Working to Build More Equitable Communities

CALS Executive Director Nate CoulterThe past weeks have been an exceedingly painful reminder of how America has not yet overcome its lengthy history of institutional racism. The tragedies of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are part of a relentless stream of horrific events involving police and vigilantes that reveal deeper flaws in our country, and the stark and ever-present threat faced by black and brown Americans.

Part of what ran through my mind over and over last week as I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder was, how could another human stand there, as the three other officers did, and watch that happen without doing or saying something, anything, to try to stop the strangulation of a subdued man?

This week, as Little Rock and other cities have seen the peaceful protests of outraged Americans, it has occurred to me that perhaps those three officers are a symbol of the silence and failures of too many people who have power and privilege. How privileged people like me failed to say or do something that could help convert our outrage over these recurring injustices into meaningful reforms. Ensuring dignity and justice for all Americans depends on more white Americans engaging in that pursuit.

I can do more. I can start by imagining how the public library can help us find ways to move our country’s policies closer to her creeds. Maybe it’s as simple as urging people to explore through the rich resources of the library the lives of others, their varied perspectives, and unique sufferings. Maybe the library can encourage more expressions of painful stories endured by people of color among us and encourage more attentive listening by those who lack such life experiences.

In this vein, here is a link to a statement from the Urban Libraries Council that reflects the commitment of more than 160 North American libraries to ending structural racism. Although the problem is beyond the scale of anything libraries alone can conquer, we can help forge partnerships and encourage working with everyone, as libraries have always done, to build more equitable communities.

I have hope that the combination of yet another instance of police brutality against a black man, and a global pandemic that has imposed grief and suffering disproportionately on people of color in America, will shake us from accepting inequity. I have hope that George Floyd’s plaintive cries for mercy will stir us in ways that transform our attitude and our policies, and that his tragic murder will end a terrible legacy.

Nate Coulter
CALS Executive Director