Listen, Conway [North Metro Business Journal]

Beginning June 9, 2020, and continuing for 30 consecutive days, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce used its Facebook and Instagram platforms to elevate the voices of Black members of the community as part of a project titled #ListenConway.

The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce launched #ListenConway in response to the recent high-profile killings of Black men and women by police and the protests that ensued in Conway and around the world, reaffirming that Black lives matter and demanding justice and equality for all. These stories from friends, neighbors, and colleagues are no substitute for concrete action but are an attempt to spark productive dialogue within the community that will lead to positive change. 

Internally, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce has engaged a diverse group of business and community leaders to discuss next steps the organization can take to put its commitment to equity and inclusion into practice. 

The 31 stories from the #ListenConway project follow. To read all of the submissions, follow the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce on Facebook at or Instagram at You can also search the #ListenConway hashtag on these platforms. 


Second-Year Medical Student, UAMS


I am a husband, a father, a brother, a son, an ordained Elder, and a former Wampus Cat and UCA Bear football player.
I enjoy playing video games, fishing, and playing the piano.
I am dedicated, hardworking, loyal, and a fighter for equity.
And I am a Black man.

246 years of slavery, 89 years of legalized segregation and Jim Crow laws, 56 years of discrimination (redlining, mass incarceration, police brutality) all because of the color of our skin. Despite these facts, when I speak against the oppression my people have faced, the response is always similar:

  1. “Go back to where you came from." Unfortunately, I don't know where I came from. I was stripped of the privilege of knowing my heritage.
  2. “Compared to how it used to be, everything is equal now.” Equality is not enough. I was once told equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes, but equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fit.

Unfortunately, many people in my community are still wearing the incorrect size. It’s hard to compete in a race that started over 400 years ago, but if everyone does their part, hopefully one day we will be able to catch up.


Acxiom Associate

Quinn Beacham

I was raised on the hard streets of Menifee, Arkansas.
I work at Acxiom, the best data company!
I carry many titles, but the one I hold the dearest is being a father of four kids.

After days of thinking, I’ve come the conclusion that there is no way I could narrate the accounts of the predicament of the prejudice I’ve encountered in my life. To be honest, I don’t want to. Why? Because those situations played only a small part in my life, and they didn’t make me into the person I am today. I was blessed to have been surrounded by great people (Menifee) from which I learned my self-worth. When it come to the very serious topic of prejudice or injustices, I’m open to a sit-down, candid conversation over tea or coffee – not over social media. You can’t fight hate with anger, and when everyone is talking and no one is listening, the message gets lost in “likes” and “pats on the back.” I am bigger than the flesh I was blessed to be born in. You can’t legislate love or hate; the person has to have the desire to make that change. So I end with three quotes on self-growth, fear, and doing right:

1. “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
2. “No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”
3. “A fair thing is a pretty thing and a right wrongs no man.”


Full-time student at UCA, Writer

Sarah Coleman

I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a student journalist, and a Christian.
I enjoy painting and everything to do with nature – especially hammocking and the lake.
I love spending time with my friends.
I am resilient, I am a hard worker, and I like to think I am a good communicator.
I am a Black (biracial technically) woman.

I just wish others understood what it is really like to be in the middle of two very different cultures. I wish others could take time to understand what it is like to hold your breath every time you see a police car – not just because you might get a ticket. Or what the wave of anxiety of being followed in a store feels like. I want people to know the struggle of learning to love yourself in a society that praises beauty standards that often do not include or reflect that women of color are also beautiful. I want others to take a second to feel what it is like having your accomplishments dwindled down to, “Oh, it’s because they have to reach a minority quota.” I want others to hear that racism is not just an issue of hatred; it is deeply rooted, and it is absolutely just as much taught as it is ingrained in our society.


Executive Assistant to the President/CEO, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce

Cecilia Elliott

I am a spirited, young-at-heart, “seasoned citizen.”
I enjoy reading, traveling, and working crossword puzzles.
I am feisty, strong-willed, independent, and determined.
And I am a Black woman!

My experience with racism occurred during my senior year of high school 1969-1970 when the schools in Camden, Arkansas, were integrated. It was hard to say the least – during my first week I was spat on, not for anything I had done wrong but simply because of the color of my skin.

My favorite quote from Nelson Mandela says, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”


Higher Education Administrator

Dr. Shaneil Ealy

I am a mom, a wife, a sister, a believer, a best friend, and a leader.
I enjoy writing family poems, working out, cooking, gardening and creating experiences that make great memories with friends and family.
I advocate, mentor women, and empower others to realize their potential.
I am classy, patient, resourceful, poised, generous, and genuine.
And I am a Black woman.

Although I couldn’t articulate it at the time, my first experience with racism was in third grade. I was the only Black student in my class. My teacher would make me take my tests at the back of the classroom away from my other classmates. Today, I have a doctorate and hold a leadership position in higher education. My husband and I own two diesel repair companies in Conway and Little Rock. Every day, my husband and I face the dichotomy of operating in two worlds. We are forced to assimilate into boardrooms and our offices in order to be accepted by the majority. We carry the weight of not only being a leader but a Black leader. We represent our Black community and have a great responsibility to operate in excellence so that the generation behind us may be invited to sit at the table. To whom much is given, much is required. Still, neither our successes, our education, nor our reputation can prevent us from being perceived as a threat in our community or our sons, Jase (6) and Henderson (11), from being stereotyped in their schools.

That is my Black experience.


Author, Actor, Playwright

Aidan Eslinger

I am a son, a brother, a creative, a Christian, and a friend.
I enjoy writing, reading, watching YouTube, singing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
I am smart, determined, visionary, compassionate, caring, and charming.
I am a young Black man.

My goal is to entertain and inspire. I’ve published two books and written and directed four stage plays. I own a company and frequently give back to my community. I do well in school, and I will go to college. Yet, some still don’t see my worth. My mother is afraid for me to take a walk, drive alone, or wear hoodies. Although I’m not a threat, I’m seen as one because of the color of my skin. And if the color of my skin is seen as a weapon, I can never be unarmed. That is my Black experience.



Dr. Phillip D. Fletcher

I am a man made in the image and likeness of God. I am a man of faith, a husband, father, son, and brother.

I am a nonprofit starter, an author, a speaker, and I am most comfortable around those who are looked over and forgotten.

I have dedicated my life to a transcendent idea and Person. An idea which governs my commitment to improve the life of others. I hope to live in such a way that when all is said and done, when I have expended all my love, passion, and breath for others, people would rejoice in that idea, in that Person, and live just as sacrificially.


Korry, Shawnte, Jaxen, and Jersei Grey

The Garrett Family

Korry Garrett, Principal Broker/Owner, Sandstone Real Estate Group
Shawnte Garrett, Principal Peripheral Territory Manager, Medtronic Corporation
Jaxen Garrett, 6th grade
Jersei Grey Garrett, 2nd grade

We are Christians. We love God. It is our hearts’ desire and our parental conscious through action to teach our children to treat all human beings as equals regardless of race.

Shawnte and I consider our hobbies to be minimal. She enjoys all things fitness. Our hobbies are centered around our children’s activities. On a typical weekend (pre-pandemic), you would find us at an AAU basketball game or soccer field for Jax and some sort of gymnastics activity for Jersei. She, too, enjoys playing soccer and being with her friends.

When Jaxen was about 5 years old, Shawnte was out walking with him and his white friends just before a sleepover. One of the residents asked her if she was the nanny. Such stereotypes and prejudices won’t allow the certain individuals of the Caucasian race to become vulnerable enough to authentically experience a relationship with an African American individual.

Being the only African American principal broker in Conway, I’m often overlooked for revenue growth opportunities, yet Sandstone Real Estate Group has yearly been ranked number 8 out of more than 30 real estate companies in Faulkner County. My partner and I are proud of our niche that we have developed. We are a reputable business, but we feel we could be greater if it was not for the hue of our skin. Nevertheless, we are proud of our diversity, as we look like no other real estate company in Faulkner County.

In times like these when racial tensions are at an all-time high (from what I’ve seen in my lifetime), we should be focused on unifying and not dividing. Unity begins when each individual recognizes that we all bleed the same color blood and only God’s blood covers us all.

For those who don’t know us, please know that we are not threats to our community. If anything, we are assets. We are actively involved in many community organizations, and we strive to pattern our lives after Christ. Moving forward, if you see us out in public, take the time to speak and engage us in conversation. We may just have a few things in common.


Student, Conway Public Schools

Lillian Goins

I am a Conway Public Schools student who has chosen to excel.
I am also a Conway Area Youth Leadership Institute member and a regional representative for the National Guard Teen Panel.
I’m a daughter, a sister, a Christ-follower, and a complex thinker who enjoys reading and writing.
I busy myself in many extracurriculars, two being debate and Model United Nations.
I am set apart and strive to be different, yet I am – proudly – a Black woman!

Being a Black woman is navigating the harsh reality that I was born into, at a young age. It’s realizing that I may fulfill a stereotype no matter how much I strive to defy it. It’s submitting a smile instead of my true emotions because I know my fit of frustration is a threat, whereas my White counterpart’s anger is acceptable and understood. It’s accepting that my positions of leadership may come as a surprise to some, but my success may still not be acknowledged. It’s experiencing the same pain my ancestors felt for centuries in those moments of rejection.


Military Spouse, Mother, and Public Health Independent Contractor

Millie Goins

I am a Conway transplant, UCA alumna, your friend, your sister in Christ, your colleague, your neighbor, or, more memorably, the smile that lights up a room.
I enjoy traveling, brunch with my girlfriends, gardening, creating, and spending time with my family.
I am loyal, honest, and seek to encourage, educate, and empower others in any capacity I serve.
Moreover, I am a Black woman!

Racial hardships make me wonder where God is. Being Black allows me the opportunity to choose compassion for my oppressors, daily, with the realization that unforgiveness is a distraction. Being Black for me is operating, with joy, in a state of misery. Being Black is living in a perpetual cycle of compounded grief, unwilling to accept the assurance of invalidated loss. Being Black is looking past disenfranchisement and smiling at the future. Being Black is being rewarded with resilience, an invaluable asset. Being Black is acknowledging that only God can fix broken people I encounter.


Corporate Executive

Carl Harris

I am a servant of the Lord, a husband of 35 years to my wife Janet Harris, father of two sons, grandfather of three children, son, uncle, nephew, and a friend to many.
I enjoy all sports and love jazz music.
I am a person who believes my life matters; if not, God wouldn’t allow me to be here.
I am a proud Black man.

I have had all the experiences of being a Black man in America. I don’t believe another person will truly understand what that means or what it feels like on a daily basis until you’ve walked in the shoes of a Black man. It’s not easy, but only by God’s grace, I am here. At times, you want to give up trying to fit into this world. Every day I am showing the world that I am somebody.

Yes, I have been:

  • called the N-word;
  • the first one laid off at my job;
  • told not to mess up the neighborhood when we purchased our new home;
  • pulled over by cops, who tried to invoke me to do wrong;
  • having a discussion with my sons about how to stay alive if you’re pulled over by the police;
  • given opportunities with the expectation of low results and failure.

It’s hard having to prove yourself to others over and over again. Contrary to popular belief, there ARE many educated and intelligent Black men in this world. We are not here to harm nor to steal from you. We do not lose control, blow a gasket, and do irrational things. Black men are in leadership roles and do act professional as well. We have the skills to be successful. We are not tokens in corporate America.

So, the question is, “What does this country need?” How about good leadership! America’s leaders need more compassion toward all – not just ones that are chasing the dollar. Leadership must start first in our homes, then in our communities, and then in our state and across this country.

We don’t need reform. We need a CHANGE in America. The first key to change is to respect ANY and ALL men and women as human beings.

As a Black man I have the same needs as everyone – love, peace, and happiness.


Proactively Retired Registered Nurse

Rene Henderson

I am a grandmother, neighbor, community advocate, Christian, and public servant. Some go so far as to say I am a humanitarian.
Some of my most rewarding career experiences have been classroom teaching.
I enjoy reading, reporting on unnoticed stories from the community, and helping people focus on their potential rather than dwelling on their problems.
I have a strong work ethic, I am resilient, and I am willing to go the extra mile, especially on behalf of others.
And I am a Black woman, comfortable in my own skin and in most settings, but always with a heightened regard for my personal safety.

I’ve spent a lot of time being either the only Black person at many meetings or one of a very few Black people. And often questioned why I am there. I often feel like I have lived with a prolonged PTSD diagnosis due to my blackness. Denials, downright lies, extensive requirements to obtain positions and access, and unsettling stops by the cops have helped shape my Black experience.

My experience has been intensified by the many opportunities to engage with people who don't look like me and who haven’t walked my path. Through my Black experience, educational background, community upbringing, and Biblical readings, I am able to remain hopeful of a less traumatic life experience for future generations of Black women. While progress in race relations is far from where it should be, I am hopeful of future positive outcomes through committed processes, allocated funds, and transparent platforms.


Allstate Agency Owner

Christopher Hervey

I am a follower of Jesus Christ (not a perfect one). I am a husband and a father. I am a son and a brother. I enjoy spending (money)...I mean time with friends and family! 🙂 I also enjoy playing and watching basketball!
I thoroughly enjoy giving back to others.
I am genuine, I am easy going, I am fun, and I am creative.
I am a Black man.

In the Black experience, it feels as though you need to have validation from the majority culture in order to be accepted in certain circles. With that comes continuous pressure to live in two different worlds and in some regard two different personalities (personas).


Acxiom Associate

Arthur Ingram

I am a husband, dad, son, brother, uncle, crazy friend, coworker, mentor, and much more.
I enjoy spending time with my kids, reading, relaxing, and watching my kids chase their dreams.
I am hardworking, loyal, loud and crazy, fun, serious when needed, and sensitive.
And I am a (PROUD) Black man.

One of my most important jobs is raising my Black son to be kind, productive, and aware. The conversations I’ve had with my almost 13-year-old have been eye-opening. The things I’ve had to prepare him for while reassuring him that he’s great and that he’s enough can be sobering. I wish people knew that it’s possible to be pro-Black, WOKE, and still support good police! So when you see me post or hear my loud mouth, please know that it is not anti-police rhetoric or disorder than I seek but equality and growth for ALL!


Assistant Dean of Student Life, Panhellenic Advisor

Shun Ingram

I am a son, brother, friend, Christian, and human being.
I enjoy playing sports, working out, traveling, reading, and quality time with family and friends.
I am positive, bold, fun, compassionate, smart, joyful, and generous.
I am a PROUD Black man.

I take pride in my ability to connect with others and leave a positive impact. I occupy many spaces where I am the minority. Within some of those spaces, I have been subjected to moments of racism in the form of microaggressions, racist jokes, stereotypes, derogatory terms, and experiences. These were moments in which I refused to tolerate; I spoke up and addressed them. I will always speak up. However, they should never happen. I shouldn’t have to explain my worth to be seen as human. I also should not fear going for a run because my skin is seen as a threat. Policies and people must change.


Educator, Personal Trainer

Jasper Johnson

I am a follower of Christ, son, brother, husband, dad, uncle, friend, father figure, educator, and personal trainer.
I enjoy spending time with family, traveling, collecting shoes, working out, listening to music, and making others better.
I am clever, positive, self-motivated, high-energy, a leader, and an overcomer.
I am a PROUD Black man!

Growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, there was a prevalence of racism ever present. It was a town that had some educationally and also economically disadvantaged communities, mostly being African American neighborhoods. Although the arms of racism were present, I was gifted with something that unified all humanity. A gift that came so natural that I excelled with few coaching sessions. That gift is sheer athleticism. And I thank God for that gift daily. I am grateful for that gift because it has given me many opportunities to advance myself and my current family. But, even with understanding the benefits of leading the varsity baseball team in home runs as a freshman or being an All-State football player, I understand racism still exists. And this is why I will continue to advocate for all minorities, not just African Americans. With the platform God has graced me with, I am a face that wants to instill the hope and confidence needed to succeed. I want to impress upon the next generation that determination is the major juice needed to overcome ANY obstacle. Regardless of your upbringing, always maintain that “nothing can stop me” mentality when it comes to success! So, today, regardless of your upbringing, regardless of your socioeconomic status, BE TOUGHER THAN YOUR PROBLEMS! That's why I am where I am today.


College Professor

Dr. Tennille Lasker-Scott

I am a daughter, mother of two sons, sister, friend, and professor.
I enjoy reading, reading, and more reading. I love to paint and work with my hands. I am a sports fanatic and travel to watch my favorite teams (Georgia Bulldogs and Pittsburgh Steelers).
I love making people smile. I’m a jokester at heart. I am a lifelong learner. I seek out opportunities to learn. I’m self-assured and most importantly, I’m resilient.
And I am a Black woman.

My Black experience is intricately and beautifully woven moments that are marred with hatred: Academic scholarships and fellowships reduced and referred to as “charity” or “minority money.” Obtaining a doctorate from a top program and university, met with cynicism and demands of proof from my white students. Delivering my first child and being asked by a nurse if he was biracial because he was so beautiful. Proudly watching the crowd cheer my sons’ athletic abilities on the field and court and those same athletic abilities be the factors of fear for the majority race. My father once said, “Racism is a chokehold on Black joy.” He was right.


Associate Director, UCA Office of Diversity & Community

Dierre Littleton

I am a brother, uncle, godfather, mentor, and friend.
I enjoy organizing while mobilizing, running, playing volleyball, cooking, painting, and laughter.
I am an educator, compassionate, kind, sincere, thoughtful, and a Christian.
And I am a Black man.

I wish people knew that my Black is beautiful. Through the lens of a Black man, I come to tell you that I am not a statistic, a thief, a thug, or anything other than human. I want you to know that affirmative action is not the reason I am here. I often find myself policing my thoughts on telling you how problematic you are because the fear and ramifications of making you uncomfortable silences those thoughts. I cringe at the tip of my soul when you say ALL LIVES MATTER, because simultaneously, I think of the long list of unarmed Black men and women who were killed by white police officers and wonder, if BLACK LIVES REALLY MATTER? You see, often we miss the Black doctor who decides to wear joggers and a hoodie on his off day because of our implicit and explicit biases. I come to tell you that you – you have the power to make a difference, the power to be a change agent, and most importantly, the power to use your voice to fight against racial injustices in our nation!



Pastor E.C. Maltbia

I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a pastor, and a friend.
I enjoy all types of music, but I cannot dance.
I also enjoy WWE wrestling and The Young and the Restless. Victor Newman is still my favorite character.
I am unapologetically a Black man.

I want you to know that I am multifaceted in my perspective. I am against racism and police brutality. But I support good cops and peaceful protest. I am encouraged by so many in our city publicly condemning racism. And still, I am perplexed by the deafening silence of others. I see the good in our city. And yet, I cannot deny that racism still exists within our borders. Not so long ago, my wife and I were exiting a local store with a buggy full of groceries. Simultaneously, a white couple set off the alarms and began to literally sprint to the parking lot. To my surprise, the associate ignored the couple and demanded to search our entire shopping cart. When I suggested that she turn her attention to the people running across the parking lot, I was told to be quiet and empty my cart. We stood in total shock as we watched their car speed from the parking lot. This is one of many examples of my Black experience.


Community Musician, Educator, Father-to-be, Snark-specialist

Ron Jensen-McDaniel

I am a friend, a listener, a musician, a practitioner in my field with years of experience, and can either be the life of the party or holed up on the couch with my wife, pets, and our streaming service of choice.
I enjoy traveling, reading, music-making, connecting and reconnecting with friends far and wide, gaming, and the first bite of a fresh macaron.
I am hard-working, fiercely loyal when it comes to my loved ones, passionate about music education, and willing to try anything once.
And I am a Black Man.

I am not a threat, no matter how my afro looks coming your way. And that’s the first thing people see. My skin color. In a lot of ways, not everyone chooses to get past that first layer to really dig into who I am and what I have to offer to others. When I walk into a room of my peers, I generally have to “prove” that I belong. I am othered in a lot of spaces, but I had to learn long ago that adaptability was going to have to be my greatest strength if I wanted to thrive in this world. But it’s not all bad. I have a lot of friends and family that are near and dear to my heart. I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad for school and to present at conferences. I have been extremely lucky to do the things I’ve done, but the reality is that I could “fit the description” at any time. My Black experience is knowing that some people don’t think my life matters, but I am still moving forward because I know I have something more to give to this community, this city, this state, and this world.



Adrian Moore

I am a son, brother, Christian, and banker.
I enjoy fishing, sports, and family time.
I am educated and understanding.
And I am a Black man.

Growing up on the west side of Conway, my older sibling and I experienced life differently than the average Black kid in the city of Conway. My amazing parents positioned my sister and me for great opportunities to come. They also reminded us daily that although we have been blessed with great opportunities, we are still BLACK. Some people simply may not like you, speak to you, or do business with you and more because of that one characteristic. Every African American you see in Conway is not violent, a thug, or up to no good. Many are strong Christians, educated, business owners, and many other things. I would caution those in the Conway community to not label an entire community based on statistics you see in the media. What will soon be recognized to the naked eye is that my community is full of young Kings and Queens who will flourish and exceed through any oppression ever brought against us. I will always remember that I was BLACK before I was ever anything else. I hope this inspires others in our community to self-evaluate. I also challenge you to start the conversation with other African Americans in our community to learn more about their experience to help break this barrier we are experiencing. In order to have REAL change, we must recognize what is wrong and find a solution. As a firm believer in Jesus Christ, I pray more life and more love would be shown in order for our community to unite and thrive even better.


Economic Developer

Corey Parks

I am a son, brother, uncle, and friend.
I enjoy running, analyzing data, playing basketball, shooting guns, and cheering for the UCA Bears.
I am practical, honest, loyal, reliable, and determined.
And I am a Black man.

Invisible burdens make being Black in America almost unbearable at times. Not running in a hoodie or dark clothing at night, worrying about moving too quickly during a traffic stop, and researching a community’s demographics before a vacation are all part of my Black experience. However, “You all look alike to me,” and “they all look the same” illustrate my most difficult daily struggle; Black people are frequently not recognized as individuals. This burden leads to sweeping generalizations about people of color and the irrational responsibility of feeling like your words, actions, and opinions reflect on an entire race. Most days this feeling motivates me to be the best version of myself. Unfortunately, that does not make it any less exhausting. I want people to “see color” because failing to do so means not seeing part of my identity or acknowledging the challenges that come with being Black. BUT I am more than my skin color.


Project Manager/Scrum Trainer

Shameka Peten

I am a believer in Christ, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, working out, reading, having quality time with my daughter, dancing, serving others, and watching sports.
I am a Black woman.

Growing up in a small town in northeast Arkansas where the population was predominantly white, I’ve experienced racism since a very young age. I remember being told that I was different from other Black people because I was smart. At the time, I was confused because I didn’t understand what that meant. From what I was taught at home, all of my culture was intelligent and smart.

Being Black in America means being resilient and smiling through adversity while constantly reminding myself that I always have to work a little harder and think smarter to succeed and achieve my goals because of my skin color. It means that I have to love the coils in my hair and have confidence in who I am and whose I am, while others judge my character and my heart based on the pigmentation in my skin and the texture of my hair. Being Black in America means that I have to instill in my daughter that her skin is beautiful, her hair is a dream, her history is one to be proud of, and her life is as valuable and precious as any other human being’s. It means that I have to teach her to always treat others the way she would like to be treated and to never judge a book by its cover; yet she’s going to be judged by the beautiful skin she’s in.

My prayer is that all of humankind will begin to do some self-reflecting and find the root of our issues in order to become better individuals, so that we can be better collectively. I pray that those who have been taught racism will work at consciously undoing the trained mentality and learned behaviors of their past. My hope is that all of humankind will be more Christ-like and that my daughter and generations to come can be seen for their hearts, character, and contributions to society FIRST and not be prejudged by their outer appearance. Their lives matter!


Behavior Analyst

Nicheyta Raino

I am a follower of Jesus, a daughter, sister, auntie, friend and a board-certified behavior analyst.
I love quality time, good coffee, dancing, spoken word, and being a plant mom.
I value authenticity, am fiercely loyal, generous, bold, and encouraging.
I am a Black woman.

For the majority of my life, I have been a minority in the spaces I have occupied. I’ve been told I “sound like a white girl” and have been followed around in stores. I’ve experienced microaggressions in my workspace and have been called names from “oreo” to “n****r”. I have questioned my value, made myself small, and silenced my voice to fit into white spaces. I have been enraged, frustrated, sorrowful, and completely exasperated at the injustices I have faced and other Black people have faced and continue to face in this country. With all of those feelings that are valid and real and necessary, I also have hope. Hope is what is spurring me forward to be an agent of progress, to join marches, attend rallies, seek reform, and have courageous conversations. For me, hope says the struggle and the fight are not in vain. Hope says change is coming.


Worship Leader, Massage Therapist, Coach and CrossFitter

Tracy Robbins

I am a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
I am a worship leader, massage therapist, a coach, and a CrossFitter.
My father was African American and my mother is Caucasian.

This is not a Black or White experience. This is a human experience. I’ve been grieving the loss of my father for the last 10 months. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve learned some things about grief. What our nation is experiencing right now feels very familiar. I think the African American community is grieving – grieving what may have happened last week, or last month, and what happened to their parents, grandparents, and ancestors.

What I’ve learned is that grief is strange. No one can tell you what to expect or how it will feel, how long it should last, or when you should be done grieving. Grief is unique to each individual. You must allow yourself to fully feel any emotion that comes: sadness, anger, loneliness. Respect that emotion, sit in it as long as you need to, but when it lifts – and it will lift – take a step forward and know that there is healing in that. If you have yet to grieve what may have happened to you, even if it was decades ago, please feel free to grieve that. You owe that to yourself. But please be responsible with your grief. Handle it well and handle it gently. Don’t minimize it or push it down so you don’t feel anything, but please don’t sit in that sadness or that anger one moment longer than you need to. I’d be afraid that could lead to despair or bitterness.

To those who are grieving: healing will come if you allow it to. So be sure to come up for air. To those wondering how you can help someone who is grieving: it is simple. Lean in, listen, and learn. And if they don’t feel like talking, just sit with them in that moment. It brings more comfort than you will ever know.


Diversity & Economic Development Coordinator

Shawanna Rodgers

I am a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, loyal friend, co-worker, mentor, and a woman of faith.
I enjoy gardening, helping others, lawn work, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
I am human, dedicated, hardworking, confident, encouraging, compassionate, selfless, and forgiving.
And I am a Black woman.

My Black is multi-dimensional. It is filled with beauty, love, and joy, yet filled with shock, pain, and frustration, in turn producing an immense desire to be a productive part of understanding and change. My Black, despite the challenges that come with it, is YET filled with HOPE!

As a Woman of Color, I have been groomed on how to operate in a world that should not see my Blackness as intimidation, less than, or to be profiled but unfortunately in some cases it does. I was taught at a young age to be expressive and to speak my mind, but over the years I’ve learned that when my voice comes forth it is strong, sharp, and oftentimes straight to the point. But that does NOT make me an angry Black woman. The sharpness and strength erupt from a deep passion within my heart. I LOVE my Blackness! My voice is not my words, it is my actions! I will use the opportunities God has given me to be a voice in helping bridge the gap for civility and equality. My Black is multi-dimensional!


Personal Trainer/Group Fitness Instructor

Rachel Sidney

I am a wife and mother of two tiny humans, who loves and believes in God.
I enjoy reading, listening to music/podcasts, vacationing, and working out.
I am inquisitive, persistent, talented and gregarious, but I value my quiet time.
And I am a Black woman.

My Black experience is a rollercoaster of unlearning all of the anti-Blackness that surrounds me: from the teachers who assumed I was unintelligent to the professor who equated my skin tone to a curse; from being denied acting roles because people “weren’t ready for a Black girl” to the military leaders who said my hair didn’t fit their standards; from the folks who tried to prop me up as an exception, an example of the “good Blacks” to me rejecting this notion and embracing my past, the systems that helped create it, and the desire to change them. My Black experience is me ever-evolving and always reminding myself that I am worthy of love and respect.


REALTOR | Sandstone Real Estate Group

Jamille Thomas

I am a Christan, wife, mother-to-be, daughter, and sister.
I enjoy helping others and structuring plans for advancement.
I am educated, confident, hard-working and enthusiastic.
I am a Black woman.

My parents were both students during integration and went on to become first-generation college graduates. Because of their sacrifices, I was afforded many opportunities. I did gymnastics, took piano lessons, and participated in several organizations. Most of the time I was the only Black member and would be constantly reminded of it. Whether it be a comment about my hair, my dark skin tone, or my facial expressions that were often mistaken as “having an attitude,” I believe all of these things gave me my thick skin and taught me how to persevere. Even now as an adult, I struggle with the fact that most times no one at the table (or even in the room) looks like me. However, I often use my platform to share the issues/concerns of our Black culture.

As the future mother of a Black child, I already have anxiety and concern for her life that only people of color can understand. I pray that she won't suffer from any race-related trauma and that people will accept and value all the good she will bring to the world.


State Farm Agent

Mario Thomas

I am a husband to my beautiful wife and a father to my three wonderful children. I am a son, brother, and uncle.
I love and adore my extended family, which is diverse on both sides. It’s a family dynamic that is rooted in unconditional love. In God’s eyes, we are just a creation of different shades, and I am proud to wear my skin color.
I have found it very rewarding to coach my kids’ sports teams for many years. I love bringing different cultures and backgrounds together to work toward a common goal. On a beautiful day, you can find me horseback with a rope in my hand aspiring to work in harmony with a good horse.

I AM A BLACK MAN who simply wants to see our communities take down racial barriers. We live in an age where we see so much negative social media, and we can be blinded from the fact that there is a lot of good in people. I am thankful that I have friends, family, coworkers, and customers representing all walks of life. Individual experiences shape all of our journeys. While it’s impossible for everyone to always agree, it is encouraging to see others listening and learning. A change is coming!


Vice President for Student Services, University of Central Arkansas

Ronnie Williams

I am a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a neighbor, and a friend.
I am an educator, and “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
I enjoy basketball, football, hunting, reading, and writing.
I am a Black man.

I am a human being in this world with the rest of you. As with you, I had no control over the brush with which God chose to paint me. And since God decided to give me a darker “hue,” I’ve come to embrace and appreciate my Blackness. I am a proud, not angry, Black man. I will always try to build and not tear down others.

Growing up in America as a Black man has been a challenge. I know what it is like to be humiliated and denigrated by the sting (and pain) of discrimination and racism. I have experienced the pain of losing a loved one to hate. Like my brother Marvin, there are thousands of George Floyds in this country who will never be shown to you. Life as a Black man has taught me many lessons. One of the lessons that I’ve learned is that people of color, especially Black men, are the most mistreated, misvalued, and misunderstood communities in this country.

I share these feelings not as someone who has given up on our society; instead, I am someone who believes that our best days are ahead of us. My parents taught me the value of faith, family, and hard work. But they also taught me something else – and that is the power that love has over hate. I think in times like this, where everybody is on edge, I encourage my white brothers and sisters that if you see (or hear) something that makes you feel uncomfortable, then it is imperative that you speak up. Remember, silence is complicity.


Public Information Officer, Conway Police Department

LaTresha Woodruff

I am family oriented, I am a lover of people, a good friend, a confidante, a thinker, a problem solver, a follower of Christ.
I enjoy reading, exercising, and hanging out enjoying family and friends.
I am dependable, hardworking, a fierce advocate for causes, compassionate. I work to encourage and motivate others.
And I am a Black woman.

I have done all the things society said I needed to do to be successful, accepted, and seen. I am educated, I play by the rules. But I am still very much aware that I am Black, and I am seen in some spaces as less than simply because of that fact. I carry this with me daily. It’s heavy, but it has in a way made me stronger. It’s brought me closer to the Lord. God picks up where my understanding ends. I get frustrated, but I have to believe in humanity, that eyes will be opened and healing will begin and love will prevail.

This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of the North Metro Business Journal.