Almost 60 years ago to the year, I was one of a handful of African American students and student-athletes who enrolled to study at Eastern Kentucky State College. We were part of an educational "experiment" initiated by President Robert R. Martin, a visionary, a forward-thinking educator who had a sense of the future in this country and what was on the educational and racial horizon. I believe that the commonwealth of Kentucky and the country at large can declare that "experiment" a success.
As one of those early "pioneers" who proudly share in the collective legacy of achievement and growth of Eastern Kentucky University, I feel somewhat qualified to speak to the troublesome situations and racially charged activity we're currently witnessing in our country. Most Americans who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s and the subsequent legislation that came out of that struggle were justifiably optimistic that our country was well on its way to racial and economic parity for all its citizens. And, while slow but steady progress in that direction is being made, far too many people of color don't enjoy the full benefits of this nation's great bounty.
When severe circumstances, i.e. recessions, depressions, acts of God, those most vulnerable people who occupy the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder suffer the most. Most often, such individuals perform some of the most menial of our "essential" jobs -- jobs in the service industries. People on the "front lines," food service workers, postal workers, trash collectors, nursing home employees, child care center employees, including our firemen and policemen. Our first responders, EMT people, our dedicated nurses and doctors from the shield, our protection, our buffer between life and death, literally. These folks don't have the luxury of working from their computers at home.
Now, enter this dreaded COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the outbreak of violence surrounding the death of Mr. George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota, our nation's resiliency is being tested as never before. Our nation is comprised of people, individuals and families. We ARE this nation, and more precisely, what have we learned since those less enlightened times of the early '60s? Now is the time for American idealism, embodied in its people, to come to the fore, show itself to the world, exemplifying the promise(s) we've stood for since the birth as a nation.
Our beloved Richmond Madison Co., my "adopted" region, is located roughly 800 miles from the epicenter of the current violence in Minneapolis, Hennepin Co. What is our role, what should be our behavior in the wake of this national social unrest in the shadow of a deadly pandemic? You (we) are a progressive, fast growing city in central Kentucky with the distinction of being "home" to a well-known regional university and a city led by an African American mayor, a minister, one of our own.
It's within the strength of our diversity to stand together, united against racism in any form. We have an obligation to "call out" and identify the divisive elements who taint our legitimate and lawful protests against injustice, no matter where it exists.
The opportunities who loot and pillage serve no "good" purpose as people of conscience and goodwill still march toward fairness and equal justice under the law.
The opportunists distract us, becoming the 'shiny object' to divert our attention from the important legitimate task at hand. We've learned too much, come too far, to allow opportunists of any color to be highlighted in the news.
Together, we will prevent them from stealing the show from the vast collective majority of people who truly want to see justice for all.