Guest Bloggers

Black History Month: Celebrating Influential Black Women in Arkansas

Guest blog by Sarah Thomas Pilcher. This is Part One of two blogs dedicated to highlighting influential African American women in Arkansas as part of Black History Month.

Inspirational black women across the globe have spent years climbing the corporate ladder, pursuing careers in specialized fields and leading major companies. 

Right here in Arkansas, accomplished and powerful women have achieved success in their professions, raised families and mastered the art of balance within their lives. I hope that you enjoy learning about the influential black women that we have in our beautiful state.

Black History Month shouldn’t just be a celebration of our past and the things that we have accomplished, but also what we continue to strive toward for the future.

Gwendolyn Bryant-Smith

Photo courtesy: UAMS

Bio: Gwendolyn Bryant-Smith is the Chief of Breast Imaging and the Breast Imaging Fellowship Director in the Department of Radiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). A native of Little Rock, Gwendolyn is invested in patient advocacy and preparing future radiologists. She is a clinical image reviewer for the Arkansas Mammography Accreditation Program and has served as chair of the National Veterans Affairs Mammography Advisory Committee. She and her husband Derrick are raising their eight-year-old son, Andrew.

Biggest inspiration? “My mother, Patricia Ann Bryant. She has a steady drive and resolve. She has high standards for herself, her two children, son-in-law and grandchild. She continues to teach me the value of hard work, a positive attitude, dependability and proper role-modeling. She has shown me how to be a good parent, and I am using her example as a template for my parenting.”

Philosophy to live by? “Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.’ People who are resilient in the face of struggle and adversity continue to inspire and motivate me. I think resilience is the key to success.”

How do you stay happy + healthy? “I stay healthy and happy by making downtime a priority! I cherish quiet time and time spent with my family. It helps me recharge.”


Marjorie Williams-Smith

Photo courtesy: A.J. Smith

BioMarjorie Williams-Smith is an accomplished artist and teacher. A native of Washington, D.C., she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., followed by her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Marjorie specializes in silverpoint and has an impressive portfolio: her artwork can be found in a variety private and public collections, including the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Longview Art Museum in Longview, Texas and the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection. One of several career highlights includes designing the Congressional Medal for the United States Mint that honored the Little Rock Nine. Additionally, she taught art at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for more than three decades.

Life-changing moment? “When I became a mother, my life changed. I learned about setting priorities and how to balance all the things that being a wife, mother, artist and teacher require. Being a mom takes a lot of energy, but you get back a lot of love.”

Goal for 2018? “I am looking forward to having a solo art exhibition at Hearne Fine Art in mid-town Little Rock this fall. I will have several new drawings for this show.”

How do you stay happy + healthy? “I try to eat a healthy diet. Also, I have been practicing yoga for a year and a half. This has really helped me gain physical strength and, coupled with meditation, has helped give me inner peace.”


Carmen Portillo 

Bio: Carmen Portillo is a trendsetter, as she is the first and only Certified Professional Chocolatier in Arkansas. Carmen received her training at the Notter School for Confectionary and Chocolate Arts in Orlando, Florida and earned a certificate from Ecole Chocolat Professional Chocolate Arts. She owns Cocoa Belle Chocolates, where she creates a delightful variety of handmade artisan truffles, barks, sauces and butters. Cocoa Belle was recently featured in Vogue’s Culinary Collection, which highlighted her new line of sauces and butters.

Life-changing moment? “When I left an abusive relationship in my early adulthood. I realized my power and God-given ability to follow my biggest dreams. Regardless of whether others believed it was possible; I knew the promises God placed in my heart, and all I had to do was step out in faith and never look back.”

Goal for 2018? “I have many goals for 2018, but a specific one that will help me reach others is to be positive. Being positive in every situation will dramatically change the outlook of the most grim situation. I want others to see the light that shines within me so they in turn have the motivation to be positive.”

How do you stay happy + healthy? “I stay healthy and happy by living a life of purpose. My God-given purpose gives me power to create, dream and push forward to success.”


Sarah Thomas Pilcher is an IA contributor
Inviting Arkansas