Finding the Good | Episode 5

Arkansans share positivity by giving back to their communities during a rough year.

We did it!

We finally made it to the end of the year and what a year it was. 2020 was difficult for a number of reasons for so many people and I think most of us are glad to see it go.

The dawning of a new year comes with the hope that something better is just around the corner and that’s what we’re going to focus on today—hope. Even though 2020 has had plenty of bad, many folks have still managed to find the good. 

We’re going to share the stories of two Arkansans today, the first is Chris Kennedy. He’s a food blogger living in North Little Rock with his family who loves cuisine and the holidays.

Chris Kennedy with his Black Santa display
Courtesy: Chris Kennedy (Facebook)

This year, as in years past, he has decorated his front yard for Christmas. Included in the display is a large, inflatable Black Santa. Unlike years past, Chris received an anonymous racist note about his decor.

After reporting the incident to the police, the post office and his property owners association, Chris and his family received support from their neighbors who put up their own Black Santas. They’re calling them “solidarity Santas” and the incident that has placed them in the national spotlight.

“It’s been great, the sense of community that is definitely prevalent here after this year being so contentious,” Kennedy says.

Chip Welch with his Black Santa
Chip Welch is one neighbor who’s added a “solidarity Santa” to his yard. Courtesy: Chip Welch (Facebook)

The Kennedys have received notes, letters, cards and treats from people showing their support. When one person tried to offer money, Chris Kennedy suggested donating to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas instead. Through the effort, they’ve raised enough to sponsor about 250 nights for families who need to stay there while their child is in the hospital.

“We’ve turned this ugly thing into something beautiful by being able to help families be able to stay around each other during a pandemic, during a holiday season,” Kennedy says. “It’s going to be the most difficult time of some of their lives so that’s what I wanted to do because I really do love helping people.”

In the River Valley, a Fort Smith woman is receiving national recognition for feeding the hungry in her community. Ms. Charolette Tidwell, founder of Antioch for Youth & Family, has been giving food to those in need for more than 20 years.

Charolette Tidwell with her smile on a Lay's bag
Charolette Tidwell’s smile was placed on bags of chips as part of Lay’s Everyday Smilers campaign. Courtesy: Antioch for Youth & Family (Facebook)

In 2020, her work was honored in a number of ways. She received a key to the city of Fort Smith, her smile was placed on bags of Lay’s Potato chips as part of their Everyday Smilers campaign and most recently, L’Oréal Paris honored her with the Karen T. Fondu Impact Award for her tireless work in combating her hometown’s hunger crisis.

Miss Charolette is taking all the recognition in stride and with a humble heart.

“I’m feeling I don’t deserve the recognition,” she says with a laugh. “I’m quick to say that the wonderful, wonderful volunteers in Fort Smith have made this agency what it is today.”

The need for food has increased since the start of the pandemic and Tidwell estimates they’re now feeding more than 35,000 people a month.

“Somebody has to be positive, somebody has to be dedicated and somebody has to believe that collective action works,” she says.

To hear more from our conversation with Chris and Charolette, listen to the month’s episode at the top of this page.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.