In February, the Arkansas Times always devotes a cover story to Black History Month. This week, Grif Stockley writes about the history of racial strife in Crittenden County, lately at a boiling point because of the recent West Memphis police shooting of a black child who'd committed no crime.
The subject arises, coincidentally, with a call from my old friend LaVerne Feaster. I met her many years ago when we served on the Presbyterian Urban Council and it's a rare worthy political gathering at which I don't see her warm face. She's 81 now, but 80 is the new 40 for this energetic woman, who retired as state leader for 4-H at the University of Arkansas Co-operative Extension Service. She walks five miles a day and she prods me gently, but insistently, about her causes.
Her cause of the moment is the 35th installment of Delta Presents. The Little Rock chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority for educators established at Howard University in 1908, began the program in 1973 to provide positive reinforcement for black males. This year, 41 Pulaski County high school seniors will be recognized March 1 at the Doubletree Hotel. They'll join an honor roll of more than 1,600. Actually, they are not just honored. There are programs on professional development, health, volunteer work, etiquette and conversational skills.
“We were concerned at the lack of recognition of young black men,” she said. “The only time you see them in the newspaper is for sports.” Or, she says with an even more disapproving tone, “something else.” A big newspaper feature on dueling rappers was fresh on her mind, as well as the steady news diet of perp walk photos.
So this is for my friend LaVerne. I don't have room to list all this year's winners. But let me introduce you to just one, Kelvin Parker Jr., who's also been nominated for this year's Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team.
A senior at J.A. Fair, he ranks in the top 5 percent of his class and is student body president. Interests? He's a poetry slam winner, president of the pre-college engineering club, leader of the school Quiz Bowl team, a Governor's School attendee in visual arts and a volunteer in everything from Red Cross blood drives to Boo at the Zoo. His counselor lauds him for understanding that “the key to success is hard work.”
Kelvin is also a clothing designer. He plans to attend Savannah College of Arts and Design in hopes that “my clothing line, King Style, will be a household name.” He wrote in his all-star application: “Fabric is my canvas, needle my pencil and thread my paint. The garments I design make up the wardrobe containing my spirit, heart and dream.”
Kelvin is a welcome reminder that history is not just in the past, but always in the making. The stories need not be unhappy ones. I love the idea of a young Arkansas man becoming famous for his clothing, not for how high he can jump in short pants or for a menacing appearance in prison orange.
You also might be interested to know this: Mrs. Feaster voted early in the Democratic presidential primary — for Hillary Clinton. “I never hired anyone just because they were black or white or a woman,” she said. “She's the best person for this job at this time.”