The Firefighter Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund Website

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Brandon Bloecker:
2015 Winner
FDNY Engine 307

Brandon Bloecker

Winning Essay

In schools across the nation, students recite the pledge of allegiance; “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Throughout our nation’s history we have seen our country divided about what ‘justice for all’ really means. To me, the ‘Justice for all’ portion of the pledge of allegiance means that every American citizen has the right to be equally and fairly treated under the laws of the United States. Every American citizen who recites and believes the pledge of allegiance reinforces his or her commitments to upholding and supporting those basic American values. Our nation was formed largely because its people, under British rule, were not being treated fairly. They broke away from British rule because of reasons including unfair taxation with no representation. Our founding fathers ensured that these values would be protected via the United States Constitution and the various articles of the Bill of Rights. Our government was formed into three branches; executive, legislative, and judicial. It is the judicial branch, through our system of courts that exists to guarantee fairness under the law.

Throughout our history there have been many conflicts and challenges to our individual rights. Starting from the birth of our nation our citizens faced the conflict of certain individuals being denied their basic human rights. Slavery in North America dates back to colonial days under British rule. During this time, slavery mostly involved African people and people of African descent who were brought to America as a part of the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves were not treated fairly at all; they were auctioned off as property, tortured, whipped and forced to work under unsuitable working conditions. As our country grew, the northern states and southern states became increasingly divided on economic and social issues. The northern states established abolitionist laws which worked toward ending slavery in the north. In the south, the economy was heavily reliant on the cotton and agricultural industry and depended on slave labor to tend crops. The north had many disputes with the south which eventually led to the Civil War. The north won the war and slavery was officially abolished across the nation by the thirteenth amendment of the constitution. African Americans were now free and not considered property. Although they were now considered citizens they were still not treated equally.

In the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson, the decision was made that all segregated public facilities must be equal; creating the term “separate but equal.” Another landmark United States Supreme Court case was Brown vs. Board of Education. This case was won by Brown and it declared that separate public schools for white and black students were unconstitutional. This case was brought to trial because black schools got very little funding and were not equal to white schools. This then lead to the Little Rock Crisis. The Little Rock Crisis was when a group of nine African American students enrolled at Little Rock Central High school. They were known as the Little Rock Nine. The students were initially prevented from entering the school by orders of the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus. The ruling of the Brown vs. Board of Education case declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and by law formerly segregated whites-only schools would have to begin to allow African American students to enroll. The mayor of Little Rock asked President Eisenhower to have federal troops escort the Little Rock Nine, he agreed and they were escorted into the school.

In the early 1950’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. started his nonviolent civil rights movement. He was inspired by Gandhi and his successful nonviolent protests in India such as the Salt March. Dr. King is remembered famously for his “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963. In his speech he said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This reinforces to me that all people should be treated fairly under the law and without prejudice.

African Americans are not the only group of people that have fought for equal rights in our country. The demand for women’s rights started to gain support in the 1840’s. In 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention was held, the first women’s rights convention. At the convention they passed a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage, some believed that this was too extreme. Following many failed attempts to grant women the right to vote, finally in 1920 after a hard fought series of votes and nonviolent protests and rallies in Congress, the nineteenth amendment became a part of the United States constitution. It states that the right of citizens to vote will not be affected by their sex.

During World War II, the United States was attacked by Japan at our naval base in Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in President Franklin D. Roosevelt deporting over 110,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. This resulted in unfair discrimination against a particular group of Americans due to stereotyping based on the actions of a foreign government. We see a similar situation in a more recent event being 9/11. After the attack on the World Trade Center, there have been some cases of Arab Americans and Muslims being unfairly discriminated against due to stereotyping and prejudice stemming from society generalizing a large group of people based on the acts of a smaller group of Islamic extremists.

Despite the advancements we have made since colonial times, we see that racial conflict still exists in today’s America. The shooting of Trayvon Martin is one example. Martin was walking home from a convenience store through a neighborhood which had recently experienced several robberies. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, began to follow Martin. They confronted each other, an altercation took place and Martin was shot in the chest. This sparked marches, rallies, and protests across the country. A national debate began about racial profiling and self defense laws. Many people believed that this was a hate crime and he was shot just because he was African American. Another situation similar to this was the shooting of Michael Brown. Michael Brown was an 18 year old unarmed African American who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Shortly before the shooting Brown allegedly robbed a convenience store, and Wilson was not identified by police dispatch of his description. Wilson found Brown walking and tried to stop him but Brown fled. An altercation ensued, Wilson was injured and Brown was shot and killed. The tragic result caused racial tension between the predominately black community and law enforcement. Some people believed that this was another example of a hate crime because the police officer, Darren Wilson was white and Michael Brown was black. In reaction to this perception many people engaged in violent protests by looting and vandalizing community. Media coverage of the events unfolding seemed to sensationalize the violence and ultimately added to the looting and arson. Racial tensions were high. Some weeks later a grand jury heard the case and after examining all the facts and witnesses testimony concluded that police officer Darren Wilson was not at fault, further fueling racial tensions.

Yet another conflict that our nation divides our nation is the issue of gay rights and same sex marriage. Homosexuals have a long history of oppression and discrimination in this country. To this day many people keep their sexual orientation a secret from the rest of society in fear of physical abuse and backlash they might receive from their family and community. Marriage between same sex couples was illegal throughout the country until 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it. Currently it has been legalized in 37 states. Those who believe that same sex marriage should be legalized should continue to exercise their right to free speech via peaceful protests. And those who oppose for religious or other reasons are entitled to their opinion and should demonstrate their views with the same actions, and let the courts make the final decision.

Throughout our history we have faced many challenges. Working to resolve the conflicts and injustices that exist in our society through education and understanding continues to bring us together and strengthen our nation. We are blessed and fortunate as Americans to live in a country that allows its people to effect change in its policies. Our democracy is not perfect but we continuously work to improve it. Our nation has gotten to where it is today through the suffering and sacrifice of many Americans who fought tirelessly, often paying with their lives, for justice and equal rights under the law. The often heard phrase “freedom isn’t free” rings true today as much as it has in our past. To be a successful nation that protects liberty and justice for all we must be able to exercise our right to free speech and protest peacefully if necessary while obeying the rule of law and maintaining faith in our judicial system.

Biography

We would like to wish Brandon Bloecker the best of luck moving on to Nassau Community College. Congratulations!

My name is Brandon Bloecker. I grew up on Long Island in Old-Bethpage with my parents, Lynn and Al and my three older brothers, Kyle, Travis and Jesse. I am very grateful and proud to be another recipient in my family to be awarded the Christopher Santora Scholarship. My mom works as an interior designer and my dad is the Captain of Engine 307 in Jackson Heights, Queens. I will be graduating from Plainview-Old-Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School this year and attending Nassau Community College in the fall.

My parents have always encouraged me to take advantage of all the opportunities that high school has to offer, in both sports and academics. I’ve been interested in the STEM curriculum and took AP Environmental Science this year. I enjoy the challenge of competitive sports. Throughout my years in school I have played a variety of sports and I am currently a member of the U-17 Plainview-Old-Bethpage travel soccer club. I have been with the same team since the beginning of middle school, and we are now playing our final year together. I have also been a member of my high schools cross-country team, winter track, and spring track teams for all of my four years in high school. I also play club hockey, intramural basketball and enjoy snowboarding in winter. Since my freshman year in high school I have been working part time at night and weekends as a server at our neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts shop to help save for college and other expenses.

In college I am going to be majoring in Electrical Engineering Technology. I plan to focus on computer design and the use of the CAD program. I have always had an interest in computers and I have a strong passion for design.

I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Santora for establishing the Christopher Santora Educational Scholarship Fund in honor of their son Christopher. Their years of hard work and generosity along with their family, friends and benefactors have helped me and many other students pursue a college education. Christopher’s legacy of selflessness and passion to follow his dreams has inspired me to pursue my interests and reach my goals in life.

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