- Prospective Students
- Faculty & Staff
- Make a Gift
Due to inclement weather, the reception for the National Day of Racial Healing has been rescheduled for Tuesday, January 23 at noon in Sturgis Hall.
The recipients of the inaugural Clinton School Center on Community Philanthropy Advancing Equity Award will be announced at the reception. This award is given to organizations that are using innovative solutions to address racial inequalities in their communities and advance progress toward inclusion. Award recipients will be presented with support to enhance their efforts.
Refreshments will be served during this event. Please RSVP at email@example.com by January 19.
Three Clinton School students scheduled to graduate in May 2018 have already secured full-time jobs. Susanna Creed (Monrovia, Calif.), Mollie Henager (Conway, Ark.), and Domenick Lasorsa (Cape Cod, Mass.) were each able to find full-time positions through Clinton School connections.
Creed was recently hired as the new College and Career Program Specialist at Children International at UA Little Rock. Creed learned about the job through Dr. Al Bavon, Professor of Public Administration, who knew of the opening through his previous work with Children International.
A McLarty Vital Voices Scholar, Henager accepted a position with Awamaki, a business development and women’s empowerment nonprofit NGO in Olllantaytambo, Peru. Henager learned of the opening after completing her International Public Service project with Awamaki in the summer of 2017.
In her new fulltime role, Henager will be the International Partnerships Manager and will serve as the representative between Awamaki and visiting students, groups, volunteers, and interns. She will work closely with Tiffany Jacob and the Clinton School Office of Community Engagement staff. Her new position begins March 19.
Lasorsa has accepted a full-time position as a Housing Associate for Veterans and Special Needs with the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington D.C. Lasorsa, who is currently completing his Capstone project with the NLC, will handle policy areas that include homelessness, home modifications, and housing for seniors and the disabled.
The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service will celebrate the second annual National Day of Racial Healing on Tuesday, January 16 at noon in Sturgis Hall. The celebration will include a reception to announce the recipients of the inaugural Clinton School Center on Community Philanthropy Advancing Equity Award. This award is given to organizations that are using innovative solutions to address racial inequalities in their communities and advance progress toward inclusion. Award recipients will be presented with support to enhance their efforts.
The National Day of Racial Healing (NDORH) is an opportunity for people, organizations and communities across the United States to call for racial healing, bring people together in their common humanity and take collective action to create a more just and equitable world. NDORH is a part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort – a national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.
Refreshments will be served during this event. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org by January 11, 2018.
About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit wkkf.org.
About the Center on Community Philanthropy
Launched in 2007, the Clinton School of Public Service Center on Community Philanthropy was created to focus its teaching, research and policy-making exclusively on the emerging field of community philanthropy, the idea of giving and sharing time, talent, and treasure from within one’s own community. For further information, please visit the Center’s website.
Clinton School alum Patrick Banks currently works as a Talent Acquisition Diversity Recruiter for Caleres, Inc., an American footwear company that counts Famous Footwear and Dr. Scholl’s among its 17 brands.
Banks entered the Clinton School with an education background, having worked as a science teacher in St. Louis with Teach For America after earning his undergraduate degree at Wabash College.
“I absolutely loved teaching. It was an amazing experience,” Banks said. “I think the biggest challenge, and one of the reasons why I ended up going to the Clinton School, was because of the administrative turnover in public schools. I was motivated to go to the Clinton School to try to change that process in some way.”
Banks was introduced to the Clinton School on a summer trip with Cultural Leadership, a youth education and leadership nonprofit organization based in St. Louis. The trip across the country included stops in New York, Washington D.C., Alabama, and ended with a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. It was there that he met Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford.
“He’s telling me about the Clinton School and this idea of merging a public policy degree with a public administration degree,” Banks said. “And I think, ‘Wow, what a novel idea and what a novel approach to serve people and the greater good.’”
Banks’ time at the Clinton School included work on a Practicum project in Newport, Ark., conceptualizing an arts center for the region that eventually became the Blue Bridge Center for the Delta Arts. His International Public Service Project took him to Kenya to help a series of Kenyan schools redesign and revive their science curriculum.
“That was incredible,” Banks said of his IPSP experience in Kenya. “Let me think of every best practice I have from being an American science teacher. Let me slam it against your curriculum in Kenya and let’s see how we can better communicate these ideas and concepts to rural schools who have very limited resources.”
Banks transitioned into his current role after starting with Caleres – then Brown Shoe Company – as an Organizational Learning Specialist in November 2012. He was the Director of Alumni Affairs at Teach For America St. Louis from 2011-12. Additionally, Banks is a board member for St. Louis College Prep, a tuition-free, public charter school, which he calls his “continued connection to education.”
We have a small recruiting team that fills all corporate jobs for the company. There are tons of opportunities in areas like finance, accounting, IT, marketing, design, etc. Essentially, all of the jobs that contribute to the life cycle of a shoe – sourcing materials, building the shoe, selling it to consumers and businesses, etc.
Within that scale of filling any open jobs for our 17 brands, there is an enhanced need for diversity. Dr. Scholl’s sells shoes to the military, making Caleres an affirmative action company. This has generated a specific need for diversity recruiting. I work to ensure that we have diverse candidates in the pipeline for any open position. I also build community partnerships with CBOs – Community Based Organizations – consisting of affinity groups and organizations that represent many forms of diversity.
What was the path to your current position?
It’s been a really cool progression. Before I went to the Clinton School I had an education background. I was a classroom teacher through the Teach For America program. I went to the Clinton School intent on growing in education in some way. When I graduated I worked for Teach For America’s national office in St. Louis.
I was the Director of Alumni Affairs. My work revolved around keeping alumni of the program connected to the greater mission, helping them remain as education advocates in the political, private, and social arenas. I loved the job, but there was a huge focus on fundraising, and that wasn’t a passion of mine.
I reached out to a mentor and said, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this, can you help me be a better fundraiser?” And he asked, “Why would you want to be better at something you’re passionate about?” He connected me with a corporate trainer here at Caleres, which at the time was called Brown Shoe Company.
During out initial conversation she said, “You have an education background, you know how to develop curricula, and you obviously don’t have a problem connecting with strangers. I think you should come and work on our corporate training team.”
On a whim, I decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
That initial trip to Little Rock with the Cultural Leadership program introduced me to the school. Cultural Leadership was founded by Karen Kalish. She’s this powerful, driven activist, and sort of a nonprofit startup guru, in St. Louis.
Karen is Jewish, and she believes that Jewish people and African-American people experience many similar hardships in life, and often times we don’t realize it. The premise of Cultural Leadership is identifying African-American students and Jewish students and allowing them to get to know one another and learn from each other’s lifestyles.
The program would draw students from the two communities and encourage them to explore each other’s’ lives. They would go to each other’s schools. They would go to class together. They would eat meals at each other’s homes. They would go to each other’s religious services. For an entire year, they would do these programmatic meetings on a regular basis.
The program culminated with this trip across the country. We started in St. Louis, jumped on a plane and flew to Washington D.C. While we were there, we studied civil rights movements for African-Americans and Jewish people. Then we went from D.C. to New York and we learned even more about the two cultures. From New York we travelled to Alabama and, starting in Alabama, we got on this bus that mimicked the Freedom Riders. We would go from location to location just talking about civil rights, the impact different activists have had, and about the unique contributions of the Jewish and African-American communities.
The last stop on the trip was the Clinton School. We came from the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and Karen felt like that stop was very important because of all of President Clinton’s contributions. We’re coming off this really emotional journey, and we’re exhausted, but we’re determined to tour this library. And that’s when I meet Dean Rutherford. He’s telling me about the Clinton School and this idea of merging a public policy degree with a public administration degree. And I think, “Wow, what a novel idea and what a novel approach to serve people and to serve the greater good.”
From there, I did a ton of research. I always have to talk to people; I always have to hear it from their perspective. I probably talked to a total of about a dozen Clinton School Alumni, and I did a ton of reading about the curriculum.
What else is going on in your life?
I recently got accepted into an executive leadership program in St. Louis that I feel is an extension of some of the things we learned at the Clinton School. It’s called the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative. The idea is to empower potential and current minority leaders in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area by taking us through monthly workshops that challenge our ideas about leadership, management, and problem-solving. The program provides us with a variety of strategies and tools to help us be more effective in our current jobs, and more aggressive about pursuing our passions.
I sit through these sessions and I bond with my cohort mates and it reminds me so much of the Clinton School. The program lasts one year, and its’ goal is to provide us with knowledge and skills that we can take back to our respective companies to then empower other potential minority leaders. It’s this idea that, you’re going to learn this ‘stuff,’ but you’re also required to pass the knowledge along.
We started the program in September, but the sessions already feel transformative. In addition to being fulfilled personally it’s been amazing to witness the impact of sharing this knowledge with my coworkers. I believe my cohort mates are saying that, too.
Clinton School alum Kim Caldwell works to train the next generation of female political leaders at Annie’s List, an organization that recruits, trains, supports, and elects progressive women who are dedicated to advancing the self-determination, health, safety, and financial security of Texas women and their families.
As Program Director at Annie’s List, Caldwell helps progressive women all along their leadership journey become stronger political candidates and elected leaders in Texas. She oversees the organization’s workshops that help women learn the skills and access the resources they need to be successful in politics and government. In addition to leading workshops, Caldwell supports the committees of volunteer leaders around the state and heads the organization’s internship program.
“I’m very proud of our internship program,” Caldwell said. “We hire five interns every semester. These are fantastic young people, mostly women, who have a real impact on our capacity, and go on to do great things. It’s a great privilege to be a part of their leadership journeys.”
Caldwell’s time at the Clinton School included three semesters as a graduate assistant in the Center on Community Philanthropy. Her Practicum team worked with Goodwill Industries of Arkansas to help ex-offenders achieve a positive reentry into their communities through training, education, and employment services. For her International Public Service Project, she traveled to South Africa to identify potential collaboration between West Coast Community Foundation and Community Development Foundation Western Cape.
Caldwell became involved with the No Kid Hungry campaign through her Capstone Project in Governor Mike Beebe’s office. That experience turned into a full-time position with Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry’s parent organization, in Washington D.C., where she worked as a program manager for five years. She transitioned to Annie’s House in March 2016.
She and her husband Justin Dove live with their two daughters, Allison and Edie Dove, in her hometown of Austin, Texas.
How did you decide to attend the Clinton School?
I was at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party in 2008. She and I were part of the Nonprofit Professionals Network together and we were thinking about grad school. We were in that same place – four years out of undergrad where you start to hit those same ceilings – and she mentioned the Clinton School. It stuck with me. I Googled it in January, read about it, and loved it.
What I had learned in my time since undergrad – having worked a campaign, worked briefly for a leadership organization, and for a management support organization – was that I learned so much more by working than I ever did in classrooms. And there were things that I learned in classrooms that never made sense until I needed them in the field.
When I read about the Clinton School, the projects the students were doing sounded like the projects I was doing in my current work. But instead of being the second chair consultant or the junior consultant, I was going to get to figure out how to lead. That’s why I was so interested.
I just want to say first and foremost, the members of my class at the Clinton School changed who I am as a person. There are so many who showed me what thinking and living differently looked like and taught me so much, taught me to talk less and listen more, and to see the world from a perspective that was global and empathetic. It got me out of the “I need to be right and succeed” approach, the perfectionist approach to the world that only serves you well for so long, into really, truly being open and different, being less afraid of failure and more interested in what can be created.
Not that the professors weren’t amazing, but I think often your cohort really determines what is available to you, as far as challenging and interesting thinking, and getting beyond what’s written on the page in your coursework. It’s what makes each class unique. That’s why I loved my class, even though we challenged each other and were hard on each other sometimes, ultimately, it is what made the difference in the program for me.
How did you become involved with the No Kid Hungry campaign?
When I came back from my IPSP, No Kid Hungry had just started with the Governor’s office and they were looking for someone to do some work. They asked, “How do we collect information and look at it so that this partnership that’s forming can make smart decisions about using resources, about investing resources?” It was great.
I got to sit in the capitol during a session, because I was technically working for the Governor’s office. I got to present to the Governor, and I got to present to Share Our Strength, and I ended up speaking at a national hunger conference, and the panel that I sat on was moderated by the woman who would become my boss at Share Our Strength. They were funding the work in Arkansas that I was part of as the coalition was starting, and I was meeting all these people in Washington D.C.
I’d always wanted to spend some time in D.C. It happened to work out that after I graduated they were expanding their center for best practices and I was hired. It was really exciting. Even thought I was new, I was coming with a pretty deep understanding of all the federal nutrition programs and what these partnerships looked like on the ground. In my role with the center, I was able to continue working with the folks in Arkansas, and continue that work and help other groups complete assessments like what I did in Arkansas.
One of the very first things I did within this job was develop a resource to help others replicate my Capstone project. I think that’s such an exciting example of this work that I did in grad school not just being a thought experiment. It was an approach to understanding the context of a state that we replicated in other states.
What were some other ways the Clinton School prepare you for this position?
My work really evolved in my time there. I became an expert in federal nutrition programs. I worked more with the federal government than I anticipated, working directly with the USDA. I would travel around the country to different state agencies and nonprofit partners and develop a protocol for community planning meetings that was promoted by USDA. I worked with different regional offices to go to these states to train these colleagues to lead these meetings with the protocol that I developed. That was very Clinton School-y. It was pulled almost directly from Christy’s class, Peter Block’s Community. For example, we provided a template invitation because one of the things I took from her class was how important the invitation is. People can’t fully participate if they don’t know what they’re participating in.
A lot of the skills from the Clinton School – the design thinking, strategic analysis, all of that – was very present in the work that I did. I am a firm believer that the Clinton School made me better at what I do.
How did you transition to Annie’s List?
When I finished undergrad in 2004, I did one state rep race. I wanted to work in politics; that’s what I thought I was going to be. But it turned out that was not what I was going to be. I didn’t want to do campaigns. It wasn’t for me. You have to love it. And I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
Annie’s List had been at the table for that campaign I worked on in 2004; they had just started the year before. I knew what Annie’s List was, and the candidate that I’d worked for had been an executive director here for a while. And then the current executive director was someone that I’d known from my time in Austin.
The position was training director and it really seemed to be a great combination of the things I’d become good at – building capacity within an organization, investing in individuals as leaders, and strengthening groups of volunteers. It was taking this interest and experience I had in politics and really having the right role within a more stable environment to get to have an impact on what we were doing.
I get to be involved in helping elect women, but through a role that fits with what I’m great at. This year my title changed to Program Director because I took on all of our volunteer leader work around the state. I was on the national board for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network where we helped start new chapters. In fact, I helped start the Little Rock chapter, because I was on the board while I was at the Clinton School.
It’s an exciting role, even if I don’t know how long I can be in politics because it really takes a lot from you and out of you. But there is nothing I’d rather be doing right now than electing progressive women.
I started “Preparing to Run” (name changing to Candidate 101) because I realized that we didn’t engage women until it came time to show up for seven hours on a Saturday and learn how to run your campaign. We’re really working on meeting women where they are. I spout a lot of research about women and running for office, but women win at the same rate as men. Women just run at a much lower rate. And there are higher expectations for women candidates.
What we know is that women take into account more external factors, which is why being asked is so important. The decision is made very much in the context of their lives, as opposed to very often when men run for office, it is this sort of individual, “I’ve always wanted to do this so I’m going to do it” decision process. This is about meeting women where they are and working toward representational democracy – leadership that truly reflects the community.
What has the interest level been like since last year’s election?
In 2016, when we did have a woman at the top of the ticket for the first time, we trained 204 women. This year, we trained 776. Secretary Clinton spoke at one of our luncheons and Senator Kamala Harris spoke at another. We’re in a different universe.
We just did a strategic plan to double the number of progressive women in the Texas House over the next seven years. We want to ride this wave. Right now, the idea of electing women is sticky. There’s a space in people’s brains for it and we want to stick Annie’s List to it. They know if they want to run for office, Annie’s List is the organization that will help them do it.
Clinton School alum Stephen Bailey’s recent work includes multiple credits on “Meth Storm,” the new HBO documentary that tells the story of drug enforcement agents working to stop cartels from flooding the United States with a new, potent form of meth called ICE, and the communities impacted by the drug’s addiction. Bailey is listed as an associate producer, editor, and camera operator on the documentary.
Bailey first gained experience as a video professional with Heifer International. Bailey’s tenure at Heifer started with an internship under CEO Pierre Ferrari before transitioning into the marketing department, where he began creating videos and documentaries to showcase Heifer’s international impact. Upon graduation from the Clinton School in 2013, he was formally hired as a video producer.
“Through my work with Heifer, it became a large priority to bring back more stories from the field to connect the communities here with the communities abroad,” Bailey said. “I took on that role, doing short documentaries and videos on groups and people that Heifer was working with around the world.”
The Renaud Brothers, the award-winning documentarians responsible for “Meth Storm” hired Bailey as a full-time producer following his time at Heifer.
“Meth Storm” was filmed over more than two years. Can you describe your day-to-day work on this project?
One of the hallmarks of Renaud Brother films is the relationship that they build with their characters. We spent a lot of time getting to know the people in this film, with and without cameras. Whether DEA agents or other residents of Van Buren county, their daily lives became our routine to the extent that we were invited. I think the willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is what helped foster the mutual trust and respect that is evident in the film.
The documentary does an excellent job of portraying both the addicts and the law enforcement in a sincere, sympathetic light. As someone who was working alongside the DEA, was that accurate?
Certainly. As Johnny states in the film, their primary goal is to stop the influx of meth into the United States from Mexico, not target addicts in Van Buren county. They see the devastating effects of meth on a day-to-day basis and so are very sympathetic to the people and communities that it impacts.
How prepared were you for what you saw? What did you find most surprising?
I wasn’t aware of the extent of the meth problem until I became involved in this project. But like much of my work with the Renaud Brothers, this project was another reminder of how divisive or alienating labels can be. “Addict,” “law enforcement,” or “rural” hardly convey how dynamic, nuanced, and complex the lives of these people are. Apart from meth there is a lot of hardship and trauma experienced in these communities. Their ability and willingness to convey that to us and survive it is a testament to their strength. I’m constantly surprised by the strength of the human spirit.
As someone with a background in public service, did the economic impact resonate with you?
Absolutely. The growing disparity and lack of economic opportunity is a theme that I’ve noticed in our work, from Arkansas to Chicago or even Somalia. There’s a moment in the film where people often laugh, when Little Danny says that he wouldn’t do meth if he had a regular job. But it’s actually hitting a crucial point. There’s a psychological component both internal and reinforced by society when you live in poverty. Between the lack of opportunity, pressure to survive, and the toll it takes on our self-worth, we become more susceptible to more radical means – like gangs or drugs or even terrorist networks. It’s very much a global story that this is tapping into.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently returned from another Renaud Brothers project in Somalia and will be finishing the project in the coming months.
The Clinton School graduated its 11th class in May 2017. The school’s Master of Public Service degree program has now graduated over 300 students since its inaugural class in 2006.
The school boasts a 90-percent graduation rate, with alumni landing jobs in global organizations such as the World Bank, Walmart Foundation, and Starbucks corporate offices; federal organizations such as the United States Department of State, the U.S. Department of Energy, and FEMA; and many highly-respected domestic and international service organizations in the fields of education, environment, immigration, health care, and legal services.
Since the Clinton School Speaker Series began in 2006, the school has hosted more than 1,200 public programs featuring leaders in government, politics, business, foreign policy, journalism, and philanthropy. These programs have drawn more than 200,000 attendees, and have been viewed online by over 500,000 people in 200 countries and territories. The series has featured 45 ambassadors, 23 Pulitzer Prize winners, 12 heads of state, and seven Nobel Prize winners.
More than 17,000 people attended nearly 100 Clinton School Speaker Series programs in 2017 – all free and open to the public.
All Clinton School Speaker Series programs can also be viewed free online.
Through the Clinton School’s unique Master of Public Service degree program, its students have completed nearly 300,000 hours of direct field service work in over 850 projects with more than 500 public service organizations.
The Clinton School will launch its new online degree program, the Executive Master of Public Service, in March 2018.
Click here to make a contribution online or mail your tax-deductible contribution to:
University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
1200 President Clinton Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Please make your checks payable to the University of Arkansas Foundation/Clinton School.
Each student is the recipient of a $45,000 scholarship that can be used to cover academic, personal, and travel costs associated with the Clinton School program.
A graduate of the University of Cape Coast with a degree in social sciences, Mensah worked as an assistant field officer with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. As a volunteer, he was as a liaison with the District Social Development Officers (DSDOs) helping to get low-income people enrolled onto social intervention plans in rural communities. Mensah’s public service interests include international politics, poverty reduction, and economic and community development.
Oriaghan is a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University with a degree in international relations. Her work experience includes time as Senior Administrative Officer at the Lagos Waste Management Authority under the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment. Oriaghan also spent time volunteering as a development knowledge facilitator on the Millennium Development Goals Community Advocacy Project. Her public service interests include international development, international economics, and environmental politics.
“We are most grateful to Rotary for again awarding these prestigious scholarships to two outstanding Clinton School students,” said Clinton School Dean James L. “Skip” Rutherford III. “We also very much appreciate the work of Dr. Bob Warner of Jonesboro and others who are strong advocates of higher education.”
Mensah and Oriaghan join current students Darlynton Adegor (Delta, Nigeria) and Vinay Raj (Chennai, India) and graduates Demas Soliman (Alexandria, Egypt) and Arjola Limani (Tirana, Albania) as Rotary Foundation Global Grant Scholars from the Clinton School.
The grant sponsor is Rotary District 6150, that includes parts of central and northeast Arkansas, and District Governor Nancy Leonhardt in cooperation with 12 Rotary Districts in the United States.
Kirby Richardson graduated from the University of Central Arkansas as a double major in history and religious studies. Richardson has collected a variety of volunteer and public service experience. In addition to his work with Habitat for Humanity, he has volunteered as a history and social studies tutor and writing editor for the University College Program. As an undergraduate at UCA, he spent time studying South Asian history and Buddhist religious traditions in India and Nepal.
Richardson is also a member of the ForwARd Arkansas practicum team, which works with area middle schools and community institutions to build partnerships for the benefit of students. His public service interests include social justice, prison reform, poverty relief, employment and housing non-discrimination, and equal access to quality education.
What are your interests in history and religious studies?
I’ve always been interested in history. History and social studies were my favorite subjects in school growing up, because I come from a family that has a very long history of tracking its genealogy. My mother and my grandmother were very interested in tracking family history. My aunt actually published a book of family history.
From a very young age, the idea that what came before would determine the range of possibilities that were open to you is something that became a fundamental tenant for my life and my family.
I always really loved history and social studies growing up and into high school, so it was just a natural progression to study it further in college. For religious studies, that was something that was a little more personal. I grew up in a predominantly Evangelical household. Religion was something that I always questioned a lot when I was younger, so I felt like it was the perfect opportunity, in college, to put some process to those questions instead of just kind of wondering on my own. I took religious studies more for personal questions than anything else.
How do you feel like these fit into a public service context?
Especially here in the South, we live in The Bible Belt. I think that religion and the church are things that, in a lot of communities, are the center for social life. If you try to separate peoples’ understanding of what public service is and what a good society is from their feelings about religion, you’re not going to be able to get the entire picture and you’re not going to be able to appeal to them on every level. If our goal is to create sustainable social change and to create a better life for all people, or as many people as possible, then we should work inside the spheres that people operate within in their everyday lives.
Religion is one of those for a lot of people. Having an understanding of different religious traditions and having an understanding of peoples’ local cultures as they interact with their religious beliefs is extremely necessary in public service. Now, with history, the idea of what a good society is and what constitutes public service, in service to that idea of good society, is something that has changed drastically over time. If you go back to ancient Greece, they’re going to have a very different idea of what constitutes a good society than what we have today. I think that being able to have the research methodology to be able to track that change over time is something that’s really going to help me in the future.
How did you get involved with Habitat for Humanity?
When I was in the eighth grade, my family and I moved to just outside Rogers, Arkansas. We’d been living in Rogers proper, but we decided that we wanted to move just outside of town. It was a relatively new area; there wasn’t a lot of housing out in this area, but it was under development. One of the biggest developments in this region, in this part of Rogers, was a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood.
Every day on the way to school I would see the Habitat for Humanity crews out there laying foundations and clearing brush and all sorts of stuff. My mother always told me this is where Habitat for Humanity is building houses for people that need help. It was just always an idea, something that was very foreign to me. I’d never had to worry about where we were going to live, whether or not we were going to be able to pay for rent, whether or not we were going to be able to pay for housing, so it caused me a lot of confusion when I was a child, but I really found myself drawn to the idea of building a home for somebody as an act of public service and an act of public good.
A home offers a sense of safety, a sense of security and without that sense of safety and security and belonging that a home provides, it’s so much harder to get through the rest of your life without someplace that you can call your own to go back to. It’s always going to be there waiting for you.
As far as how I got involved with Habitat for Humanity itself, when I graduated from college in 2015, I went back home to northwest Arkansas. I went to college at UCA. I moved back in with my mother and my father, who was very ill at the time, and I started working at the Walmart Home Office, just to make some money and save some money up before coming to grad school. But, I didn’t feel fulfilled sitting in a cubicle all day. So, I started looking for ways to volunteer in my local community.
I volunteered a little bit for the local humane society, but it wasn’t very long. I decided to dedicate my time to Habitat for Humanity. There was a field office right down the road from the Walmart Home Office, so on my way home from work one day I pulled in and volunteered my time. Every Saturday morning, I would go to Habitat for Humanity and do some work in the mornings and just volunteer my time in an effort to give back to the people that didn’t have, because I lived a life where I always did have.
Your public service interests all seem to fall under the umbrella of civil rights. Is that a strong interest of yours? What do they stem from?
That’s an interesting question, I’ve never thought about that before. I think it comes down to: What is a right and what is a privilege? Do people have a right to affordable housing or is it simply a privilege to have affordable housing? Same thing with healthcare, same thing with education. Should we have a fundamental right to basic necessities that improve quality of life or is that something that only people who can pay the price for deserve? I think that it does become an issue of civil rights, it does become an issue of: What does a functioning society owe to its citizens? So yes, I do think it all stems from civil rights.
Which, if any, interests came first?
I can track where my interest in education reform comes from, even though at the time that it was occurring I was only in the second grade. I wasn’t having any radical ideas about education in the second grade, but in looking back on that experience, it is what formed my interest in education reform. I went to a private school for second and third grade, because the local schools in Dallas, where I was living at the time, were not great. They were in severe academic distress. There was a large degree of violence at these institutions. My mother pulled me out of the school after there was a bomb threat at an elementary school.
She pulled me out and sent me to a private school. We had a socioeconomic situation that allowed me to go to private school. Do I think that I got a better education because I went to a private school? I can’t make that determination. I think I got a good education. But, there are plenty of people that don’t have the option not to go to public schools, regardless of how dangerous or ineffective they may be. There are kids who don’t have the option of going to school because their parents aren’t able to get them there. They aren’t able to get them the clothing that they need. They don’t have food. There are a multitude of different factors that go into this.
In 2014, I participated in a study abroad program in India and Nepal. It was called the Antioch Education Abroad Buddhist Studies in India program. We, 30 American students from various universities, partnered with Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and traveled to South Asia, lived in a Buddhist monastery, and studied South Asian history and Buddhist religious traditions. It was probably the most eye-opening experience of my entire life.
I had never been to that part of the world before and I’d never experienced poverty as intense as the poverty I experienced in India. I lived in the poorest part of the poorest region of India. Per capita, it had the lowest average household income.
I was already in a pretty raw moment in my life and I came across this book in a local library. It was basically a shack. People would leave used books, other people would come and pick them up, read them, then bring them back, and, if they could, contribute a book of their own. I have no idea who set it up. I have no idea where it came from, but I really loved it.
I was going through this little community library and I found this book. It was tattered and torn, a couple pages were missing. I picked it up and I think one of the reasons I chose it was because I read it during one of the most transformational parts of my life. It took on this special meaning, that every time I read it or think about it, it immediately takes me back to that time when I was living in India doing wacky things in Southeast Asia. I also picked it because it’s a story, fundamentally, about how people from different walks of life can meet each other, not trust each other, not particularly like each other, but through consistency and communication form, not just a friendship, but also a family unit – become so close that they consider each other family.
It inspires me to think that we live in an incredibly politically divided time right now, and the idea that people from completely different sides of the equation can sit down and have a conversation and actually leave thinking of each other as gifts rather than as enemies. That’s what the book means to me.
Did the religious or secular aspects of Buddhism have much experience on you or your attitudes toward public service?
I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for 10 years now, which is one of the factors that led me to go on the trip in the first place. My relationship to Buddhist philosophy definitely is a cornerstone to my interest in public service, and it all comes down to one idea. In Buddhism, everyone is innately equal — we are born equal, we die equal. In transgressing against someone else, it’s considered a transgression against yourself. That relationship that you have with another person flows both ways. If they benefit, you benefit, if they don’t benefit, you don’t benefit. If you injure them, you’re also injuring yourself. You’re injuring your future prospects. You’re injuring the relationship that could be. You’re injuring your ability to receive anything that you might have received as a part of that relationship. The idea of innate equality is something I take very seriously.
I’ll mention another one — nonviolence, pacifism is another thing I take very seriously in my promotion of public service. Tempering yourself and your anger, because we live in a time of extreme political and social anger. I think that nonviolence and pacifism do not necessarily translate into some of the social movements that we’re seeing.
When I think of the issue of non-self, I’m more interested in the side of it where everything is considered an aggregate of a set of pre-conditions. When we’re talking about this chair, we’ve got a bunch of wood, metal, and fabric. We call it a chair because we use it as a chair, but it’s really just a bunch of pieces of something that we have stuck together and called a chair. I think that that translates into the idea of public service in that we have to understand that every person we interact with is a culmination of a set of conditions they have experienced in the past. The household they lived in, their socioeconomic status growing up, their access to resources, their access to education, healthcare, and all of these things. They’re created by the situation they came out of. As much as I think it’s therapeutic to look at someone and say, “Oh, you’re just a bad person; I don’t like what you stand for.” It’s harder to take a deep look into what situation, what conditions gave rise to the ideals that they cling to.
Can you describe your experiences with ForwARd Arkansas?
First, I’m extremely excited to potentially have a positive impact on students. I think that for all the pros and cons, or vices, surrounding the Little Rock education system, especially since the state takeover, I think that we have a real opportunity here to make a lasting change that benefits students – I think the Little Rock School District does.
I think that ForwARd Arkansas is trying to nudge them in the right direction with the idea of community partnership. Superintendent Poore is also advocating for these community partnerships. But, I think it has to be done in a specific way. I think students have to be given a voice throughout this process. So, our work is going to be trying to provide a series of best practice recommendations to the Little Rock School District about how to implement an equitable and sustainable school partnership model that benefits students. It’s our hope that the recommendations allow for the universal benefit of all students.
We don’t want to offer recommendations that benefit Forrest Heights or STEM Academy but don’t benefit Mann Magnet or Henderson Middle School. I think that we have an excellent opportunity here to make a lasting change. I’m very thankful that we’ll be given the opportunity to work on this and to provide the much-needed research to the program that’s being implemented by the Little Rock School District. I think it’s going to be a good project. So far, it’s been very a good project. Stressful, but I think it should be, because we need to take everything we possibly can take into account so that we can do what’s best for students.
I think many times programs that are designed specifically for the benefitting of students don’t go far enough in making sure that all students are benefitted. There are people that fall through the cracks, and I really think that our practicum team is up to the task that making sure that net is cast widely enough so that we catch all students.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience at the Clinton School?
I had no idea what I was really getting into coming to the Clinton School. I have a friend, Colby Qualls who is in class 12, and he warned me about how rigorous the classwork would be, and he was right. It is. But it’s extremely rewarding and very valuable, and I’m just very honored and blessed to be here and very thankful to the Clinton School for offering this opportunity.