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Community | Events | Featured | NewsJanuary 01, 2024

University, MLK Commission Plan Events

Under the theme “UNITY - It Starts With Me,” the AV, in collaboration with the River Valley MLK Commission and other area organizations, will host a series of events to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year’s commemorative activities include the traditional ecumenical prayer service and campus breakfast, as well as a slate of campus lectures under the theme Civic Power: How Grassroots Mobilization Empowered the Civil Rights Movement.

Expanding on the traditional community march, a full parade will take place on Garrison Avenue. Due to severe Weather, the parade will be hosted Saturday Feb. 10 along with the university's Black History Month slate of events. Sign-ups for the parade are still open, and those interested in marching or bringing a float may register at .

Dr. King, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his nonviolent fight against racial inequality, is also a posthumous recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, observed this year on January 15, was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.

During the annual community breakfast held at AV, acclaimed speaker Dr. Najja Baptist will lead a discussion on his work “Politics in the Key of Life: Black Music as Black Activism” (published in the April 2022 edition of the National Review of Black Politics), which focuses on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and how civic activism in the arts inspired a political movement to earn federal recognition for the MLK holiday. 

Baptist holds a doctorate in political science from Howard University, and his work has appeared in numerous journals, including National Political Science ReviewJournal of Race and Ethnicity; and Politics, Groups, and Identities. Dr. Baptist’s work is focused primarily on Black politics, social movements, culture, political behavior, public opinion, and mass media in the United States. The breakfast is free and open to the public.

Further highlighting the mission of unity through service, the annual MLK commission’s scholarship banquet will feature keynote speaker Wendell L. Griffen, a renowned Arkansas lawyer, jurist, and legal educator, who has shaped his career around diversity, strategic planning, and public policy. Griffen, a University of Arkansas School of Law graduate, became the first person of color at the major Arkansas law firm Wright, Lindsey & Jennings in 1979 and later a partner in 1983. He was appointed in 1985 as chairman of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission by then-Governor Bill Clinton, another transformative first.

In 1996, then-Governor Jim Guy Tucker appointed Griffen to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, a position he held until 2008. Concurrently, Griffen was active in various civic roles, including President of the Pulaski County Bar Association and Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church.

After his judicial tenure, Griffen joined the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in 2009 as a Visiting Professor. He was elected as a Circuit Judge in Arkansas in 2010.  Griffen, also an Army veteran, has been recognized for his work in cultural competency and received the Army Commendation Medal in 1976. He continues to be a prominent public speaker and advocate for cultural competency and inclusion.

Tickets to the scholarship banquet are $50 an may be purchased by contacting a member of the Fort Smith MLK Jr. Commission. 

The full slate of events includes:

UNITY - It Starts With Me Scholarship Banquet
Saturday, Jan. 13, 6 p.m. at AV Campus Center Reynolds Room
With Keynote Speaker: Judge Wendell Griffin

WEATHER UPDATE: Annual Ecumenical Celebratory Service
This traditional service will be led by Speaker Rev. Ulysses Washington, District Superintendent and Chief Mission Strategist for the Central District of the United Methodist Churches in Arkansas.

WEATHER UPDATE: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity in Action Parade
Saturday, February 10, 11 a.m. beginning at Seventh Street and Garrison Avenue in downtown Fort Smith
(9:30 a.m. line up for participants - register at )

Public Lecture: Sociological Aspects of the Civil Rights Movement
Thursday, Jan. 18, at 11 a.m.: Gardner 201
Dr. Dan Maher will give a public lecture that looks at the sociological aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.

Documentary Showcase: Campaign Strategies of the Civil Rights Movement
Friday, Jan. 19, at 10 a.m.: Gardner 221
Dr. Williams Yamkam will showcase a documentary on some of the campaign strategies that the Civil Rights movement used to rally the support of Americans.

Public Lecture: History of the Civil Rights Movement
Friday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m.: Gardner 201
Dr. Steve Kite will give a public lecture on the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Public Lecture: Grassroots Mobilization and Civil Rights Policies
Friday, Jan. 19, at noon: Gardner 201
Dr. Eric Baker will give a public lecture on the effects that grassroots mobilization had on civil rights-related public policies.

Civil Rights Display at Boreham Library
Throughout the week of January 15, Boreham Library will showcase a Civil Rights Display.

Peanut Butter Jar Collection for the Needy ongoing event
In partnership with the River Valley Food Bank, peanut butter jars will be collected to help feed the needy in our community. A collection bin will be available in the Campus Center.

Media Relations

The AV Office of Communications fields all media inquiries for the university. Email Rachel.Putman@uafs.edu for more information.

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Rachel Rodemann Putman

  • Director of Strategic Communications
  • 479-788-7132
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