Announced as the new President and CEO of the Urban League of Arkansas in October, Clinton School graduate Marquita Little is in the early stages of a new role that is the culmination of her nearly 20-year career in public service.
“I’ve done a little of everything in terms of direct service work, systems building work, and working in a public policy and advocacy capacity,” Little said. “The Urban League really brings all of those pieces together for me.”
A civil rights organization with a mission to assure that all Arkansans have equal access to opportunities, the Urban League of Arkansas focuses on four key areas: health and wellness, housing, jobs, and education.
In addition to working on advocating and changing systems, the Urban League provides direct services in the form of health and job fairs, among others. The organization looks at what a community needs and works to offer those services, in addition to being a catalyst for broader changes.
The Urban League as a national organization is more than a century old. The Central Arkansas chapter, one of the nation’s earliest, enjoyed a 50-year history before closing its doors roughly two decades ago. In the past five years, conversations about the importance of reestablishing the organization were initiated. It reopened its doors in 2015 with a new statewide presence, including satellite offices in Helena and Springdale.
One of Little’s first major initiatives will be the Urban League’s annual luncheon on December 5. The luncheon will recognize community leaders and will feature keynote speaker and fellow Clinton School graduate and State Representative Vivian Flowers. The luncheon will also be Little’s first opportunity to publicly share her vision for the future of the Urban League.
“I’m very excited about the luncheon,” she said.
Little, who most recently worked as a health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, has enjoyed a long and diverse career in the nonprofit sector.
She spent nearly a decade working in public policy with Arkansas Advocates and the Arkansas Department of Human Services. She was a program evaluation consultant with the Arkansas Minority Health Commission and handled case management and counseling work with Youth Villages in Memphis. Her career started in direct service – working with Habitat for Humanity in Dallas as part of AmeriCorps VISTA.
Little first heard about the Clinton School as an intern for Congressman Vic Snyder. Snyder and his staff paid a visit to the Clinton School in the summer of 2005.
“I thought: ‘This is really awesome.’ That was in the early stages of the Clinton School forming, but I knew I wanted to apply.”
What attracted you to this position with the Urban League?
I have had an interesting and fulling career in what I would term public service. I’ve spent my entire career either in the nonprofit sector or in government.
I’ve spent the last eight years focused on public policy work. But, I started in the nonprofit sector providing a lot of direct service work in communities. I’ve done it all in terms of direct service work versus systems building work and then working in a public policy capacity. The Urban League brings all of those pieces together for me. It’s a perfect marriage.
Do you have goals for the Urban League?
I’m certainly a “see it, fix it” kind of person. But I’ve learned that it’s important to learn the lay of the land before you try to fix everything. That is actually one of my most valuable lessons from my time at the Clinton School. Whether you’re listening to a community and trying to implement a program or change a policy, or whether you’re listening to the people who helped to build the Urban League, and the people who’ve been a part of bringing the organization back and recognized its importance, I think you have to listen initially and find your place and space.
There’s a long history and legacy to build on. And I want to make sure that I am respectful of that history, fully grasp the importance of it, and really can live that out in a way that well-represents the organization and the people of Arkansas and the national brand of the Urban League.
What were some of your standout experiences at the Clinton School?
Honestly, I think the most valuable experiences for me – and part of this is because Little Rock is home for me – are the relationships that I’ve built. I have lots of stories about people that I met through or at the Clinton School. There’s just so many of those types of stories and connections, and through them I’ve been able to build this network of great people. The faculty, the dean, everyone has continued to be helpful throughout my career. That’s been the most valuable aspect – building and being able to nurture those relationships.