John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Can I Do? What Can YOU Do?

September 3, 2013John N. GardnerInsights0

The most immediate thing I have on my mind as I start to write this posting, other than the topic I have decided to write upon, is the quoted words of the man who wants to be known now as “The Boss”, Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey and a probable candidate for the 2016 presidential race. He was quoted in Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times on August 28 as saying about people like your writer here: 

“I think that we have some folks that believe
our job is to be college professors. Now college
professors are fine, I guess. You know, college
professors basically spout out ideas that nobody
ever does anything about…”

I have a different view. I believe that college professors have great influence and I say this not only because I am so acutely aware of the influence my professors at Marietta College and Purdue University had on me. So I am going to continue to write even though the Governor thinks I am wasting my words on you my readers.

I am continuing to think about the 50th anniversary celebration of the march on Washington of 1963 and the lasting impact of Dr. King’s words at that occasion.

My thinking here is about the basic questions:

  1. What can I do?
  2. What can YOU do?

Those questions pertain to you and me if we believe (and I do):

  • that there is continuing injustice in our country today based on the combination of public policy and individual actions directed towards people of races, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other variables that differ from the majority—and especially that differ from the archetypal group most vehemently resisting change in America: southern, adult, aging, white, males
  • that there is demonstrable evidence of significant inequality in our country in spite of public policy actions to address the lack of that—such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • that the progress gaps  as a function of race and ethnicity when applied to such societal indicators as life span, poverty, infant mortality, hunger, educational attainment levels, per capita and family income, are not acceptable.
  • that there remains a legacy of de jure unequal treatment and that those of us who have been historically privileged have some unmet obligation to help rectify this
  • that some people are still inherently disadvantaged through circumstances of their own which they do not control, especially race and ethnicity (in other words, it is not their fault!)
  • that the Civil Rights movement is an unfinished process
  • that there is demonstrable recent evidence of intentional public policy actions and legal decisions to reverse the course of the Civil Rights movement—such as actions taken by the legislatures of North and South Carolina and Texas to suppress voter registration and voting

I am going to make some suggestions by reflecting on what I am thinking I can do. That is what I have been asking myself even more than usual since the commemoration activities of Wednesday, August 28, 2013.

What can I do?

I can and I will …

  • Join others of like mind and spirit in public gathering to peacefully express our support for pubic policy actions to promote opportunity
  • Contribute money to associations, churches, and political action groups that support and assist those whose expanded opportunities I want to champion
  • Contribute money to elected officials and candidates for elected offices who support the advancement of social justice.
  • Contribute money to individuals and organizations that are using the courts to challenge current public policy actions to suppress voter participation
  • Write elected officials and other leaders to offer my support and encouragement for stances they take to support these causes
  • Be vigilant to continually examine my own thinking, sense of fairness and open mindedness
  • Be reflective about the ways in which I learned prejudice and on guard for any unconscious bias which I may practice in my thinking and actions
  • Make special efforts with my and my wife’s grandchildren to help instill in them a sense of values that would make them supportive of social justice
  • Use the many opportunities I have for public speaking to encourage my fellow citizens and educators to be more intentional and assertive about expanding opportunities for those less advantaged
  • Practice intentional, invitational, support for affirmative action in my own opportunities to influence hiring decisions
  • Use my social interactions with friends and colleagues to appropriately champion these efforts and help them think through how they can do the same.

Is this an exhaustive list? Certainly not. I know other ideas will come to me. The main thing is that this must and will remain a high priority for my conscious reflection, thinking and action. This overall objective is who I am.

What can YOU do?

  • Come up with your own statement of “I can and I will…” as I did above.
  • Perhaps use my statement as a check-list to start the development of your own.
  • Share yours with others as I have mine with you.
  • You can be intentional. You can move from best intentions to action.
  • You have a personal and professional sphere of influence where you control certain elements of your life situation in ways you could support others in their journeys to attain equal opportunity in our country.
  • You surely will think and act in ways that I haven’t.
  • You have many opportunities that I don’t. And I have some you don’t.

But we all can do something. One person—you—me, can make a difference.

That is what the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington reminds me of, and further strengthens my resolve.

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