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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Black History Month


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This February, the nation once again observes Black History Month. It is a time to honor and explore the culture and history of Black Americans and to recognize that our diversity is one of our great strengths. It is also an opportunity to remember that we must all work together in making sure that our laws, actions and words honor the rights of every human being.

Although each year Black History Month invites us to look back and remember the lessons of history, this year is especially significant. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed 150 years ago on January 1, 1863, paving the way for the modern Civil Rights Movement. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a defining moment in that movement: Dr. Martin Luther King's eloquent "I Have a Dream" speech.

While those events may seem far away, today we still strive to safeguard the ideals of freedom and justice. Our success depends on the energy, creativity and dedication of every individual toward achieving that goal.

By many measures, Arkansas is succeeding in moving forward together. We continue our advances in public education, and both our Black and white students have shown marked improvement on Advanced Placement exams. The per-capita income of Arkansans continues to move upward. And our economic-development efforts continue to create jobs for all Arkansans.

Recently, I announced plans to build a steel mill in Mississippi County. That one-billion-dollar project offers us a look at both the history and future of the Arkansas Delta. The region's economy is still dominated by agriculture, but advances in technology and changes in the national economy have meant fewer jobs and long-time hardship for many people in the area. But this new steel mill will bolster that industry in the Delta. It can bring 525 well-paying full-time jobs, 2,000 construction jobs, and even more companies to Osceola, Mississippi County, and the Arkansas Delta.

Later this month, the Department of Arkansas Heritage and my office will observe Black History Month in conjunction with the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. Our program will place a special emphasis on the ways African-American business owners and entrepreneurs have shaped our State in the past, the present and the future. The Mosaic Templars building will provide a fitting backdrop. It was in that building that former slaves built an organization to provide insurance and other benefits to African-Americans at a time when existing businesses would not. It is a powerful story of a community coming together to help each other, and one that is particularly relevant today.

While Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is his best known, my favorite quote comes from another speech he made four years later. It says, in part, "What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." It is a sentiment well remembered during Black History month, and during all other months, as well.

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