I was witness last weekend to extraordinary leadership. After years of vehemence and anger projected at the conservatives who run this state, I heard Preston Love, Jr., one of the most prominent leaders of the Democratic Party in Nebraska, say that Governor Ricketts was his friend, and that while they differed politically on most things, it was imperative that the African American community reach out with an open heart and mind to work together. I had one of those double-takes that kind of pinches the nerve in your neck, and I seriously questioned whether or not I had heard what I heard. It was one of those statements that becomes historical in the uttering because it courageously flies directly in the face of what everyone else is saying. It was true and righteous leadership and was such a breath of fresh air that I almost cried.
It should not have surprised me that it was coming from Preston. He has been a courageous leader for his community since before I was born. He was campaign manager for Jesse Jackson in his run for the presidency. He was with Andrew Young in Atlanta and Harold Washington in Chicago, and was the first executive director of the National Rainbow Coalition. His life experience in race relations, civil rights and politics dwarfs all but a handful of people living today.
When George Floyd was murdered while America watched, White people were enraged and saw with their own eyes what Black America had been saying for generations. It was and still is a tremendous political opportunity to get something done. But rather than reach out with an open hand of friendship as Dr. King would have advised, various political entities have decided to once again use the Black community and push their own agenda rather than help the people they claim to be supporting. Instead of meeting, talking and building relationships, these caustic entities of destruction have done everything they could to destroy the best opportunity the Black community has had in a half century.
The history of Americans from Africa is not a happy tale. For the first 243 years, most lived in slavery. For the next 102 years, most lived in a state of legal discrimination and fear. And since 1964, most have been forced to endure a complicated web of social and institutional disadvantage with a largely unaware or unconcern majority population. The history, legal realities and confusing perceptions in both the Black and White communities have led us to the position where we now find ourselves. It is a condition filled with anger, long standing animosity and widespread misunderstanding.
But in spite of the perception that many in the African American community have, the overwhelming majority of White people want to do the right thing. We’re all scrapping for a buck and trying to live the best life we can, but we want the world to be a fair and loving place. We are quite aware that the world is not that kind of place, but our conscious desire is for everyone to get a fair shake.
So, given the awakening precipitated by the Floyd murder, wise Black leaders like Preston see an amazing opportunity to step forward and propose reasonable and logical changes - to correct long-standing wrongs. I said a prayer for him this morning, and I’ll say many more, that we use this opportunity to grow and learn from one another. We all know that the United States is not a perfect place, but unique in our world history, it is a place with a remarkable propensity to improve over time. It is maddeningly slow for all of us, but to their credit, our Founding Fathers, for all their faults, gave us a mechanism that works and remains a wonderful gift to us all.
Today, we continue to have a moment in time, a moment to open our hearts and listen to one another. Instead of shutting off that conversation and shouting “racist”, Preston is saying, “Hello my friend. What can we build together?” I am so proud to call him my friend!
Photo courtesy of the Omaha World Herald.