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Good anger

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Recently, I attended a training session with the Little Rock Organizing Committee, an alliance of churches, schools, unions and other organizations concerned with social justice. The three-day workshop was essentially a crash course in community organizing. There were multiple lessons, but the biggest benefit to me was learning that anger is not always bad.

For years I have said, "I don't get mad." I used the same logic as President Bill Clinton's uncle, who Clinton once said told him, "If someone makes you angry, then they are trying to prevent you from thinking." On those same logical lines, I believed that anger was a useless emotion. I was misinformed. The training session taught me that societal anger could be productive. It is productive when we understand that anger can motivate us to act to bring about sustained and systematic change in our community.

After attending the workshop, I thought about the societal issues that anger me. Two immediately came to mind: public education and guns.

I'm a proud Little Rock McClellan High School alum, and I will say it every chance I get. Recently, the suspension of an assistant principal has been reported in local news and social media. In addition, charter school advocates, particularly Arkansas Learns, continue to belittle McClellan with the hopes of adding steam to the charter school train. I'm not buying it; you shouldn't either.

McClellan was exactly what I needed to become who I am today. Despite challenges, McClellan is still providing educational and extracurricular opportunities for kids who look like me. McClellan is the only school in the Little Rock School District to host a college fair for historically black colleges and universities. McClellan is home to the only LRSD team to make it to the high school football playoffs and will play in the state championship game Dec. 2. In addition, there are a number of alumni who are invested in McClellan and the students it serves. In October, there was Lion Pride cleanup day. In 2018, the Friends and Alumni of McClellan will kick off its annual scholarship drive for graduates of McClellan (and the new high school when it opens). It should anger us when only the negative stories and statistics are shared and tweeted. Our anger is not necessarily bad, if we can use it to motivate us to promote and support the good news about our public schools.

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Hutchinson tweeted a picture of himself holding a gun with the statement "As Arkansas's Governor, I have and will protect EVERY part of the Second Amendment!" My immediate reaction: I do not understand the fascination with guns. Then I thought, is the Second Amendment unprotected? I also began to reflect on how I used to subscribe to and perpetuate the gun reality. Years ago, I started law school with the sole desire to obtain a degree to legitimize myself, so I could be the first black statewide elected official in the state of Arkansas. With that in mind, after I started my law practice, I wanted my partners to invite me to go hunting. I planned to become a serviceable hunter because I envisioned being pictured in a campaign ad in a camouflage jacket with a rifle similar to the one tweeted by Hutchinson. I truly felt that was an essential part of the political process. Despite knowing that my life experiences were vastly different than most Arkansas politicians, I still accepted this political reality. I thought that as a black man I needed to make myself "relatable" to white people who are gun advocates. Ten years later, I'm more concerned about our politicians toting guns and manufacturing a fabricated "assault" on gun rights in campaign ads. Apparently, Hutchinson's tweet went unnoticed because it is just the way "we do things." However, I'm no longer buying the standard narrative and you shouldn't either. Our society should be angered by the singular focus on gun rights. We should use our anger to motivate us to inform Hutchinson to protect all of our rights and work to improve areas like education and health care.

To paraphrase the famous philosopher David Hume*, "reason is a slave to passion." Our passions influence what we believe is reasonable. I'm hopeful that our individual passions develop into societal anger that motivates all of us to change the conversation about public education and guns.

Antwan Phillips is a lawyer with the Wright Lindsey Jennings firm.

*A previous version of this column mistakenly attributed a quote to Thomas Hume, rather than David Hume.


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