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Symbols matter

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BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

I was 15 years old when I stepped into the halls of Little Rock Central High School in 1998. Attending that historic school as a young black man was a surreal experience that both informed my identity and illuminated regrettable aspects and actions in our nation's history and culture.

Central High is also where I met and became friends with Clarke Tucker, a man I have been honored to serve with the last four years in the state legislature. Then, at Central, and now, in the legislature, Tucker has been a leader on tough issues that often do not have easy answers.

One of these issues has plagued our country since its founding, and that is the issue of race in our society. Racism continues to pervade our culture today in blatant ways, such as white supremacist rallies, and also in more subtle ways, like implicit biases.

Racism is a difficult subject for us to talk about, especially here in Arkansas; people often say, "Oh you're just using the race card" when I bring it up. But I have to bring it up. I am the type of person that when I see something, I say something.

But it can't just be me. It can't just be someone of my background, someone who looks like me. If we are going to change the perception and dialogue around the issue of race, we have to have allies step up and not only be a part of that conversation, but help drive that conversation.

That is why I am fortunate and proud to have a partner like Clarke Tucker to lead with on this matter.

I've heard Tucker speak out on this issue numerous times over many years. I remember his speech in 1999 as a student at Central High School, commemorating the Little Rock Nine. I've heard him speak to the issue with our colleagues in the legislature, whether around separating Robert E. Lee from the MLK holiday or recognizing and taking action on the racial biases in our criminal justice system. And I've read the guest column that appears in this issue of the Times.

I commend Tucker for his thoughtful words on the matter. He has managed to balance always standing with your family, even at the times when they are wrong, but still doing what is right over what is personally comfortable, convenient or expedient. If you look for racism in the history of the South, you will find it, likely in the history of every family. If every family today had a leader like Tucker, doing the right thing even when it is tough, then we would all have bright hopes for a collective future.

I do agree with the stance Tucker has taken. It is time for us to pursue putting up new statues in the U.S. Capitol that represent Arkansas. If we truly want to create progress on this issue, we must come to these conversations with an open mind, a humble attitude and a sincere motivation to do what is right. Like Tucker, I believe that a member of the Little Rock Nine would be an exceptional choice as a monument in the U.S. Capitol.

To me, words matter, symbols matter, and yes, monuments matter. So, this is a step we can and should take to show tangible evidence of change we can create by working together on a common goal. As Tucker will no longer be in the Arkansas Legislature next year, I look forward to moving this conversation forward in the 2019 legislative session with colleagues who have this shared interest and a sincere motivation to do what is right.

State Rep. Charles J. Blake of Little Rock is the Democratic House Minority Leader.

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