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The Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission was created by Act 1216 of 1993. It is an offshoot of the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission and was established under Governor Bill Clinton by an executive order to promote the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The purpose of the commission is to promote racial harmony, understanding, community service, respect, and goodwill among citizens, and an awareness and appreciation of the civil rights movement; to advocate the principles and the legacy of Dr. King; and to develop, coordinate, and advise the governor and Arkansas General Assembly of ceremonies and activities throughout the state relating to the observance of Dr. King’s holiday. The commission receives funding from state general revenue, donations, and grants.
When it began, the commission had only one staff person and was located at the Governor’s Office in the Arkansas State Capitol. It had limited resources and focused primarily on youth-oriented projects. In 1997, the commission gained more staff and formed the junior commission board, composed of Arkansas high school and college students who demonstrate strong leadership qualities and community service. They serve in a variety of areas, including public speaking, volunteering, and mentoring.
The commission has not always had a positive reputation in state government. State Senator Tracy Steele served as head of the commission from 1994 until 2006; from 1999 onward, he was also a member of the Arkansas General Assembly. Many commissioners were uncomfortable with Steele holding this dual role, and political infighting in the commission continued even after Steele’s departure, leading Governor Mike Beebe to complain publicly in 2008 that the conflict had hindered the commission’s ability to function; for a time, he suspended all appointments to the commission.
The commission sponsors many programs, including the event “A Day of Service” highlighting volunteerism. Another program is the Martin Luther King Birthday Bash. The commission, with the assistance of Arkansas Department of Human Services, implemented a program that is designed to encourage youth ages ten to eighteen to engage in leadership roles in their communities. These programs educate the youth on professional development, leadership, Arkansas history, crime prevention, and more. Another comprehensive program, L.E.A.D. Apprenticeship and Dream Keepers, is a social, academic, and career mentorship. It reaches out to communities to gather youth from different walks of life and introduces them to King’s six principles of non-violence. The commission also has a commemorative vigil to mark the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, and hosts the Coretta Scott King Women’s Conference at correctional facilities throughout the state.
For additional information:Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. http://www.arkingdream.org/ (accessed August 25, 2016).
Tania Hutchison Searcy, Arkansas
Last Updated 2/14/2017
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