Members of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission participate in Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Alabama to commemorate civil rights history.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day and throughout Black History Month, community eyes are on the Arkansas Martin Luther King Council and its many programs. After this period ends, public participation does not reach the same level for the dozens of other events it puts on throughout the year.

Because of this, Scott said the council is working to keep support year-round through marketing and creating new events.

“The rest of our programming doesn't have that same response because there's just a natural focus on January and February,” MLK Council Commissioner Derek Scott said, “because people are attuned to it, almost as an expectation.”

The signature MLK holiday “Day of Service” is the council’s flagship event, celebrating the civil rights leader through an extended weekend of service-based programs, Scott said. The commission is a division of the Arkansas Department of Education, focusing on human rights and nonviolence principles modeled after Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles.

Scott said the high volumes of participation during these programs in the NWA community reflect the diversity of the area and the constant relevance of these issues.

This event has thousands of participants each year and runs almost entirely from volunteer help, AMLKC Executive Director Dushun Scarbrough said. Their Black History programs also have had more than 1,000 attendees, and feature performances from various artists and speakers.

“If you just get one person to show up is success because you had one person to believe in the ideology of Dr. King and what you want to promote,” Scarbrough said. “It doesn't have to be a big room full of people.”

Even so, Scott said the commission’s perpetual challenge is getting people interested in their many other programs such as Juneteenth Celebrations and Unity in the Community events, which reach up to 700 people statewide.

The difference does not necessarily lie in a lack of interest, Scott said. Community members likely do not seek out these programs as much because hot topics change so quickly in the public eye, so it takes more work to market and raise awareness.

To commemorate Black History Month, the Commission recognized Scott for his work as commissioner and as a local artist, according to a press release. While he mostly works on still-life artwork, Scott has painted numerous pieces featuring Black individuals, including civil rights activist Daisy Bates.

Recently, Scott painted a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., which was presented at the governor’s mansion during an interfaith event. It currently hangs in The AMLKC’s Little Rock office, where Scarbrough said he can see the passersby admire it.

“It’s not my expertise in artwork, but someone like myself walking by seeing art like that and being truly intrigued by it,” Scarbrough said, “it has to be truly moving. It’s really an inspiration.”

Scott said painting feels like his calling and thinks of his activism and artwork through the same lens– an opportunity to make an impact.

Honored to contribute his work, Scott said creating this MLK portrait was a unique way to serve the community and inspire conversations about their mission.

“If I make one mistake, people are like ‘That’s not Dr. King, that’s Morgan Freeman,’” Scott said. “So there was pressure to get it right with a figure who is so notable, and it turned out better than I expected.”

UA fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha partners with the AMLKC for multiple events, which bridges the organization with the college community, fraternity president Jarron Gray said.

The large January and February events are when these organizations hit their peak in involvement, Gray said, but he has been able to see the work The commission does year-round to achieve its mission.

The fraternity’s connections to the AMLKC and other grassroots organizations have helped pull them into the conversation and amplify voices of youth in the Black community, Gray said. With this, they are able to have input in local programs and gain exposure serving the wider community.

“We are here at a predominantly white institution and we are considered the minority,” Gray said. “So there are some challenges and struggles that we go through just trying to get certain things or programming done, but at the same time, we do have a great support system.”

Youth programs are another priority of the commission, Scarbrough said. They travel to schools throughout the state and promote nonviolence and anti-bullying practices. While it is a large issue to tackle, the effect on the students is astonishing to see, he said.

The group’s next program is in the development stages, but Scarbrough said they are setting up a youth art contest in NWA, introducing painting as a creative outlet and opportunity to promote MLK’s ideology. The commission is still in the planning process for this event, but Scarborough said he knows Scott’s expertise can make it a unique event.

Those who wish to get involved or learn more about the organization can visit or call 1-888-290-KING.

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