Organizers will also discuss diversity and representation in local government.
More than 41 percent of Arkansans live in rural counties and these communities face different challenges than urban areas. To highlight some sources of assistance, the Minority Affairs Council of Southwest Arkansas is hosting a Rural Resource Roundtable Thursday evening in De Queen.
“There’s somebody out there, but a resource is no good if you don’t know about it,” MAC president Murriel Wiley says.
In the summer of 2020, a group of De Queen residents hosted a protest and solidarity gathering in response to George Floyd’s murder. Realizing more work needed to be done, some group members went on to create the Minority Affairs Council of Southwest Arkansas in late 2020.
“We don’t have a lot of money, but that hasn’t stopped us from doing cool things,” Wiley says.
More than 61 percent of De Queen’s population is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census, and Wiley says one of the grassroots organization’s biggest accomplishments has been supporting a Hispanic candidate who was elected to the local school board where he can provide representation for his community.
MAC is also responsible for creating a community mural that features the word “welcome” written in different languages. The goal of the project was to cover up graffiti on the building while sharing a message of inclusion. Darlene Taylor was selected to paint the mural and had an interesting first day working on the project.
“Someone called the cops because all they saw was a Black person spray painting a building and jumped to all the conclusions,” Wiley says. “And so that proves so much why we needed to be here because we should not have people calling the cops on us at 9:30 in the morning in broad daylight on a major highway when we’re painting a community project.”
Once the issue was resolved, the community and police were welcoming to Taylor who has since been hired to work on other projects around town, Wiley says.
The incident highlights the importance of building a bridge between the town’s Black and Hispanic residents and elected officials. It’s important to have representation in city government, but if some people are scared or have socioeconomic factors that keep them from being involved, Wiley says they need to strategize ways to bridge that gap. Thursday’s roundtable is one way to help residents feel more comfortable connecting directly with local government.
The goal of the event is to facilitate a conversation about diversity and representation in local government for rural Arkansas, along with discussing healthcare, business development, infrastructure, inclusion and the strategies needed to push small towns forward.
Lorena Esquivel, owner of a Spanish translation services company, will host the event and Josiah Matthews from the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign will serve as the keynote speaker. Other guests include John Caver from the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, Sevier County Medical Center CEO Lori House, Camden Mayor Julian Lott and De Queen Public Schools board member Tony Soto.
“What I hope folks get out of this is that they know there are resources there,” Wiley says. “There are people who are fighting for them, there are people who want change and that they can get involved in the change. We can bridge the gaps in representation.”
The Rural Resource Roundtable is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at Party Room Candela, which is located at 110 N. 3rd Street in De Queen. No RSVP is required and there will be door prizes and refreshments. Masking and social distancing are encouraged. The free event will be livestreamed on Facebook.
More information is available on the Minority Affairs Council of Southwest Arkansas Facebook page.