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America will move forward as ‘We the People’ work together

Our American Republic stands unique among all others throughout history, built on the fundamental beliefs of freedom and equality.

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Congressional candidate Burgess Owens listens as Donald Trump Jr. speaks to volunteers at Colonial Flag in Sandy on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As I stood on the floor of the U.S. House chamber for the first time on January 3rd, I found myself reflecting on the profound differences that a few generations can make.

My great-great-grandfather, Silas Burgess, was brought to America as a child in the belly of a slave ship. He died a successful and respected entrepreneur. 

My grandfather, Oscar Kirby, served our country in World War I. He had 12 children, all of whom graduated from college and entered the explosive 1950s and ‘60s Black middle class. He died a successful and respected farmer.

My father, Clarence Burgess Owens Sr., fought for democracy abroad in World War II, ultimately leaving the Jim Crow South that limited post-graduate education for Black Americans. He died a successful and respected professor, researcher and entrepreneur.

Like countless millions of others, my ancestors worked through tremendous challenges to experience the American Dream and live successful, productive lives.

Our American Republic stands unique among all others throughout history, built on the fundamental beliefs of freedom and equality. Civility, compassion and respect for our fellow man are principles that have helped shape American greatness.

The horrendous, unimaginable event that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th is a jarring display of the vast erosion of civility in our public discourse. The deadly riot has shaken the country to its core, and such violence and lawlessness are condemnable.

I am thankful for the courage shown by our Capitol Police and law enforcement officials, who fought to protect our Capitol. My heart breaks for the lives that were tragically lost, and my prayers remain with those who were injured.

Americans are deeply disturbed by the growing partisan divide and the rancorous environment emanating from Washington, D.C., that is continuously stoked on social media. They want this behavior to end, and they want their elected representatives to stop fighting and get back to work.

As a former athlete, I frequently draw on the many life lessons that I learned from competing alongside teammates. We all came from different backgrounds and beliefs, but we united behind a common goal and commitment to teamwork, full effort and mutual respect.

At our best, Americans work together to take on challenges and opportunities to accomplish important goals. We contribute ideas, and though we might not always agree, we work towards the common ground we share. That approach has served Americans well at every level of community and country.

The most beneficial policy outcomes for our nation have occurred when Congress works together and conducts its business with mutual respect even at times of disagreement. The cause of our discord will fade into history, but how we resolve disagreement will forever be remembered. These principles reflect that all of us — Republicans, Democrats and Independents — are teammates and, as Americans, wear the same jersey.

The shocking event in Washington has sounded an alarm to bring about a new environment dedicated to civility and a more genuine commitment to unity. Congress must play its role as national leaders to set a better tone. These times also call for greater introspection from all of us. While it is important for Congress to set an example, the true change must start with We the People.

As I go to work in this Congress, it is with a firm commitment to protect and advance the priorities important to the Fourth District. There will be times of disagreement with colleagues in my party and across the aisle — but I’ll always conduct those situations with civility, mutual respect and in a manner that is befitting of the good people I represent. 

Our country has steep challenges ahead — health care, education, poverty and an economy rocked by a global pandemic.

The people of Utah’s Fourth District sent me to Washington to represent them, to get important work done for their lives, and the American people. I take that responsibility deeply to heart and vow to do my part as a leader, father and man of faith to put this country and our people first.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”

We should heed the wise words of Dr. King and step confidently into our future, unafraid of the heavy lift, and optimistic for what we can accomplish when we are united. America has been a “shining city upon a hill” for people across the globe, and she will continue as a beacon of hope and light for all as We the People submit to “the better angels of our nature.”

Burgess Owens represents Utah’s Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.