This month, as we take a moment to pause and honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is difficult not to recognize some parallels between the time in which he lived and today.
This, too, is a period of divisiveness; a time when many are skeptical about institutions, concerned with transparency and conflicts of interest, and deeply focused on social justice.
Every day it feels like our communities are marked by tragedy, and we see all too often the ugly results of racism, xenophobia, and hate in our country. I was moved by the recent letter from the Evans Student Organization (ESO) to their peers, where they reflected on the increase in violent and non-violent acts of anti-Semitism and the alleged detainment of Iranian American citizens at our own state’s Canadian border. Echoing ESO’s important words: “We should pay attention and be concerned when the government targets American citizens based solely on their place of birth or ethnicity.”
While we remember Dr. King and the monumental civil rights events that took place decades ago, we have an opportunity to study and contemplate the civil rights movement through our own unique perspective – as scholars and students of public policy and public management.
We know that undoing injustice takes more than one person, and more than one landmark change in legislation. It takes the dedicated work of countless champions of racial equity and social justice advocating tirelessly for peace, justice, reconciliation, and the extension of rights to all people. For me, as a white woman who was a child of the 1960s, it takes reflecting on my own privilege and on the historic role of white supremacy as I try to get things right, sometimes get things wrong, and always, always try to do better.
As we begin the new year and a new decade, I am inspired by the many ways that the Evans School’s broad community is working every day to improve public policy, lead justly, and make a lasting impact. Together we are working to build the future that should be, not perpetuate what is.
To create that just future, we need to tackle the public sector challenges that are not for the faint of heart – the challenges we face are persistent and wicked, under-resourced, and often under-valued. These are also the challenges that, when addressed, can contribute most to building a more civil, just, and equitable society.
The need for thoughtful civil discourse, evidence-based public policy and sound leadership has never been greater. This is the business we are in, and this is what it means when we say that our impact is real.