On Jan. 21 five influential leaders in the Fort Smith community discussed their various missions in alleviating poverty, hunger and homelessness in the River Valley during a panel discussion at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith moderated by Mayor George McGill.
The panelists - Charolette Tidwell, founder of Antioch for Youth and Family; Chris Joannides, executive director of the Riverview Hope Campus; Eddie Lee Herndon, president of United Way in Fort Smith; Julie Moncrief, director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank; and Ila Debose, assistant professor of social work at UAFS – spoke to a full house in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.
The event was part of a community breakfast celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Williams Yamkam, assistant professor of political science and coordinator of the event, introduced the panelists and spoke to the importance of the event and the need to pause and take stock of how close we are to the promised land envisioned by Dr. King. UAFS Provost Dr. Georgia Hale offered a campus greeting, encouraging guests to be kind hearted, sympathetic and responsive to the needs of their community.
The panelists spoke of the immense need in the greater Fort Smith community, but also of the hope that their organizations offer. Tidwell began the discussion, stating, “The road to progress is still under construction, and we have much to do.” Debose reminded the crowd to consider the intersectionality of homelessness, hunger and mental health.
Combined, the panelists serve more than eight counties in the River Valley area and meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of residents annually. Though they agreed there is a crisis of need, the panelists also echoed the voices of hope. Joannides encouraged the community to “be a voice.” Debose suggested taking children to events like the breakfast to help them learn what social issues and social ills are in their area and so they can begin using their voices for change.
“You guys are a rock, and our community is a pond," Herndon said. "So take what you’ve learned and let it ripple out. Share this passion ... Move into action ... Get busy, roll up your sleeves and put those jeans on.”
Following the panel discussion, Mayor McGill asked all attendees who volunteered in some capacity in the community to stand. When nearly the entire crowd rose, McGill reiterated, “This is what we mean by Fort Smith proud, River Valley strong.”
“Let’s all be active,” he continued, “The help is here. Let’s take it upon ourselves to be good citizens.”
Pastor Paul Davis of St. James Missionary Baptist Church gave the invocation, and Pastor Tim Beasley of Central Christian Church led a closing prayer.
The breakfast marks the eighth year UAFS has collaborated with the MLK Community Association to honor and celebrate King.