Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
The senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is an American tragedy. Seeing protests in our state’s capital of Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, turn violent deeply saddened me as Martin Luther King Jr. has always been a personal hero of mine. As a former mayor, my spirits were lifted by the heartfelt and passionate pleas of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for protests to remain peaceful. The authoritative yet caring tone set by her words was palpable and poignant during a painful moment for her city and her citizens. I’ve always made the point that in times of crisis, true leaders must set the tone for those they serve to follow. In this moment this was undoubtedly the case with Mayor Lance Bottoms who I’ve come to respect and admire during these difficult days for our nation.
Here in Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Sheriff Richard Roundtree and other elected officials have set a tone of compassion tempered with resolve to keep our local protests peaceful. To this point we are blessed that our protests have all remained peaceful which truly makes me proud to call myself an Augustan. Organizers from the outset have made it abundantly clear that our local demonstrations will remain peaceful and that violent or destructive behavior simply will not be tolerated. During a recent event, two of our sheriff’s deputies lay on the ground with demonstrators in a show of solidarity. This simple act moved many hearts that evening while helping with the healing process in our community.
It has always been my firm belief that for leaders to be truly effective they must learn to listen with compassion and without prejudice. The need for those in leadership positions to listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters of color is now more important than ever. The issue of overcoming racism and implementing meaningful reforms in our nation is not a black or white issue nor is it a Republican or Democrat issue. It is an American issue of justice where we all must be willing to come together to find lasting solutions. Now is the time for us all to have meaningful, open and honest conversations about the issue of systemic racism. It is also the time to move beyond these much needed, long overdue conversations and to follow through with impactful action plans to enact significant changes to improve racial equality in our nation.
In a recent C-span town hall address President Barak Obama stated, “Most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices take place at the local level. Reform has to take place in more than 19,000 American municipalities.” As an advocate of change starting at the local level, I sincerely agree with his words and believe that local governments now play the most important role they have ever played in the history of our nation. We must take decisive action to help bring about justice at the local level and take a leadership role in the healing process in our nation. President’s George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have echoed President Obama in calling for decisive action. Their words set a tone of putting our country before party affiliation at this crucial moment in American history.
Having spent nine years in office with a focus on healing our local racial divide I understand the anger and outrage the death of George Floyd while in police custody has caused. Sadly, this was not the first incidence of this kind to stir calls for justice and reforms to law enforcement practices. However, as support to address racism head-on has taken hold in our country, and throughout the world, I am hopeful it may be the last. Having worked with the law enforcement community for many years I know the vast majority of its members truly have a focus on serving and protecting. During these trying times my prayers go out for a strengthening of the bonds between our nation’s law enforcement officers and the communities they are sworn to serve.
In the end it is my great hope that local governments in our great state and throughout our nation will rise above the politics of division and take a leadership role in holding true to the ideal that our nation is “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Many thanks to all those who serve our nation at the local level during these unprecedented times and please know I stand ready to help you in any way possible.