I learned early on in my life that life is not fair and that characteristic sometimes works to my advantage. If I’d always gotten what I deserve, I’d have been executed many years ago and beaten like a rented mule several times since then. So, I’ve made some degree of peace with life’s capricious nature. That does not, however, mean that I never take any action to try and rectify what I perceive to be a wrong or injustice.
It’s that perception thing that gets to be the tricky part.
My most recent opportunity for that particular bit of trickiness arises from a hearing held yesterday in Topeka. A contest was announced in 2011 for a mural to be placed in the State Capitol Building which would commemorate the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision. This was the decision that declared that racial discrimination was a violation of the United States Constitution, eventually resulting in school desegregation across the country. At the hearing yesterday, four artists presented their mural proposals to the committee in charge of selecting the “winner.”
My perception is that the committee basically suspended the rules and guidelines it had stipulated and changed the criteria at the final hour. It is my further perception that it did so in order to appease a a very present and very vocal special interest group.
At a truly basic level, for any semblance of full disclosure, I have to admit that one of the finalists is a very special friend and colleague. Mark Flickinger is the chair of the Visual and Performing Arts department at Cowley College where I am the Vice-President for Academic Affairs. He is colleague, friend and fellow believer. Further disclosure would admit that had the changes made by the committee resulted in Mark being selected as the winning artist, I’d be writing a very different reflection this morning, absolutely convinced of the necessity and justice of the changes.
I don’t know the winning artist and anyone who tells you that doesn’t color my perception of the outcome doesn’t know me or human nature very well. How we feel about the winner always colors our perception of the outcome, whether it’s the World Series, the NCAA championship, or a presidential election. Even if it’s only for class president in a very small school.
If our team wins, we’re pretty darn sure it was a fair contest. Tilt the score the other way and our righteous indignation is heartily aroused.
My sincere belief is that Mark’s mural proposal was superior to the “winner” historically, educationally and aesthetically. The objections raised by the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research (family members of the Brown family as in “Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education”) strike me as petty and contrived. They clearly disagreed.
In their final deliberations, the committee first decided that the winning artist had to be from Kansas, even though they’d selected a New York artist as one of the four finalists. Eventually a majority of members followed the Brown family’s recommendation, even though their selected artist’s proposal seemingly failed to truly follow the stipulations originally set forth by the committee. What was intended to commemorate the history and consequences of a Supreme Court decision with multiple, highly complex international ramifications was reduced to a fairy tale depiction that could be readily absorbed by third-graders in five seconds. Another bit of history reduced to a palpable lie that “wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.”
In regard to my feelings, I have to say I couldn’t have been more proud of Mark’s presentation in the Capitol Building yesterday. It was articulate, intelligent, focused, gently passionate and exceptionally well-founded. Committee members’ comments and questions showed clearly that they were pleased and impressed.
I was even more impressed by Mark’s response in the aftermath. After all those hours of work, thought and focus on this project over the past five years, it would be understandable if he’d gone on a three-day drunk or at least a three-hour rant. Instead, on his three-hour drive back to Ark City, he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with all the work he’d put into the project.
Trying to figure out how to turn disappointment into accomplishment. No wonder I admire the dude.