It is a great pleasure to greet you and welcome you today to the Eleventh Annual Conference on Racial Attitudes in Pulaski County. There are persons here who have attended the conference every year. There are persons here for the first time. Whether you are a veteran or a newcomer, I am grateful for your presence.
The issue of race is big and important and deserves your time and attention.
At the outset I want to recognize:
–Dr. Hunter Bacot and the UALR Institute of Government,
–Dr. Michael Twyman and the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity, and
–Dr. Michael Pakko, State Economic Forecaster in the UALR Institute for Economic Advancement for all of their their good work to ensure another year with valuable data collection and discussion.
Moral darkness will descend over a people without the bright light of truth. It is so gratifying to be in a place this morning where there are so many individuals, and so many community influentials—civic, religious, educational, business leaders—who have been and are committed to shatter the darkness and let through the bright light of truth.
Hence the role of the university, an anchor institution, a leader institution, in a community. Your university—the University of Arkansas at Little Rock—has committed to being a keeper of the flame on the issue of race. This annual survey and conference manifest that leadership role.
The university can provide good information on a sensitive issue. The university is doing that today. The university can provide a safe place for discussing sensitive issues. The university, more specifically the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity and the UALR Institute of Government, are doing that today—on the ugliest, most persistent, most deeply-rooted problem and barrier to progress that our community and our state face.
We do this with the conviction that people of good will, with good information, can make progress on even the most difficult of issues.
“Leave It Alone”
Today many people believe either that there is no longer a problem, or, if there is still a problem, time is taking care of it and we should leave it alone.
I would submit that that is an example of moral darkness. If time is taking care of it, then the cure is much too slow and will leave many minority citizens to continue to suffer disadvantage for centuries to come, and that would just be wrong.
Let’s consider two Arkansas communities. Little Rock Central High School was desegregated in 1957. Yes it was a big step forward. But in 2014, 57 years later, the Little Rock Nine have grandchildren, and race remains a difficult issue in Little Rock’s schools and a complicating factor in the life of our city. Harrison, one of the infamous “sundown towns,” is known for its race riots in 1905. Today, 109 years later, dedicated citizens there are working to overcome a history of racial fear and bigotry in the life of that city.
As these two examples make clear, if time is a cure, then we are obliged to speed the clock.
That is one reason UALR established the Institute on Race and Ethnicity. Our Director, Dr. Michael R. Twyman, is attending his first UALR Racial Attitudes Conference today.
Money, Class, and Opportunity
Regarding money, class, and opportunity, may I brag a bit?
UALR can give evidence that partnering with business leaders can work to help address inequality in opportunity for minority businesses. During our last phase of building projects on campus, we worked with Bob East and Van Tilbury at East Harding Construction to ensure that minority-owned businesses were seriously included in the bidding process.
The construction industry is a prime example of an industry where is hard to break into the system and be considered for bids for major projects. But because someone within the system—East Harding, with the university as a strong partner—made a conscious effort to reach out and help those who needed access, 16 minority and women-owned business received contracts for two major projects.
They were not given special consideration or a pass, but simply an opportunity to come and play on the same field. I strongly commend Bob East and Van Tilbury, along with David Millay and Bob Adams at UALR, for their commitment to this endeavor.
I am pleased that with the focus on money, class, and opportunity, this year’s survey addresses some aspects of the economics of race, a big subject.
Family income is one important piece:
A high family income does not prevent divorce and the break-up of homes, or the neglect of children, or domestic violence. But with poverty-level income the odds do go up that family members will suffer such adverse events, and the children will not have the advantages of family stability, good health, and a good education. I think particularly of the children because they pass on their problems to the next generation.
We have in this country created a vast economic and social under-class whose members suffer poverty and too frequent incarceration. That underclass includes disproportionate numbers of minorities—African Americans and an increasing number of Latinos. We will not, here today, unravel all of the ins and outs of this phenomenon, of this vast underclass. But the survey, along with Dr. Michael Pakko’s presentation and the panel discussion, will shed light on some pieces of the puzzle and on how some important economic factors fall out across Latinos, African Americans, and whites.
I have a hunch we will be disappointed, even unhappy, about some of the things our survey tells us. We would prefer a different picture. If so, if we are disappointed, or unhappy, or wish the survey painted a different picture, that will be okay. As I say every year at this conference, you have to face it to fix it.