Pat King
 |  The Fayetteville Observer

Some years ago, I carried a card in my wallet that had the acronym “WWJD” on it. It was an acronym that appeared in many places: tee shirts, hats, billboards, publications, etc. Most Christians would know it stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was helpful to me to remind me to be fair, kind and respectful in what decisions I made that affected others. It would certainly be useful to our city leadership to have that standard for their decisions.

It is ironic that at the same time our state decides it is inappropriate to have the Confederate battle flag on individual license tags (which I do agree with), our city leaders decide it is okay to again paint a divisive slogan around the centerpiece of our city. We take away one more cause of racial irritation and the city adds one back. There seems to be no limit to the shortsightedness of those elected or appointed to lead our community.

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Our new president brought his entire staff together in the first week of his administration to tell them that anyone he observed who did not treat people with respect would be “fired on the spot.” Can you envision our Mayor doing that?

There are so many good people of all races in our community, many that I have had the privilege to meet. I know that there are Black citizens who would not accept that I know or understand the true experience of racial prejudice and acts. I have to concede that is probably true. But I have seen it.

I was born and grew up in and around Charleston, South Carolina. I saw the “Colored Only” or “Whites Only” signs on water fountains and restrooms. It pains me to think that in my lifetime there was a time I could not have lunch in the same restaurant as my Black friends.

I also witnessed acts of cruelty — that I will not detail. But even just the slights of obvious mistrust and discourteousness, overcharging and cheating. I saw it. I knew what it was. I knew it was wrong.

I had the good fortune to have parents that taught me and my brothers to be fair and respectful to everyone. Military service and a career in a company where discrimination and prejudice were not tolerated enforced what I was taught. My faith has strengthened my convictions.

I am a Fayetteville citizen. My wife and I have been here for over 13 years. At one time a couple of years ago our entire family — children and grandchildren — were in Fayetteville. We came from Cary where we had witnessed the astounding growth of the Research Triangle area. Cary had a population of just over 7,200 when we moved there. As you may know it is now north of 150,000.

The Triangle area grew because of the companies and businesses that moved to the area. The towns and cities of the Triangle had the things that drew people.

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Fayetteville had the opportunity to offer the same kind of attractions: colleges, good schools, parks, recreation facilities, a forward-looking leadership. They, the current leadership. have squandered it all. They have made racial issues of things that did not have to be those kinds of issues.

On the current path they will figure a way to tear down or otherwise destroy the Market House — which has been the symbol of this city for so long — not the “slave market” that it is so often called, but a truly historic building that could become a positive symbol, if we had the leadership to see it.

As one of the naïve student artists commissioned to repaint the so-called “mural” around the Market House said: “It’s a painting, but to many of us it’s that bold statement that we’re here to make a change.” That change will not be more cohesiveness, but more division. To think you change peoples’ hearts by getting in their face is wrong, illogical and contrary to human nature. I will predict that some people and businesses will eventually “vote with their feet”, i.e., leave the area. What is happening in Fayetteville is a travesty.

The current tactic is “let’s get input from all the citizens.” If whatever the result is not what they want then they will figure out a way to do a recount: Like they did about taking the Market House off the city logo: When the online survey did not get the results they wanted, they decided we needed community meetings. That ended with another split result. So, they just had the City Council make the decision and off came the building from the logo. Now we are looking at a million-dollar cost to change all the things that have the old logo: trash and recycling cans, stationery, signs, etc.

Involving the U.S. government in matters that good local leadership should take the lead on shows the real deficiency in our leaders. The DOJ may provide some perspectives but not solutions. The local “activist” who demands that the Market House be destroyed is the wrong voice to be heard. Reason and good faith are not being heard or seen.

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Face it: Our city is bereft of visionary leadership. Those of solid financial positions want nothing to do with what is happening in City Hall. Those families and persons that built businesses and homes, that made significant contributions to our area colleges and support many of the philanthropic efforts in our community do not want the “taint” of the current leadership.

Finally, and most importantly I would hope that somehow we can find the ways to get the citizens of our community to see that we cannot keep doing the “in your face” acts and expect to achieve any kind of unity. The absolute best way we can make atonement for past history is to commit that going forward we each will have our personal answer to what is the right thing to do? This question is appropriate no matter what our individual faith is: Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other. It is the standard of respect, kindness, and positivity that matters and determines what we will achieve in our city.

Mr. Warren Hahn wrote an opinion piece published in the Observer last week. It was about what he perceived as his first encounter with racism when he was nine years old. Unfortunately, it involved his parents and the parent of his young Black friend. Mr. Hahn stated that he passionately believes that we are not born with racism, that we are taught it. He said that he prays that if we work together, on all sides. it can be unlearned.

I agree with Mr. Hahn and I too pray that we can all work together so we can make the change that all of us truly want — and not try to do it with symbols, protests and “murals.” Those leading this effort should have the answer for what is the right thing to do.

Pat King lives in Fayetteville.

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