Chester I. Lewis integrated lunch counters, aerospace workshops, swimming pools, railroad cars and led a revolt of young black activists known as the “Young Turks” against the civil rights establishment.
Imagine his dismay that his beloved hometown would actually be debating whether the evils he spent his life battling actually existed and whether the city should follow its own ordinance by hiring a diversity officer. Hutchinson should acknowledge the realities of discrimination and fill this position immediately.
The town hasn’t forgotten its activist icon. Earlier this year, the Hutchinson News penned an editorial urging some local, tangible commemoration of his life and even quoted him:
“This is our land … We helped to build it. We have defended it from Boston Common to Iwo Jima. We have helped make it a better land through our songs, our laughter, our expansion and clarification of its Constitution and Bill of Rights, through our talents and skills … We are Americans….”
A beautiful sentiment.
But just as rain can fall on some areas while missing others, the blessings of liberty and equality have not landed evenly on the Americans needing it most: women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
Their recourse across the decades? Appealing to people who don’t look like them, tend not to suffer routine discrimination, and who often reflexively declare that discrimination doesn’t exist. That’s like an all-male panel declaring that sexism doesn’t exist or one political party being trusted to draw voting district lines.
That’s why positions such as the diversity officer are so important. They provide important arbiters and mediators for people who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
There’s more evidence that discrimination and bias exists than there is evidence that you’re reading this op-ed right now. We here at the ACLU of Kansas fight it every day on multiple of fronts, from voting rights to mass incarceration to immigration and more.
Lewis fought it, too.
Not only should Hutchinson fill this position which it has allowed to sit vacant for 10 years, it should name the ordinance after him.
It would be a fitting tribute to a man who served his country, fought for liberty, and didn’t allow the gloom or naysayers to stop him from building a brighter future for people suffering from discrimination.
Lauren Bonds is the interim executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.