These Truths: A Call to Discomfort
Truth is, these days are hard. In addition to our daily struggles, we are battling two pandemics. The first pandemic, COVID-19, has been a collective struggle for months, ravaging communities, economies, and social structures. The other is systemic racism, which has been a deep-rooted struggle for centuries in the U.S. It, too, has ravaged our nation.
While COVID-19 has exhausted our collective energies, racism and racial injustice has suffocated our fundamental ideals. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America laid out a bold, aspirational claim: “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.”
These self-evident truths were not held up for Ahmaud Arbery when he was gunned down while exercising his unalienable right to jog in a public space. These truths were not held up for Trayvon Martin when he was fatally shot while exercising his unalienable right to walk home. These truths were not held up for Breonna Taylor when she was killed while exercising her unalienable right to sleep in her home. These truths were not held up for George Floyd while exercising his unalienable right to be innocent until proven guilty when he suffocated to death while pinned to the ground by a law enforcement officer’s knee on his neck for nine minutes. The story of these truths not being held up occurs on a daily basis in our country. As a Black man in America, I, unfortunately, face the discernibly real possibility that any day may be my last, simply because someone decided to deny me these self-evident truths.
“I yearn to see other chief executives throughout the nation follow suit, so that as a people we may hasten the elimination of barbarism as a tool of American justice.” These words were spoken by Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller in 1970. He was referring to the barbarism of capital punishment, but his words also apply to the barbarism of police brutality. I, like Governor Rockefeller, yearn to see other chief executives follow suit and call for the end of barbarism as a tool of “American everything.”
As a Christian, I look to the Bible for guidance and understanding at all times, especially in hard times. The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verse 17, is simple and straightforward, and reminds us to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed,” I do not need much more than that. As a preacher’s kid and minister, I will pray because I believe in the power of prayer. As a planner and engineer, I will work to design new systems that work better for everyone. As a member of the human family, I will hurt with those who are hurting. With all that, I will seek justice and defend the oppressed with every breath I have because that is what the Bible tells me to do.
If this makes you uncomfortable, great. It makes me uncomfortable also. Staying in our comfort zones will not make our society or world any better. Working together, pushing through the discomfort, will.
At the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, we are committed to pushing through the discomfort. If we cannot move beyond our discomfort, we cannot truly fulfill our mission of “improving the lives of Arkansans by inspiring innovation and expanding opportunities.” We have a diverse and inclusive staff, and yet there is more that we can and will do because in the final analysis, our actions will speak louder than any words.
This work cannot be done alone.
If you understand that it is time to “learn how to do right”, and taking action, here are a few examples to follow:
- At the societal level, take a look at Ben & Jerry’s public statement.
- At the corporate or institutional level, start with the statements by University of Arkansas—Pulaski Technical College Chancellor, Dr. Margaret Ellibee, and Best Buy CEO, Corie Barry.
- As an individual, you reflect on the words of the Central Arkansas Library Executive Director, Nate Coulter.
- Some have even decided to make substantive financial statements like Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank.
As we engage in this work, I encourage you to hear the words of two great Arkansans, Maya Angelou and Winthrop Rockefeller.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill, of things unknown, but longed for still, and his tune is heard on the distant hill, for the caged bird sings of freedom.”—Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing
“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I… a moment subject to special scrutiny… laden with special challenges… and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.” —Winthrop Rockefeller, Inaugural Address
Stay safe. Stay Sane.
Dr. Christopher Jones, Executive Director
Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub