A youth volleyball tournament required a visit to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. While we drove south on the interstate, the glow of buildings in the distance painted a shadowy skyline revealing what has become of this 341-year-old city.
Bruce Springsteen started singing in my head.
La, la, la; la, la, la; la, la, la….
Thirty years ago, a landmark movie was set in this city – Philadelphia is regarded as the first mainstream film about HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and discrimination. Its song – Streets of Philadelphia – played in my mind as we made our way downtown.
We ditched the car and hit the streets on foot. Immediately we encountered the homeless. Pungent aromas of marijuana and urine filled the air. Two men huddled in a corner, sharing a needle.
I was bruised and battered; I couldn’t tell what I felt. I was unrecognizable to myself. I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face. Oh brother, are you gonna leave me wastin’ away on the streets of Philadelphia?
We made our way to our hotel, our feet touching the same hallowed ground where our Founding Fathers tread in the summer of 1787, drafting our nation’s Constitution in the Pennsylvania State House.
I walked the avenue, ‘til my legs felt like stone. I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone. At night I could hear the blood in my veins. It was just as black and whispering as the rain on the streets of Philadelphia.
Checked in and settled, we felt compelled to explore. We saw flashing lights from police vehicles and a crowd on the street – there was a demonstration heading north on Broad Street. Several hundred people gathered to rally for transgender rights.
They yelled for equality and acceptance, their energy and enthusiasm echoing off the buildings in a display of First Amendment freedom to assembly.
Ain’t no angel gonna greet me, it’s just you and I, my friend. My clothes don’t fit me no more. I walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin.
Almost 250 years ago, there was another crowd in this city. They looked very different but likely shared the same energy and enthusiasm when the Liberty Bell was rung on July 8, 1776, during the first public reading of our country’s Declaration of Independence.
The famous words, largely written by a white male slave owner from Virginia and endorsed by other white men of means, demanded that “all men are created equal” and deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A decade later, many of these same men came together to draft the document that would “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Oh, America: We are so far from that “perfect union” today!
Have we fulfilled our Founding Fathers’ wishes? Are the Blessings of Liberty secured for all Americans?
Philadelphia helped birth American freedom – yet today it is plagued with challenges we see in landscapes across the country – crime, drugs, homelessness, disparity, intolerance, violence.
The night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake. I can feel myself fading away. So receive me, brother, with your faithless kiss or will we leave each other alone like this, on the streets of Philadelphia.
It’s 2023, and both The Boss and Tom Hanks have aged, but everything else in the Streets of Philadelphia music video looks like it was filmed recently.
Three decades ago, Bruce Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for the 1993 film Philadelphia, which also earned Tom Hanks his first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The song won Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Song Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television.
The message of the movie and the song resonated then and still does today – the triumph of justice, equality, fairness, love – even if that love looks different than something we know.
Today, my fellow Americans, can we find a way to come together, or will we continue to leave each other alone like this, isolated in an angry world?
Our Founding Fathers would want more from us.
Jennifer Sharpe is deputy editor of The Journal Record of Oklahoma City, a division of BridgeTower Media.