ideals of democracy and freedom helped shape this nation from the start. Men such as Jefferson, Adams, Henry, Otis, Franklin, and others knew well to look to Ancient Greece to “form a more perfect union,” as stated in the Preamble of our United States Constitution.
On March 25, Greece and all Greeks throughout the diaspora will celebrate Greek Independence Day with parades, ποιήματα, speeches, dance performances, and church services. It is when Greeks, those of Greek heritage, and Phil-Hellenes celebrate being Greek and what our Hellenic identity stands for. We honor those that fought for freedom in 1821, such as Kolokotronis, Karaiskakis, Ypsilantis, Byron, and others, and those that continued the fight for Macedonian freedom in 1912, such as Pavlos Melas. We also honor those that continue the fight for freedom or justice in Northern Epirus, Cyprus, the Halki Seminary, the Pontian Genocide, and the Macedonian Issue.
Here in the greater Philadelphia area, known as the Delaware Valley, over 40 Greek-American societies and Greek Orthodox Churches come together through the Federation of Hellenic American Societies and Greek Orthodox Churches, simply referred to as the “Federation.” For over 50 years, the Federation has sponsored the Greek Independence Parade, which now heads down Benjamin Franklin Parkway and culminating near the famous steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It is a majestic view looking down the Parkway and seeing the thousands of marchers with their fluttering American and Greek flags, decorated floats, and blue and white banners of all sizes, silhouetted by the Center City skyline and the statute of William Penn atop historic Philadelphia City Hall overlooking the City of Brotherly Love. If any city deserves a Greek Independence Parade, it is Philadelphia, the birth of our nation and its ties to Greece.
We are all proud Hellenes, especially during this time of the year, but although the Parade is grand and many come out to participate, others simply stay home. Excuses such as, “It’s too cold,” “It’s too hot,” “My kids don’t want to go anymore,” “No parking,” “It’s too expensive,” “It’s a long day,” and the most popular, “I don’t have time,” are exclaimed just as much or as loud as shouts of “Zito H Ellas” and “Zito H Ameriki” that are heard along the parade route.
Are the members of the Federation, its delegates, the planners, the marchers, and participants independently wealthy or have no lives? Don’t they have jobs? Don’t they have families? Don’t they have “other” things to do? Are we not all busy?
We applaud those that brave the cold, the heat, the wind, the parking, the long day, and taking time from their busy schedules to march and participate in the Independence Celebration. We applaud the officers and members of the Federation who plan almost a year in advance to put on the parade. But, for those of you that give excuses, what have you done for your community?
For those of you with excuses, is it too much to ask for just a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon? Isn’t this the perfect opportunity to come out to our great city of Philadelphia, see and support the Parade, have dinner at one of our Greek restaurants in and around the City, celebrate Greek Independence Day, and spend time with your family? Believe me, your children and grandchildren will one day tell their children, “When I was a small kid, I remember being dressed like an Evzone, marching down Benjamin Franklin Parkway with my grandparents shouting out, ‘Zito H Ellas’ and my grandfather looking at me with such pride and having the biggest smile on his face!” Will your children and grandchildren have those memories?
If each of us thinks the other person will handle it and we don’t have time to get involved, soon the Parade and the Federation will sink into the black hole and it will be gone, and then, people will complain, “It’s a shame we don’t have a parade like we did when I was a kid.”
Will you answer the challenge and come out to the March 25th Greek Independence Parade this year to support the Federation and our Greek-American community, or will you be the one that complains in the years to come that it is a shame we no longer have a parade?
Go Blue, and see everyone this Sunday. Zito H Ellas! Zito H Ameriki!