Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. On his day, let’s stop and reflect on the value of embracing diversity in people.
So what comes to mind as we consider this topic?
In particular, it causes one to reflect on the young African American boy that our grandfather brought home because his family couldn’t afford to feed and take care of the young boy. As our father grew up, he and this young man played one-on-one basketball and Dad said, this young African American, who ate every meal with the family and lived in the detached garage, beat Dad in those one-on-one match-ups most days. Our father was fortunate to get to play basketball on a scholarship at Ouachita. As I recall, I was about a third grader when one of us asked our father where this young African American played in college. He said, “Well he didn’t, African American’s weren’t allowed to attend these colleges.” That never made sense then and it certainly doesn’t today. The good news is this young man went on to have a distinguished career in the railroad and was one of the first African Americans to secure a brick home in Banks, Ar.
Fast forward to three African American friendships we developed over the years, beginning on the basketball court, and each of whom attended or graduated from the University of Arkansas, Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Almer Lee.
- We think of the 2011 book Sidney Moncrief wrote titled Your Passport to Re-inventing You, a very helpful and thought provoking book. And we think of the fortunate players of the Milwaukee Bucks that he now coaches. We think of how he always treated us equal even when he was and remains a star in many of our eyes. Sidney has always been willing to be helpful for good causes and willing to reach out to people, when asked, when they needed help or inspiration. We can remember a recent event when Sidney was kind enough to call and inspire Jim Hanna, when Jim’s health had deteriorated and he lay in the hospital with a broken hip.
- We think of how in 2011 Ron Brewer, the father of some wonderful children, took on the coaching responsibilities of a 4th grade girls basketball team and serving as his assistant, learning firsthand how fortunate the Mighty Blue Devils were to receive Coach Brewer’s incredible basketball knowledge and way to play the game and kind regards for his players. And we forecast that Devon, and maybe others, who had never played on a team before, will become a great junior high and high school girls basketball player. And isn’t Ronnie Brewer an amazing young man in the way he handles, effectively, his current fame?!
- We think of Almer Lee, who joined my brother and me Saturday night after the Arkansas Razorback game when we stopped to toast to Integration and Martin Luther King. Again, when Almer was a star he treated this slow Caucasian basketball player equally and respectfully. Today, Almer is a productive co-worker of one of Arkansas’ state agencies and he continues to brighten people’s lives with his sharp and entertaining personality and yes, sometimes by breaking out into song that we all love to hear and enjoy. One more thing about Almer, he led the way as an African American at both Fort Smith Northside and the University of Arkansas by being the first African American to play basketball at each. We tend to forget what an awesome responsibility this was! Almer was graceful and respectful and a class act during this “no less than heavy time!” In 2011, Almer joined Sidney and Ron by being inducted in to the Arkansas Hall of Honor.
Beyond these three African Americans and representing gender diversity:
- We think of Sarah Fennel, an inspiring 30 year old, who has dedicated her life to her nonprofit, Restore Humanity as she today is with the 15 children in the orphanage in Kenya that Restore Humanity operates as we strive to give these children the love, dignity and respect that they deserve. And we hope someday, that one or more of these children can receive college scholarships from an Arkansas college so that the best and brightest in that region can become better equipped to tackle the large challenges that exist in this region of Kenya and throughout the continent.
- We think of Jeannette Balleza, another inspiring 30 something year old, who is so brilliant and helps so many female entrepreneurs as they strive to get their organizations from start up to stability. We think of the helpful input Jeannette provides our CEO Forum II, among other things, on matters of diversity and technology.
- We think of Kelly Johnson, who is one of the valued leaders of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport and the fact that this year, Kelly serves as the Chairperson of an international organization, an international airport association. So Kelly will be travelling the globe this year as she demonstrates to the world how level headed and talented Northwest Arkansas leaders can be representing our region exceptionally.
That being said, we are not satisfied with the role we have played in helping give minorities the best opportunity to achieve success. We are not disappointed in efforts to date but we are not satisfied and we hope to do more to help minorities grow and prosper and help organizations benefit from having productive and insightful members of their team.
Meanwhile, we celebrate the successes and contributions of these six people as they took a road less traveled and for their brave efforts and rich contributions, we each benefit from having them as a part of our lives or organizations.
“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” Martin Luther King, Jr.