Hart: Fayet­teville can do more

City should im­prove in­come gap be­tween black, white res­i­dents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRAN­DON HOWARD

FAYET­TEVILLE — Fayet­teville has been a pro­gres­sive leader through­out the South when it comes to race re­la­tions, but the city could do more to bridge the in­come gap be­tween black and white res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to the key­note speaker at the city’s third an­nual Black His­tory Month pro­gram.

Tomeka Hart, a se­nior pro­gram of­fi­cer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, spoke Sun­day to a filled chapel at St. James Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church. She praised Fayet­teville’s his­tory of pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and in­clu- sion, say­ing the city has gone be­yond sim­ply try­ing to meet racial quo­tas.

Five days af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that seg- re­gated pub­lic schools were un­con­sti­tu­tional, the Fayet­teville School District voted to in­te­grate, Hart said.

Ac­cord­ing to the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas His­tory & Cul­ture, the school board voted unan­i­mously to im­me­di­ately in­te­grate the high

school. When the first black stu­dents ar­rived on cam­pus on Sept. 10, 1954, “the only op­po­si­tion was a lone white wo­man with a plac­ard.”

“In­clu­sion is deeper than di­ver­sity, which is mak­ing sure we have this per­cent­age and pat­ting our­selves on the back,” Hart said. “In­clu­sion is lis­ten­ing and car­ing about what peo­ple have to say. That speaks vol­umes.”

Hart’s work for the foun­da­tion — which aims to re­duce poverty, im­prove ed­u­ca­tion and en­hance health care around the world — has fo­cused on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s na­tional pol­icy.

She cited U.S. Cen­sus data from 2015 show­ing roughly 32 per­cent of Fayet­teville’s black res­i­dents lived in poverty, which was de­fined as earn­ing be­low $24,250 for a fam­ily of four. That’s nearly dou­ble the per­cent of white res­i­dents liv­ing in poverty, which hov­ers around 17 per­cent. The city’s over­all poverty rate is 24 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data.

“We need to be in­ten­tional and ask why this is hap­pen­ing,” Hart said. “But you’ve got to know why it’s hap­pen­ing be­fore you pre­scribe so­lu­tions.”

Hart said so­lu­tions could in­clude in­creas­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity across mu­nic­i­pal boards and func­tions, as well as in­vest­ing in black-owned busi­nesses.

“We can’t make all these de­ci­sions about the school sys­tem or com­mu­nity with no one present from the com­mu­nity,” Hart said. “If you look around the room and no­body looks dif­fer­ent from you, that should bother you.”

Mayor Lioneld Jor­dan said the city is ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing equal­ity.

“Where there is no equal­ity, di­vi­sion or in­clu­sion, no one has any rights,” he said. “That’s why [in­clu­sion] is the most im­por­tant thing we can do for this city.”

Rizelle Aaron, pres­i­dent of the Arkansas chap­ter of the NAACP, said Fayet­teville should be the state’s lead­ing ex­am­ple for in­clu­sion.

“We need to be­gin look­ing in­side, be­yond the out­side,” Aaron said. “I want to en­cour­age not just black men or white men, but every­one to look be­yond the color and tone of some­one’s skin.”

Monique Jones moved to North­west Arkansas from Dal­las. She said Fayet­teville’s wel­com­ing at­mos­phere made her “fall in love” with the city.

“It didn’t take long,” she said. “Every­one was friendly, from res­i­dents to the mayor to the po­lice chief. We love be­ing here.”

What­ever chal­lenges lay ahead for Fayet­teville, D’An­dre Jones is con­fi­dent the city will per­se­vere. “In Fayet­teville we’re build­ing bridges, not walls,” said D’An­dre Jones, who serves on the city’s Civil Rights Com­mis­sion. “Things may get shaky, but we shall — we will — over­come.”

“I want to en­cour­age not just black men or white men, but every­one to look be­yond the color and tone of some­one’s skin.” —Rizelle Aaron, pres­i­dent of state NAACP chap­ter

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER

Rizelle Aaron, of Lit­tle Rock and pres­i­dent of the Arkansas NAACP, speaks Sun­day at St. James Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church in Fayet­teville. The pro­gram was called “The Power of Black In­clu­sion, Lift Ev­ery Voice.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER

Aaron speaks at St. James Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church.

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