No. 508



You may or may not have thought about this before, but one of the most important people in your city or town is the chief of police. This man or woman is the leader of a group of people who are sworn to uphold the law. Quite often these officers put their lives on the line to protect us. I may be disappointed once in a while because of the actions or behavior of a few policemen or other law enforcement personnel, but as a whole I have a deep respect for these professionals and shudder to think where we would be as a society were they not around. If your own community is relatively free of crime and things are peaceful there, you can be sure this did not happen by accident. Someone is there, day and night, looking out for your best interests, and in most cases we call these people the police.

Here in our community we are fortunate to have a very fine chief of police by the name of Randall Aragon. In the past five years since he came to our city, he has made some controversial decisions, and for the most part these just come with the territory, but in my heart I really and truly believe he is a man who cares about others, especially our children. He is directly involved in our literacy project to build "A Bookcase for Every Child' and what he is doing is far above the normal scope of his duties. With your permission, I would like to tell you about this project, because you may have the same high quality leadership in your community that we have here.

First, let me tell you how I got to know Chief Aragon. In the fall of 2000, when he was chief of police in Lumberton, N.C., he applied for the Conway job. As the interview time came closer, his lovely wife, Ramona, had been reading my column online. She made the suggestion that he call me and invite me out to dinner as a way to learn more about our community. He did that and we had a wonderful time as I gave him a tour of our community and told him what little I knew about our city government and some of the problems (opportunities) we were experiencing. To make a long story short, he got the job and we have been friends ever since.

Over the past several months we discovered that we both liked to read and began to share books with each other. One of the first was "The Tipping Point" that the superintendent of schools had recommended when I was up in Waynesboro, Pa., a few years ago. There have been others, but when the idea of building bookcases and giving books to children of low-income families came along, I asked Chief Aragon if he would consider being the co-chair with me. He not only accepted, but also has been the driving force in getting our campaign off the ground. He talked with our mayor to get his support and we had our first committee meeting at our City Hall.

If you are reading this column in another community where it runs, the names are not important, but I can tell you that when we invited some of the outstanding leaders of Conway to be involved, the enthusiasm was nothing short of amazing. In addition to the chief and the mayor, we have the newspaper publisher, the directors of the Head Start program, Public Housing, head librarian at Hendrix College, a retired executive of Entergy, former head of the Conway Corp. utility, representative of the Chamber of Commerce, a minister and several others, 14 members in all. Because these people are all leaders and already knew the need, you would not believe the way they each got behind this project, to do the things that were compatible with their interests and skills.

Here is why I believe this project is so important and why I believe our Chief of Police is playing such an important role. As I've stated before, the National Center for Education Statistics (1996) reports that 61 percent of low-income families have no books in their homes. Without books to read, and someone to read to them, these children enter school with two strikes against them already. The time to get them hooked on reading is when they are very young, and in the home environment. But in many cases, without parents who are strong believers in education, they don't have the proper foundation. We want to change that here by giving them a bookcase with their name on it, good books to read and a follow-up plan to have college students and other adults work with them.

Here is why this is so important. I get copies of many other newspapers that run my column. A recent paper had the headlines "Police arrest three in purse snatching" along with pictures of the suspects. One thing I saw in the eyes of each one was anger. To be sure, people who are illiterate and failing in life cause many of the problems in our society. Failure is one of the many reasons these people are angry and we all pay a high price. Thanks to Chief Aragon, we are going to make a difference. If you would like more information, feel free to contact me.

(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)