Arkansas MLK Commission celebrates 30 years

The mission of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, a division of the Arkansas Department of Education, is to promote and preserve the life and legacy of Dr. King in our state, and to promote the principles of nonviolence and equality among all citizens. 

The Commission coordinates community outreach projects designed to promote education, an appreciation for history, and to encourage youth to engage in positive leadership development and roles within their communities. 

DuShun Scarbrough leads the Commission. A Little Rock native, Scarbrough completed his law degree at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. He and his dedicated team and Commissioners are focused on two major initiatives in 2023: The importance of fatherhood and homeownership.

To support fathers and inspire them to give their families their all, the Commission is working with “Arkansas Better Dads” (ABD), an initiative of the Arkansas Division of Workforce Service, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. ABD and the Commission want to serve fathers across the state who are in difficult situations, and to raise public awareness of the critical role fathers play.

Encouraging homeownership is another goal that Scarbrough and his team are accomplishing. They have partnered with U.S. Bank and their DREAM (Delivering Resources that Enable Access to Mortgage) initiative to advance Black homeownership. This partnership is for three years and is focused on increasing access to sustainable homeownership for individuals across U.S. Bank’s nationwide residential mortgage footprint, with a focus on three engagement areas: adult financial education, community outreach, and enhanced recruitment of mortgage sales and support professionals.

Bale Elementary School – A Partner in Education

Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” As a state agency, the goal of the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission is to serve Arkansans of all ages and cultural backgrounds throughout the four congressional districts through statewide initiatives under Arkansas Code Annotated (A.C.A.) § 25-24-102. Donations are accepted and used to further the Commission’s programs.

The Commission holds several Nonviolence Youth Summits each year throughout the state. They are designed to encourage youth ages 10 to 18 to engage in positive leadership development and roles within their communities. These summits, which are free, educate the youth of Arkansas on professional development, leadership, Arkansas history, crime prevention, and so much more. The AMLKC’s mission with these summits is to teach and reach youth in all regions of the state.

Nonviolence Youth Summits have been held in all four congressional districts, and thousands of youth have attended. The programs are offered in English and Spanish. In partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education and Fox 16’s “Victory Over Violence,” the Commission will continue to implement these programs to emphasize relationship skills as approaches to addressing violence.

Youth Summits connect communities, providing service-learning opportunities and educating young people about Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence and peace. They have been hosted in: Batesville, Pine Bluff, West Memphis, El Dorado, Forrest City, Hope, Conway, DeQueen, Hot Springs, Fayetteville, Harrison, Jonesboro, McGehee and Dumas.

Outreach to people goes beyond four walls, especially during these times when issues of race relations continue to surface in the media, so the Commission travels throughout the state. In Dr. King’s final sermon, he spoke about how mankind has made the world a neighborhood through technological advances but has failed to make advances in brotherhood. The Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission brings communities and voices together to work towards change and promote brotherhood through service. 

Some programs have been presented entirely in Spanish to promote diversity. “We must work to live together and embrace our common humanity,” Scarbrough said. “The body works together and when any city or community is affected negatively, it affects the entire state.”

Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva speaks to students at the Commemoration and Vigil at the Arkansas State Capitol.

“I understand what Dr. King meant when he said ‘what affects one directly affects us all indirectly.’ We need not only utilize Dr. King’s vision but also teach his legacy,” Scarbrough said. “We, as the community, must impart knowledge of nonviolence and racial harmony to our new generation so that they are equipped to forever promote the legacy of Dr. King. We want audiences to see beyond the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and celebrating the King legacy only in January.”

DuShun Scarbrough leads the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, a division of the Arkansas Department of Education.

A Little Rock native, Scarbrough earned his undergraduate degree at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, 

followed by advanced degrees from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and Webster University in Orlando. 

Later, he completed his law degree at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

• Under Scarbrough’s leadership, the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission hosts the largest day of service in the nation.

• This year, the Commission was recognized by Congress and entered into the national records.

• Arkansas is one of five states in the nation to offer a license plate dedicated to Dr. King.

• Scarbrough’s outreach and vision has impacted the lives of thousands of people. The Commission is recognized by The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Ga., and Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. King, and his widow Coretta Scott King have stated that the Commission is the most active in the nation.

• Because Scarbrough prides himself on promoting Dr. King’s legacy across the state, each year providing thousands of volunteer hours to youth, he was recognized by 501 LIFE Magazine as a “Living Legacy” of Dr. King. He is also a mentor, husband and father to three.

• As Executive Director, he has also worked with several cities across the state, including Harrison and Fort Smith, to improve race relations through high-impact programming. Under his leadership, the Arkansas MLK Jr. Commission shares the stories of unrecognized Arkansans in the Commission’s African-American History Makers Coloring Book. The book is in its fifth printing and is highly sought by schools and teachers across the state during Black History Month.

Fulfilling Our Purpose:

The mission and purpose of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission: To promote racial harmony, understanding, respect, and goodwill among all citizens; to promote principles of nonviolence, peace, and social justice; to promote among the people of Arkansas, by appropriate activities, both the awareness and the appreciation of the civil rights movement and advocacy of the principles and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; to develop, coordinate, and advise the Governor and the General Assembly of appropriate ceremonies and activities throughout the state relating to the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, including without limitation providing advice and assistance to local governments and private organizations with respect to the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday; to receive donations and contributions from individuals and public and private organizations in order to fulfill its responsibilities; to establish a Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Commission to educate young persons on the principles and legacy of Dr. King; and to enable the people of Arkansas to reflect on the life and teachings of Dr. King through educational endeavors, cultural performances, exhibitions, and events that are multi-ethnic and family-oriented.

Read the full special section here.