I remember as a kid, growing up in White County, climbing into the old Astro van and making the long trek down to the Arkansas Foodbank with my mom. We'd pile up on nonperishable food and bring it back to Searcy for our church's food pantry for our neighbors who needed help getting by.
At one point, we also had a makeshift pantry of our own in our neighborhood, stocked not only with food but with diapers and baby formula. My parents maintained and funded this pantry, even though our family probably needed the support as much as anyone. They called it the Care Closet.
Mom was so faithful to keep it full and was always willing to help a family in need. It was an honor and such a valuable learning experience for me to participate in this as a kid. My parents never expected any recognition--nor did they want it. They were just serving their neighbors.
Even then, just as a young kid, it was evident to me how much poverty there was around us.
I remember another time we went to Little Rock to eat dinner, a rare treat for us. We ate at the old Black-eyed Pea restaurant. When we stepped out of the restaurant to go home, we discovered that the back windows had been smashed out of the car. We drove all the way back to Searcy in the cold winter air without windows.
This was my first real exposure to crime; I remember the fear that came with it, not knowing if we had been targeted or if we were simply random victims.
And I distinctly remember my dad working two jobs for most of my childhood--not so we could drive fancy cars or eat steak dinners, but so he could put food on the table and we could afford for Mom to stay home and homeschool us (and afford pricey textbooks to do the same). There were no quality schools in our area that aligned with our values--at least not within our price range--so Dad sacrificed nice things for himself, and time with us, to make sure we could get a quality education.
These stories are my experiences, going back almost 30 years. But they're not unique to me.
When I look at Arkansas today, I see so many of my friends and neighbors struggling with the same generational problems: poverty, crime, and a lack of quality education opportunities.
Some of them are able to scrape by and get the support they need from their local churches--and that's a good thing. Others are able to work extra hours to afford books for their kids or, if they're lucky, send their kids to a school that aligns with their values.
But because they didn't get a good education and don't have 21st century workforce skills, far too many of our neighbors are forced into government dependency. Or fall into lives of crime. And/or their kids are forced into foster care.
This should stop us in our tracks.
Every one of our neighbors who falls into dependency is robbed of opportunity and dignity--and you and I are robbed of the opportunity to step in and serve our neighbors.
Something has to change. Our generation can't accept a future for our kids that looks like our past. The problems we saw our parents dealing with are the same problems our state is facing today, decades later. If something doesn't change, are we simply going to pass the buck now to our kids and theirs? I am committed to doing my part to see that this doesn't happen.
We are starting a new movement in Arkansas, a movement solely focused on simplifying government and solving generational problems so the next generation doesn't have to inherit the problems we and our parents did.
It's a movement committed to solving the crime crisis that's ravaging our streets, a movement committed to reducing government dependency and rewarding hard work, and a movement dedicated to ensuring every Arkansas child has the same opportunity to pursue a quality education--and every Arkansas child has a safe, warm place to lay their head at night.
It's a movement dedicated to renewing Arkansas as the Land of Opportunity once again.
With the most conservative governor in state history coming into office to join the state's most conservative Legislature ever, the opportunity to get to work is right now. And for the sake of my kids, your kids, and our neighbors' kids, we have to seize it.
This article originally appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.