In the past week, our small town of Imboden, Arkansas has drawn national media attention with the release of a letter penned by Class of 1990 Sloan-Hendrix alum, Bryant Huddleston. That letter and the response issued by the Sloan-Hendrix Superintendent has locals both choosing sides and vehemently expressing their opinion of a situation that our school district is facing and one of its largest controversies to date.
Comments submitted by our readers range from if there ever was a formal invitation issued to Mr. Huddleston to speak at the 2013 graduation ceremony , to showing their support for either parties involved in the scandal, to citizens expressing their religious or political beliefs.
Regardless of who asked who or how the events transpired that have led us to where we are right now our town has been thrust into the spotlight of public opinion. As I sit down to read the articles published in local papers, blogs, and reaching all the way to the Huffington Post article that went live today ,I always scan down to read the comments left by readers. I am angry when people make claims that our town is full of uneducated, bigoted people and why expect any less, after all we do live in Arkansas.
I am upset when people who don’t know our School Superintendent or the members of our School Board call them unwarranted names and will never consider all the good things they have done for Sloan-Hendrix School. Sloan-Hendrix was ranked Number 10 Best School in Arkansas by U.S. News and World Report Best High Schools 2012 ranking and our school is one of the few that have survived the consolidation of rural schools here in Arkansas. That is no small feat when I see schools closing all around us each year and I count myself lucky that my children don’t have to ride a bus for hours to get an education. Our school district comes together with churches and businesses each Christmas to give local families in need gifts of food and presents and has opened it’s doors to help raise money for individuals who were ill. Members of that School Board volunteer their time to coach ball teams for our kids, have volunteered on our fire department, and give back to our community daily. I know these men and they are not liars. They say that there was never a formal vote on Bryant speaking and that that they want the focus on the graduates. These are good men who sometimes make hard decisions that we aren’t all going to agree with all the time.
Unfortunately one of those decisions has led us to where we are today. Standing in the center of a debate over an issue that our nation hasn’t fully come to grips with itself on many levels.
One point that deserves to be clarified is that Bryant Huddleston wanted to speak at 2013 Sloan-Hendrix graduation. He wasn’t planning on speaking about being gay. He is a graduate of Sloan-Hendrix who wanted to give a speech at his sister’s graduation ceremony. He was proud of being from this small town, a Sloan-Hendrix graduate, and wanted to give back to his old school by uplifting the graduating class with his words. It’s really as simple as that.
I asked Bryant if this was true and he sent me these words.
“My letter speaks for itself. NEVER was I going to bring up the fact that I was gay. For those that think that clearly do not know me. My speech was going to be about the tools I learned from Sloan-Hendrix that carried me to Hollywood. It would have been about the teachers that pushed me to be a leader and helped me land some of my biggest dream jobs. But it would have also spoke to my sister and her female peers. Women have a much stronger voice now in our country and it’s about time. These are the points that I would have touched on. To be honest, since I sat at the KAIT anchor desk it’s been my dream to come back to that campus and speak to graduates. Do I find it funny that I never have been asked back to speak–I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I love Imboden. I love many people who live there. It will always be my home. But what took place there is wrong. I do believe things happen for a reason. I clearly was not supposed to speak at graduation but I’ve definitely been heard.”
I hope that as editor of Imboden Live that I have given everyone that opportunity….just to be heard. To read what has been said from all parties involved and to speak openly about that. With every major publication near us carrying this story I don’t know how I could have sat by and ignored it. I also know that this discussion is far from over with more media coverage still to come. I have been criticized not only for publishing this story but for giving my own opinion, and allowing people to comment on these articles. I believe it would have been unjust to our citizens to not allow them that same right, to be heard and to have a voice on a matter that obviously concerns our town. After all aren’t human rights, freedom of speech, and equality part of what makes America so great.