Rodney Parks (left), senior director of major and planned gifts for the UAFS Foundation, speaks to a capacity crowd during "The Trumpet: A Fort Smith Community Forum."
In front of a capacity crowd gathered on the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith campus, nine high school students discussed a spectrum of issues during “The Trumpet: A Fort Smith Community Forum,” the university’s celebration commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Panelist Monet McGill (left) answers a question while Persephone Himes looks on.
Students from area high schools served on a panel to discuss social and economic challenges facing their generation, ideas to improve Fort Smith and the importance of education, among other topics. The discussion was held in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center following a breakfast free to the community.
The students – who varied in background, ethnicity and gender – echoed common themes during the panel, their answers often punctuated by applause from the audience. Specifically, they agreed that expectations from their parents caused anxiety for their generation.
While they explained that the older generations’ expectations weren’t always realistic – “Not everyone can be a leader,” said panelist America Cruz of the Future School of Fort Smith, pointing out that some people’s strengths lie in helping others rather than in leadership – they also expressed appreciation for their elders.
“I think the older generation doesn’t understand how much we need them,” said Persephone Himes, a student of Southside High School. “We do live in a technological age, but we can’t Google everything we need to know.”
Speaking to what panelists called “the elder generation,” the students also discussed ways Fort Smith could improve to retain young people graduating high school and college.
“We’ve got to incentivize businesses,” said Southside High School student Christian Parker. “We have plenty of room to grow out at Chaffee. There’s so much undeveloped land on the river as well. Do you know how much potential is sitting down there? Not only as a historic town, but imagine if you built a boardwalk or something to get young kids to come down and enjoy that. Maybe that would make them want to stay and not want to move to a larger city to find more opportunity.”
After answering questions from moderator and UAFS student Kayley Corley regarding civility and the importance of technical skills versus interpersonal skills, the panel ended by asking students about the value of learning.
“Everyone should learn to enjoy learning because, like it or not, you’re going to be doing it your whole life. All of us, whether we realize it or not, are lifelong learners,” said Northside High School student Anna Kate Dooly. “I believe in education always. It’s a great way to expand your own mind and to hear from others and help improve the world around you.”
Other panelists were Raissa Ames, Ladaija Coleman, Monet McGill and Tre Norwood of Northside High School, and Jordan Moses of Muldrow High School.
The event began with a welcome from Dr. Leroy Cox, associate dean in the College of Applied Science and Technology, followed by the invocation from Rev. Dee Smith, a welcome to campus by Dr. Paul Beran, UAFS chancellor, and a welcome from the MLK Community Association by Bruce Wade. Music was performed during the ceremony by the St. James Missionary Baptist Church and UAFS percussion students.
This year’s symbolic march was cancelled due to weather. Instead, Dr. Beran closed the ceremony by praising the answers and intelligence of the panelists.
“I want to thank the panelists for your heartfelt responses. You all gave some phenomenal answers,” he said. “[Your answers] give me great hope in what’s going to follow and what we have to look forward to, not what is bad but what is good and what is going to come up from behind us and make the world a different and better place.”
Rodney Parks, senior director of major and planned gifts for the UAFS Foundation and co-coordinator of the event, also spoke and explained the meaning behind the event’s name.
“People have asked, ‘Why did y’all call this event “The Trumpet?”’ … It was based on Dr. King’s 1968 book ‘The Trumpet of Conscience,’” Parks said. “We want to make sure all of our young people have a sense of conscience to know where they are, who they are and to know that anything that they desire to do, they have the capacity to do.”
“From this day forward, we will celebrate our stories through the trumpet,” Parks continued. “We won’t tell our stories through violent acts … From this day forward, the song and the music and our story, will be that of the trumpet.”
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Through a small campus, dedicated professors, and the university’s unique bond with its community, students at UAFS are able to do more in the areas they are passionate about, both on- and off-campus, in a way that prepares them for post-graduate success. To find out how you can do more at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu.