By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by John David Pittman | Shot on location at First Missionary Baptist Church | Wardrobe from Dolce Vita Men
“We need not only utilize Dr. King’s tenants but also teach his legacy.”
The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. represents courage that all people can embrace. It celebrates racial and cultural diversity – inspiring the pursuit of nonviolence + equality as the path for positive change. Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission Executive Director DuShun Scarbrough believes inclusion is an integral component of the organization’s mission fulfillment work. His pragmatic philosophy places people and community as the visionaries for a more equitable future for all Arkansans.
Since its inception in 1993, the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission has provided strategic programming that cultivates an intrinsic understanding of social justice. It promotes the steadfast progression of human rights and the transformative power of knowledge. “Our statewide outreach is designed to be educational, with an appreciation for history. We encourage youth to engage in positive leadership development by offering thousands of hours of volunteer opportunities.”
DuShun recognizes education as the trajectory for his life and his relentless pursuit of community service. He remembers his childhood in a Little Rock neighborhood filled with gang activity. “My grandmother sheltered me in ways I didn’t understand; she wouldn’t let me go outside. I had to stay in and study and read books,” he recalls. “She was saving my life.”
DuShun realized at a young age he wanted to be a catalyst for building stronger, healthier neighborhoods. Through the support of family and God, uncanny wisdom brought a great revelation. “I understood that rock-bottom has built more champions than privilege and I believe that I have the experience and the foundation to offer solutions.” He attended Philander Smith College and remains an ardent ambassador for the university. Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers elaborates, “DuShun espouses the kind of social justice-charged leadership that we aim to position our students and graduates for. We are proud of his work, and we are grateful for his support of Philander Smith College in producing more graduates who aim to do the same.”
A statewide presence and strong partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education remains paramount to the success of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. “We serve all four congressional districts and the Arkansas Department of Education helps coordinate our efforts to our most important demographic – the youth and future of Arkansas. We support the Governor’s initiatives such as workforce development, increasing vaccinations and computer science for high school students.” DuShun recognizes underserved communities deserve the same consideration as more urban areas of the state. “Many communities struggle with violence and the status of race relations. We travel the state with a message of reconciliation and fortitude.” He references Dr. King’s final sermon, “He spoke about how mankind has made the world a neighborhood through technological advances, but has failed to advance brotherhood. We bring communities together through service and brotherhood.” In 1963, Dr. King visited the historic First Missionary Baptist Church in Little Rock, one of the oldest African American churches in the state, and shared an anniversary sermon with the congregation + fellow Morehouse College alumnus Pastor Roland Smith.
It’s this kind of brotherhood that creates meaningful change among constituents and better understanding of the principles of racial harmony + respect that remain relevant. “My personal vision for the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission is for Arkansans of all ethnic groups and economic levels to unite and work together on various issues affecting the community. We need not only utilize Dr. King’s tenants but also teach his legacy. We must solidify our youth’s intellectualism and elevate our effectiveness as parents, educators and role models.”
Each year, the commission celebrates the nation’s largest day of service – the King Holiday Day of Impact. King Week 2022 will begin later this month in anticipation of the holiday on January 17; related events include an essay contest, interfaith prayer breakfast and birthday bash in Harrison as well as a nonviolence youth summit in Batesville. DuShun realizes that inclusion + compassion are ideals that are relevant 365 days of the year. The organization hosts events throughout the year in all four congressional districts. A most recent collaboration with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff brings Southwest Athletic Conference games to Arkansas – offering sports enthusiasts an opportunity to support Historically Black Colleges & Universities. DuShun’s values, reflected in his work throughout the state, are clear: words and actions are powerful tools. “Not to act is to abandon our own responsibility of trying to make the world a better place. The Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission serves all people. Dr. King was for all and all are invited regardless of race, creed, color or religion. It’s our commitment to choose love.”