What We Celebrate

Publication Note: This column was first published in the April 27, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format.  It is the 11th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.

In a previous edition of this column, we explored the notion that the slower pace of life in Lonoke affords us certain advantages that a congested suburb simply cannot deliver.  It is clear that our priorities are different, and our focus is trained in a different direction.  When life moves at a slower pace, you have the opportunity to take notice of people and places which may have been previously overlooked.  

With the passage of time, a fast pace, and the perpetuation of the status quo, the overlooked can easily become the forgotten.  However, just because a community or a person has been forgotten, does not mean that great value does not lie within.  Quite the opposite.  In fact, often when an object of great worth is “rediscovered,” it prompts celebration, and recognition.

Football coach and retired college president Dr. Fitz Hill spoke at Lonoke’s second annual Black History Month Banquet in 2011, where he brought a word of encouragement and truth, in his characteristic fashion.  Having known Dr. Hill for over a decade, his attitude, posture toward adversity, and heart for his neighborhood has impacted me in ways that I am still realizing.  Of the many lessons he has taught me over the years, it is the way he gravitates toward the hopeless, which has perhaps made the biggest impact on my life.  Quite simply, Dr. Hill can quickly identify those on whom society has given up, and who have begun to give up on themselves.  With a genuine love, and a disregard for his own convenience, He finds value in time with young men and women who, by all appearances and statistics, are in no position to contribute back to the community.  In that time he spends, he builds a deep connection, valuing an individual’s time and, therefore, their story.  In doing so, he is able to extract and develop a person’s understanding of their own potential -an inner hope- which had been previously overlooked.  To me, Dr. Hill’s example embodies the metaphor of “cultivation.”  Cultivation implies life, growth, and health.  Cultivation takes time, effort, and season after season of persistence.  It is a process of creating a deep root system drawing life from the rich ground.  Cultivation relies on the promise of a future emergence not yet seen.  In his book Putting the Neighbor Back in the Hood: The Resurrection Story of Arkansas Baptist College, Dr. Fitz Hill says, “To achieve success, it is essential that we invest in human capital.”  I have been privileged to see this happen up close since I have known Dr. Hill, and I know that he is driven by a determination to defy the odds.

My wife and I like to call that posture “defiant optimism.”

In our midst – right across the street, or across town- are those that have been forgotten or excluded from the conversation for far too long.  I believe that on those forgotten blocks and in those overlooked spaces are people – students, grandparents, and those in between- who posses a great deal of potential.  I believe the ideas, perspectives, and talent that is embodied in the overlooked parts of Lonoke will emerge to create the innovations that we will celebrate.

When our neighbors work tirelessly to organize and develop new ways of engaging people in a community-wide conversation here in Lonoke, we must support them.  As a community of volunteers, we must support one another’s work, and celebrate each victory – small and large- along the way.

I’m inspired by Karen Dill and Evelyn Bryant, who have organized, planned, and recruited volunteers for the first ever neighborhood cleanup day here in Lonoke.  It is a fantastic idea which will have such an impact on families who need a hand with home and property maintenance tasks.  This coming Saturday morning, April 29, neighbors will meet, then get to work helping those that may have been previously overlooked.

It’s ideas and work like this which we celebrate in Lonoke.

In working side by side in a creative process, we develop a mutual trust.  That culture of trust contributes to stability.  That stability lays the groundwork for vision.

Isn’t that what this fast moving world all around us really wants?  If we are quite honest with ourselves, in the slow quiet moments of the late night or early morning, aren’t we really seeking peace?  Young families and creative people are seeking a refuge from the world’s instability, and I believe that stability can be found in Lonoke.  It can be found when we speak with one encouraging voice to celebrate one another and cheer on those who have stepped off of the porch to lend a hand or express a new idea.  When I see my neighbor stepping up, I must applaud, I must cheer, and I must join them.  I must not fail to participate in the conversation or the effort simply because I am concerned with the advancement of my own agenda.  My opposition won’t bring about a solution.  However, if I slow down and take the time to listen to my neighbor, we then have the potential to collaborate.  We can create an environment of mutual trust in which we can contribute all kinds of ideas, both good and not-so-good, and allow the best ones to emerge.  Perhaps my initial creative contribution will look different when our work achieves its final form.  That’s okay!  What’s important is that we do it together, and we involved everyone.  

I can’t remember how many times I have heard Dr. Hill say over the years, “A person wrapped up in himself makes a real small package.”  Let’s be outward focused.  Let’s notice what we previously overlooked in our neighborhood.  Let’s celebrate those small victories.  We in Lonoke may then  discover who we really are, while also meeting the challenge to become who we can be!

We can expect more for our community.  With the optimism of the farmer who returns each year to plant, we must believe that the best is yet to come for Lonoke.

Ryan Biles and his wife Natalie have lived in Lonoke for thirteen years, where they have put down roots to raise their family.  Share your stories of rediscovered potential by using the hashtag #LookAtLonoke on social media.


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