Re-posted with permission from UA Fort Smith News.
Light was shed on personal civic involvement Jan. 19 at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith as Dr. Alice Taylor-Colbert spoke during a ceremony recognizing actions by two local women.
Honorees were Isabelle Bass, 95, and Katherine Brown, 94, the last two living members of the local Rainbow Girls organization, a women’s auxiliary formed in 1945 that spearheaded efforts to meet needs of the Twin Cities Colored Hospital in Fort Smith.
Dr. Taylor-Colbert spoke of her own personal journey to South Africa in 2004, detailed original constitutional rights the country’s forefathers desired for all citizens, quoted from author Henry David Thoreau and reminded the audience of humanitarian efforts of former President Jimmy Carter and India’s political and spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi. She then reminded those in attendance of the goals of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The success of the Civil Rights Movement was made possible by the thousands of people who acted on their consciences, their souls, their understanding of what was right and of what incredible potential for good we have in this nation,” said Dr. Taylor-Colbert. “A democracy relies on the continuing participating of its citizens and on the continuing vigilance of its citizens to address injustices and inequities in order to fulfill the promise of the American Dream.”
Dr. Taylor-Colbert said that making the world a better place requires service for the benefit of others and the ability to see the pain, the grief, the suffering or the simple need of a friend or a neighbor.
She lauded Bass and Brown for seeing a need in the Fort Smith community and choosing to not ignore that need, which speaks to the goals of the American Democracy Project at UA Fort Smith. The ADP is a national initiative fostering responsible citizenship at all levels. UA Fort Smith’s chapter was sponsor of the event honoring Bass and Brown and commemorating the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Taylor-Colbert, who heads the ADP chapter at UA Fort Smith, is chair of the Department of History, Geography, Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies.
“Not all of us can be a Gandhi or a King, or even a Carter,” she said. “We can, however, do our part.”
She said the ADP saw the Rainbow Girls organization as a symbol of the kind of civic participation that makes democracy thrive.
“For every act of kindness, for every effort of time and energy and resources to serve others, for every attempt to become informed in order to make wise decisions, for every trip to the polls to vote, for every letter or e-mail sent to a representative, for every membership in a community organization, for every attempt to right a wrong, for every effort to improve the lives of future generations,” Taylor-Colbert said, “we of the American Democracy Project thank you for accepting the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, which is simply put, ‘the call to service.’”
Dr. Taylor-Colbert said that accepting the call to service would allow King’s dream to stay alive and become a reality.
“One day, all of God’s children — Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, African, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant — all of God’s children can join hands and sing, ‘Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, free at last!’”
Dr. Taylor-Colbert received a standing ovation from the approximately 300 people in the audience, which included UA Fort Smith students, a group of students from Northside High School and members of the community.
UA Fort Smith Chancellor Dr. Paul B. Beran encouraged those assembled to become involved in their community.
“I do believe that people need to participate in civic engagement,” said Dr. Beran, “and that doesn’t happen by yourself. No person is an island.”
He went on to say that no person should be “bowling alone,” taken from the book of the same name, a book that describes the disengagement of Americans from political and civic involvement.
Dr. Beran then acknowledged the honorees and their families as well as other guests and groups attending and supporting the ADP event on campus.
Introducing Bass and Brown was Billy Higgins, associate professor of geography and history, who said he chose as a graduate student to study African American history because he “was stirred.”
“I’m still stirred,” said Higgins, lauding Bass and Brown for their lifelong stand for decency, integrity and justice.
Nichelle Christian, member of the ADP committee and Brown’s granddaughter, presented Bass and Brown with the ADP’s first Citizenship Awards. Also speaking were Fort Smith Mayor Ray Baker and Rhonda Gray, president of the Fort Smith Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. Mariah Hall of Fort Smith, a member of UA Fort Smith’s Upsilon Kappa Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, presented bouquets of flowers to Bass and Brown at the conclusion of the ceremony.