The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman and resulting fallout has painfully exposed the ever-present issue of racism once more. Historically Missouri has always been at the crossroads of this divisive struggle. From the Missouri Compromise of 1820, to the 10-year court battle to determine Dred Scott’s freedom (1847 to 1857) to the present day, Missouri mirrors America’s battle with bigotry and intolerance.
During my years in public office, I addressed racism many times. Through my words, starting with my inaugural address, “One Bright Future,” and by my actions, I tried to keep us mindful of diversity as a valuable commodity and source of strength in an evolving global economy.
I was never so proud of a microcosm of global sharing as I was last month, when 36 students from China came to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg to take part in the American Legion Missouri Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Missouri Girls State programs, led by the Midwest US China Association. The enthusiastic embodiment of cultural curiosity demonstrated by these bright and ambitious teens, gives me hope that this kind of genuine exchange can be replicated on a much grander scale.
But we must be wary of the homegrown racism that threatens to undermine our flourishing diversity and this is not a new concern. One of Abraham Lincoln’s greatest fears as the Civil War ended, was that the nation would end up like Missouri — a state comprised of parts, lacking a common thread.
I truly believe Missouri and the Midwest Region, with good leadership can convert our diversity into strength to become one of the most dominant economic regions in the world. But we need to embrace all of our state and regional assets: a diverse economy, plant and life sciences, advanced manufacturing and technology innovation. We must face the fact that we can’t compete without a first-rate educational system and training programs, and do all we can to raise the bar. We have a low cost of doing business and high quality of life, with one of the best transportation infrastructures in North America. All of these resources must be leveraged to compete in a global economy.
But none of these assets are as important as our human resources. The world economy has no borders and many types of people. If we truly want to succeed, we must strive to proudly reflect the global community in the faces of our own people. We have the tools. We have the assets. We have the people. We can grow as human beings and be architects of success with countries from around the world if we set aside our suspicions or lack of understanding and seize the opportunity for real interaction, much in the same way a few hundred students did in Warrensburg last month.
Chairman, Midwest US-China Association
Founder, The Holden Public Policy Forum
Governor, Missouri, 2001-2005