Surrounded by the turmoil of a nation grappling with a myriad of complicated challenges, Arkansas Tech University student Eric Givens stood on the corner of a busy Russellville intersection and held a sign with a simple message: "Love One Another."
He first established himself at the corner of Parkway and North Arkansas Avenue on Friday, May 29, and he returned for five consecutive days. His sign and his message drew a flurry of social media posts by people who took his photo while driving by, and as many as eight individuals were inspired to join him at any given moment.
"For a couple of days before I started standing outside, I would scroll through social media and see everything but love," said Givens, who is from Sherwood. "It was disheartening, and I started to notice that my emotions were being affected big time. I was conflicted with what to do because I am black, but I am also a Christian. I knew I needed to stand up and act, but also knew that whatever I did had to point back to Jesus Christ."
Faith plays a large role in Givens' life, and in his campus involvement at Arkansas Tech. He is active in the Wesley Foundation and its Age-to-Age mentoring program that benefits local children.
"College life is hard and stressful," said Givens, a junior majoring in rehabilitation science with emphases in child welfare and social services. "One is more vulnerable to experience depression, anxiety and many other hardships. What I believe in helps me in these different avenues of my life because Jesus calls everyone to work hard in whatever they choose to do. The hardships that I experience here on Earth are temporary and are not worth me worrying over, but that I should rejoice because that means that my faith has made stronger."
It was his faith, and his desire to bring positivity to his community, that inspired the message on Givens' sign.
"People needed to see this as they went on about their day in real time," said Givens. "Seeing digitally just is not the same as seeing it in real time, outside with an actual person holding it. It is more personal that way."
Givens was especially moved by the children who peeked out of their car windows and made heart gestures with their hands, stopped to offer him a card or gave him words of encouragement.
Even as the love he was putting into the world was reciprocated, Givens was well aware that not everyone would be as accepting of his message.
"I did not fear receiving feedback verbally, but I feared for my life," said Givens. "I know that there are people out there who are not afraid to act exactly how they feel toward black people, and with that in mind, you can say that I was aware of the negative things that could happen to me."
Undeterred, the gravity of the moment and the example set by those who came before him motivated Givens to spread his message.
"I look at Martin Luther King Jr. and how he conducted himself when he protested for the same thing we are currently speaking out for," said Givens. "In saying that, I am in favor of the many peaceful protests. Those that are less peaceful, however, I am not for, but I understand them. Martin Luther King Jr. even said that 'violence is the voice of the unheard.' I understand why violent protests are happening, and I think that the crowds that are in these protests are filled with broken hearts that do not know of a better way to express their hurt.
"Are violent protests the right reply to spread awareness?" continued Givens. "I do not think so. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that, in my opinion."
As he looks to the future, Givens plans to continue expressing his faith in a greater power and his fellow man as he works as an agent for positive change.
"Racism is taught," said Givens, "but if we can teach our children how to love one another, real change starts to occur."