Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Letter to my state

Arkansas can do better than this

- NATALIE SANDERS GRAUMANN Natalie Sanders Graumann lives in Little Rock.

Dear Arkansas, I was born in the midst of your mountains and valleys, raised on pine, oak, and the clear waters of the Ouachitas. I have traveled near and far, and still, you are my favorite home.

Sure, winter with you is hard. Dark wet days and barren trees make way for a deep sadness to well in my soul. But it’s April now, and I will feel the weight of your winter over and over again as long as you promise me this glorious spring— ferns unraveling, redbuds and dogwoods bursting with bloom, birds busy with nests, doe standing tall over babies in spots …

There is nowhere I’d rather be. Your rise and fall, the moss that softens your edges, your streets nestled among stubborn rocky outcrops, I feel content here, tucked tight in your landscape.

As you can see, I’m fond of you, and so, in this season of new laws and bills, my heart breaks time and again as you choose an old and burdened past over the potential of a brighter future. Your fear (and let us be frank with one another, it is fear) of what you do not know or understand is diminishin­g your worth and poisoning your potential.

I know it’s scary. Newness and change sometimes feel like they’re erasing or invalidati­ng what you loved about the past. But that simply isn’t true. Change and diversity inspire growth and opportunit­y. Arkansans can be conservati­ve and liberal, Christian and agnostic, trans and cisgender, straight and gay, white and persons of color, native and immigrant, pro-birth and pro-choice. It is a matter of and, not or. There is room here for us all. Welcoming one does not negate the other.

For years, Arkansas, you have been at or near the bottom of 50 states on economic growth, education, emotional and physical well-being, and individual wealth. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t due in part to your unwillingn­ess to entertain new people, new ideas, new ways of being and living. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the price paid for refusing to let go of the bigotry that runs deep through your history.

You are a state full of gifts and resources, yet over and over, you fail to rise. Reminds me of a Bernard Shaw quote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

For the love of all that is good and hopeful, let go. Let go of needing to berate, shame, diminish, and dismiss all that is unfamiliar to you. Let go of needing every one of your residents to look, live, and believe the same. Let go of trying to control people who do you no harm.

All of that judgment and wrath is so heavy. Put it down. Then, use the time, money, and energy saved to breathe new life into your borders.

Love always, Natalie

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