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OPINION: When the Need to Change Meets Commitment: A Call to Action

“The world won't be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything” - Albert Einstein

Dyer headshot There are periods in our shared American history when time itself seems to pivot. When, for inexplicable reasons, a person just feels like time has been divided; that there will be a past previous to this moment and a new, unknown future after, but that the status quo of times gone by is no more.

I’ve labored over whether to comment publicly on the death of George Floyd and the subsequent demonstrations that have occurred across the country. By now, most people have formed their opinions and will not be easily swayed.  However, I feel strongly that, in times like these, leaders must lead and lead by example, unafraid to be honest and transparent. I’m reminded of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

In this situation, there are some fundamental truths: George Floyd’s death was an avoidable tragedy that, at best, underscores the lack of training on the part of the officers involved, and, at worst, is a sad example of the dangers faced by people of color today in a country where institutional racism is still an everyday part of life.  Watching the video of Mr. Floyd’s last moments of life under the knee of a person wearing a badge was a stark reminder to me of the first time I saw such callousness and savagery.  That was in March of 1991 with the senseless beating of Rodney King. Nearly 30 years later, and with far too many similar incidents in between, we are still witnessing such atrocious behavior.

It’s important that my words don’t get twisted here. My comments shouldn’t be construed to be anti-police. In fact, I’m privileged to work alongside some of the best police officers in the business who work every day in this community with integrity, courage and compassion. The truth is, however, all of the people who wear the badge and pledge to serve and protect don’t exhibit the same qualities. Although a small percentage of rogue officers do exist, we should neither make excuses for, nor enable them.

Likewise, we shouldn’t make excuses for nor enable the small bands of agitators and looters who have inflicted harm on innocent people and destroyed the property of others. Their actions, too, are reprehensible and those individuals should face justice. It’s important, though, that we don't allow the agitators and looters to steal the focus away from the peaceful protestors who seek to reform what appears to be a justice system that has yet to fully realize it’s purpose to protect the basic rights of all individuals and guarantee equal treatment and protection under the law. 

That being said, I understand the frustration. When Dr. King peacefully marched, those in power said it wasn’t the “right way” to protest. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, it wasn’t the “right way,” to protest and now, with groups of people peacefully taking to the streets around the world this too, according to some, isn’t the “right way” to protest. Honestly, is there “a right way” to protest?

What we’re witnessing is nothing less than people justifiably demanding what should’ve been their inalienable right all along: to exist in peace. This kind of change is never comfortable.

In Revelations Chapter 21, John of Patmos describes a vision of God seated on his throne. “Behold, I am making all things new,” he says. This revelation could be considered both a declaration of change being brought to fruition and a promise of hope for brighter and better days.  

But change -- especially change that seeks to repair 400 years of inequality -- requires commitment. Too many times we see something heinous and have a burst of emotions, only to have the feelings subside until the next incident. It appears many of us have been interested in change but, all too often, have not been committed to change. 

Author and business leader Kenneth Blanchard said, “There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”

I think we may have reached a point where we, as a society, are done accepting excuses. I think we have turned a corner and are forging a new, brighter future.  Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”  I am encouraged by the diversity among the protestors in every state.  It appears all are equally outraged at the continued inequality. 

I can’t help but be reminded of the Courageous Conversations on Race project developed by the Albany Museum of Art and the Albany Civil Rights Museum. This program involved a diverse group of students from public and private schools across Dougherty County, and encouraged them to have honest and open conversations about the role race plays in society.  It was refreshing to see young people from very different backgrounds discuss complex and hot-button topics in a way that was more than civil; it sought understanding of the others’ perspectives.

It’s a lesson that adults in our current generation can learn from. True and lasting change can only come when we’re courageous enough to sit at a table as equals and talk through our issues,  then commit ourselves to meaningful action to effect the change we want to see, and move forward with a  ‘no excuses’ attitude. 

From that point, it’s up to each of us to live out that spirit of change in every interaction we have, every day. 

Famed activist Mahatma Gandhi had it right when he said simply, “you must be the change you want to see in this world.” I am committed, and I invite you to join me in a collective commitment to impact our beloved country in the areas of justice and equality. If you’re not sure if this is the “right” time or if you’re the “right” person, I have two simple questions for you, “If not now, when? If not you, who?” It’s always the right time to do what is right. Now is the time. Let’s commit.