Substantial areas of central Arkansas — especially lower-income, diverse neighborhoods in Little Rock – share a great deal in common demographically and economically with eastern Arkansas in health care, nutrition, education, flooding issues, infrastructure, and job creation.
Recently, a group of Delta and Little Rock leaders announced the formation of the Delta/Little Rock Partnership for Progress to deepen collaboration and advocacy on issues of common interest.
While east and central Arkansas leaders have collaborated on key issues at times, these efforts tended to be along many separate, individual lines without a coordinated effort to speak with a stronger, collective voice. We need an organized, concentrated effort when key decisions on Arkansas Works health insurance, levees, transportation, and other vital subjects are made.
For example, in such situations we will send out an endorsement from a broad range of east and central Arkansas leaders to federal and state powers, the media, our websites and newsletters to urge all coalition partners to join in constructive initiatives having a major impact on so many Arkansans.
An example of collaboration took place when east and central Arkansas legislators from Sen. Joyce Elliott and Rep. Andrew Collins in Little Rock to Sen. Keith Ingram in West Memphis and Sen. David Wallace in Leachville and many others gave crucial support to the razor-thin passage of Arkansas Works. We hope the margin is greater than one vote in the future. We need to maintain and strengthen our advocacy efforts to demonstrate the great support for this productive program over such a wide expanse of Arkansas.
At times there has been an unfortunate tendency for some people to see a major divide between Little Rock and the Delta. While we now have less of the condescending attitudes that “we’re the big city slickers in the capital and those country bumpkins in the Delta can never get their act together,” such elitist views need to be entirely eradicated. We need collaboration and not more division.
In announcing this new partnership at the Nov. 7-8 “Greater Delta Region” conference in Little Rock, I said, “We all know the obvious differences that Little Rock is urban and much of it is more affluent than the rural Delta heartland, but Little Rock also has diverse, economically distressed neighborhoods that do have a lot in common with east Arkansas. It makes no sense to say that once we get three feet inside the Pulaski County line our region and our collaboration should suddenly stop.”
The priorities for state, federal and private sector funding should be economically distressed neighborhoods rather than affluent Little Rock suburbs. Our priorities should obviously be areas such as College Station, Dixie in North Little Rock, and other lower-income neighborhoods.
On many of these health, infrastructure, job creation and other issues, the eastern half of Arkansas shares common interests with the eight-state Greater Delta Region as a whole. The partnership’s advocacy focuses on bipartisan initiatives, with key examples including:
• Legislators from east and central Arkansas giving essential support for passage of Arkansas Works;
• Transportation improvements such as I-57 from Little Rock to Sikeston, Missouri, from Little Rock east to Memphis and southeastward to Louisiana;
• Levees and other flood control in the river systems of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers;
• Support for incentives to attractive investments to low income areas;
• SNAP and other nutrition initiatives to combat high food insecurity in the Delta and some Little Rock neighborhoods;
• K-12 and higher education improvements that are vital for a brighter future for our state and region; and
• Civil rights for diverse, economically distressed neighborhoods in Little Rock as well as the eastern half of the state.
Editor’s note: Lee Powell is Executive Director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, a coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. The opinions expressed are those of the author.