Arkansas Soul

UA Professor Nikita Reed (left) and 2019 Arkansas Soul students Nyah Scott (center) and Nima Afsari (right) in Eureka Springs.

For one recent high school graduate, traveling Arkansas with a new diversity driven summer program inspired her in ways that will change her life.

When Nyah Scott applied to be a part of Arkansas Soul, a program that aims to bring minority students into the world of media and changing the way minority groups see travel in Arkansas, she did not realize how the program would influence her love for media.

Scott, a recent graduate of Monticello High School, was one of 11 students chosen to be a part of Arkansas Soul, a program headed by University of Arkansas Assistant Clinical Professor Nikita Reed. 

The two-week residential program began on June 16 and ended June 30. Students began the week with media training before traveling across Arkansas in search of diverse and interesting stories. The students traveled to Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, Little Rock and Eureka Springs, where they looked for stories and events that will help encourage African American and Latino travelers to visit Arkansas.

Photos, videos and articles from the students can be found on the AR Got Soul page.

She applied for the program with a two-minute vlog on her favorite place in her hometown of Monticello, Scott said. 

The program began in Fayetteville, where students stayed in Yocum Hall and received training from professors to sharpen their media skills.

The second week of the program was spent traveling across Arkansas, Scott said. 

Scott’s favorite place they visited was Bentonville, where they visited the Walmart Museum, Markham and Fitz Chocolate Makers and more, she said.

While in Bentonville she interviewed around five people while working on a group assignment to gather information on the city and people in it, some of which she was surprised to learn were from out of state but love the city and what it offers, Scott said. 

“The biggest thing the program taught me was how to network,” Scott said. “I learned how to connect with people my age and use my new skills.”

Scott was inspired to change her major to journalism after the program and plans on attending the University of Arkansas after completing her general credits at the University of Arkansas in Monticello.

For Bret McCargo, a recent graduate of Fayetteville High School, the opportunity to build on his portfolio while working with a diverse group of people was one he could not pass on.

“For me, what was really important was getting to work in a really diverse environment,” McCargo said.  “I don’t get that as much in Fayetteville.”

One of his favorite places, and one where he saw the most diversity was the River Market in Little Rock, where he saw people of all ethnicities buying and selling, McCargo said.

The diversity in Little Rock is something that he wishes more travelers knew about, McCargo said.

McCargo, who is majoring in journalism, will transfer to the UofA after a year at Northwest Arkansas Community College.

Reed realized that the narrative for tourism in Arkansas could be improved in a way that might help attract more African American and Latino travelers, she said. She also recognized the need for diverse students to be involved in media, which she included when creating Arkansas Soul.

The concept for Arkansas Soul first came up in January of 2018, Reed said.

Reed saw the need for this program after realizing that many people from out of state, and even in-state residents, could not tell her much about attractions in the state, she said.

“There is a dire need for people of color in the media, and if this program can help them love state as well, that is great,” Reed said. 

Partners such as the Arkansas Tourism department helped with discussing goals and logistics for the program, said Leah DiPietro, Communications Manager for Arkansas Tourism.

“A program like Arkansas Soul is important on so many levels,” DiPietro said. “Not only does it help students learn and gain experience in journalism and media, it also helps Arkansas Tourism market to diverse audiences both inside and outside of the state.”

Other partners that helped make the program possible include Culturally Connected Communications, Northwest Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists,

the UA Office for Diversity and Inclusion, UA African and African American Studies Program, UA Admissions Office and the UA School of Journalism and Strategic Media.

“In the end, I realized the recruitment of minority students is still an uphill battle, but I'm happy to learn many of the students I interacted with this summer view the flagship as a viable option,” Reed said in an email. “Recruitment aside, all of them learned things about different regions of the state, even if they've visited certain cities before. And they're excited to see more, return to some places and explore more of the natural state with their loved ones.”

Abbi Ross is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since March 2019.

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