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The Northwest Arkansas Council said it had adopted a leadership pledge in an attempt to combat systemic racism in the region.
Todd Simmons, the CEO of Simmons Foods in Siloam Springs, said the nonprofit and its diversity and inclusion project, EngageNWA, decided to act in the aftermath of Black Matter Lives protests after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis in May. A Minneapolis police officer who was videoed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes has been charged with second-degree murder and three other police officers face charges; all four were fired.
Simmons, co-chairman of the council, hosted the group’s annual meeting, which was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many of our fellow citizens still face systemic racism in their daily lives,” Simmons said. “It is clear we need to do more to address this issue and as an organization that has led on so many important issues of the past 30 years we believe the Council needs to be a big part of this effort. If the events of the past few months have shown us anything it is that we have a lot of work to do. We are committed to doing this work and to demonstrate this fact we are releasing a racial equity pledge.”
Many of the area’s heavy corporate hitters joined the pledge. The council urged other companies to take the pledge at nwacouncil.org/pledge and display the pledge’s language in their places of business.
“We support locally what we are committed to globally – doing our part to achieve greater equity and justice for everyone,” said Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart Inc. of Bentonville. McMillon had called Floyd’s death “unacceptable” at the company’s annual meeting in June. “We appreciate how the northwest Arkansas community is working toward growing closer and more united, that together we are confronting the corrosive power of racism in a way we have never done before, and that we are setting an even higher bar for ourselves to be more inclusive.”
CEO John Roberts of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell said the company was “proud to stand with other companies in Northwest Arkansas to condemn discrimination and promote an inclusive work environment.”
Caryl M. Stern, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, said the pledge was a “bold step” to promote inclusion, and Tyson Foods CEO Noel White said all businesses benefit from a community of “fairness, inclusion and diversity.”
“Tyson is proud to support the pledge to address systemic racism in northwest Arkansas and, in doing so, is committed to working tirelessly in the community we serve to eradicate social injustice,” White said. “We commend the work of the Council as it is only by coming together, through listening, learning and doing, that we will move a step closer to creating the change this country deserves.”
In other business at the meeting, the council announced that it had created a regional arts organization called Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange (CACHE). It will be led by Executive Director Allyson Esposito, who was senior director of arts and culture for The Boston Foundation.