By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Sarah Oden
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the steadfast progression of human rights. As a leader for all people, he inspired courage and fearless determination that celebrates racial + cultural diversity. The Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission – a division of the Arkansas Department of Education – works to promote and preserve this legacy throughout the state. Chairman Sharon Ingram leads the organization into a new year with a continued vision of equality that cultivates community among all Arkansans.
Sharon was initially introduced to the organization during a visit that Governor Hutchinson made to U.S. Bank. She recalls, “He met with individuals from the bank and talked about becoming involved in state commissions. I decided to put in an application, but didn’t think much more about it until I received a notice asking me to become a part of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. It’s the best application I’ve ever completed.”
This pragmatic banker realizes the power of knowledge. “My parents were not rich by any means. They worked very hard for us to get a good education. And, in turn, I worked hard for my children.” Sharon’s devotion to the welfare of children is unwavering. She serves on a variety of advisory board of directors including AR Kids Read, Arkansas Hippy and Augustine Child Care Center. It’s the educational projects of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission that Sharon believes make this organization’s mission fulfillment work so powerful. “We must learn from mistakes made during the civil rights movement, so those mistakes won’t happen again. Bringing awareness to not only the civil rights movement, but also education and voter registration will help improve our world.” These programs challenge students to demonstrate alternatives to violence with peaceful resolution.
Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission Executive Director DuShun Scarbrough explains that since its inception in 1993 – strategic, statewide programming continues to cultivate leadership and an understanding of the transformative power of community service. “We host events in all four congressional districts. They are designed to promote education and encourage youth to engage in positive leadership development.” Each year, the commission recognizes the nation’s largest day of service – the King Holiday Day of Impact. King Week 2021 will begin later this month in anticipation of the holiday on January 18; related virtual events include an essay contest and interfaith prayer breakfast as well as a health & wellness expo. DuShun realizes that inclusion and compassion are ideals that are relevant 365 days of the year. “We tend to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January, but due to the current climate of social and racial tension, coupled with the economic hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic – our outreach into the community is more important than ever.” He continues. “Through Sharon’s guidance, we have been able to obtain donations and resources to serve hundreds of economically disadvantaged Arkansans. Dr. King valued people; he valued service; and he had a strong message for leaders to be accountable to the people they serve. Sharon has a heart of service and is a true picture and example of Dr. King’s spirit of service.”