In business, we talk about silos. As executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, I like to reassess, restrategize and rebrand for continued relevance.
When I came to the commission, I wanted to rebrand it as an agency that serves everyone, not an agency that serves only African Americans. We are so much more than that. I was determined to break the commission out of that “silo.” We provide thousands of hours of community service annually to individuals and organizations. We feed the homeless and disadvantaged. We have hosted programs entirely in Spanish, technology-based workshops where students have studied coding, anti-bullying as well as joint programs with law enforcement agencies.
Our “Operation Appreciation” program served meals to first responders and armed forces members. Within our outreach, we serve all four corners of the state, which is especially important to highly underserved small towns and rural areas. The life and principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are at the foundation of our programming, therefore it is important to forge a common ground with our audience. Service is beyond the four walls, and service has left the building.
Who are we?
The Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission is a division of the Arkansas Department of Education. It reaches thousands throughout the state’s four congressional districts with public service and outreach projects that exemplify the values of Dr. King and his philosophy with a central focus on serving others by alleviating poverty, building community and fostering peace through his principles of nonviolence.
It is one of the many duties of the commission as a nonpartisan governmental organization to promote through both the awareness and appreciation of the civil rights movement. The commission also enables the people of Arkansas to reflect on the life and teachings of Dr. King through educational endeavors, cultural performances, exhibitions and events that are multi-ethnic and family-oriented. They are carried out through donations and contributions from individuals as well as public and private organizations.
As the director of a state agency, I also believe it is vitally important to involve our public servants as stakeholders. We have had the participation of — at times even partnered — Gov. Asa Hutchinson, members of the General Assembly, the state’s congressional delegates and constitutional officers, including the secretary of state and state treasurer to host youth programs. Dr. King valued diversity, and he partnered across racial, political, economic and religious lines to promote these causes for social change and the greater good.
We will host several commemorative events that honor the King legacy across the state as we countdown to two milestone events that were important in civil rights history. The first event will commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Now more than ever, we need to promote voter registration and education to build participation and interest in local elections.
How far would you walk for change? How far would you walk for future generations?
Dr. King walked 50 miles in his “Sunday best” for change. By the time he reached Montgomery, there were 25,000 people with him. He once said, “We cannot walk alone, but as we walk, we shall make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.”
As a commission, we are always asking, how can we “march ahead?” Given the climate, there is an urgent call to revisit and educate youth about Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence, justice, peace and reconciliation. There is an urgent call to carry on his mission, which included working towards understanding, common ground and building the world house and beloved community where all are valued.
On Aug. 28, the commission will host several Arkansas delegates to the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We are partnering with KARK/Fox 16 to document our journey and experience for Arkansas. It was there on Aug. 28, 1963, when Dr. King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
How can we march ahead? We march ahead by reconnecting with the “dream.”
DuShun Scarbrough is executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.