Abraham Kahasay is working with the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement, conducting research to help the Little Rock-based organization implement a Community Remembrance Project across Arkansas. The work is part of Kahasay’s International Public Service Project.
The Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement embodies a statewide collaborative effort to acknowledge, and to learn from, the state's shared documented history of hundreds of incidents of extra-legal racial, political, and religious violence and injustices. It was inspired after co-conveners Kwami and Clarice Abdul-Bey visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of racial violence victims.
The Community Remembrance Project – which documents where racial terror, lynchings, and riots have occurred across Arkansas – will include markers on key sites across the state. The markers will become a part of the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. The organization has additional goals, including establishing a statewide commission to support civil rights memorial work, and developing a statewide K-12 interdisciplinary curriculum using existing lesson plans from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Kahasay, who was originally set to travel to Ghana for his IPSP before the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel, said that his work with the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement aligned with his interests and values. “As a Black man growing up in the United States, race relations have been a topic that I have a sensitive spot for,” he said.
The organization has partnered with several historians and scholars throughout Arkansas, including author Griff Stockley; Dr. Brian Mitchell and Dr. John A. Kirk of UA Little Rock; Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture editor Guy Lancaster; and Just Communities of Arkansas Executive Director Donald Wood. It has also partnered with students and schools in central Arkansas, including Quest Academy and UA Little Rock, to assist in documenting historic locations and building out a digital map for the organization’s website. The website also includes an archive of peer-reviewed historical research.
Kahasay’s best-practices research has included conversations with organizations that have created similar projects across the country. He spoke with members of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that is committed to ending mass incarceration, challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in the country.
“I got to discuss their community remembrance project work, the different local organizations they worked with across the country, and what they hoped this work could lead to in the future,” Kahasay said. “They stressed to me that each project would look and work differently depending on the organization, the goals it is working towards, and the area where it is working.”
Kahasay said that many of his conversations with organizations have dealt with how to best attract interest and support from the community. One of the key takeaways from his research is the importance of flexibility.
“Having a set approach is hard to make work,” he said. “For example, what would have been recommended before COVID would have been a campaign that required crowds. You have to be able to switch on a dime because you never know what is going to happen.”
One way the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement has changed its approach to reflect the changing dynamic of the pandemic has been its Shelter-In-Place Film Series. Each week, a film becomes available to watch online and is followed by a discussion. The series started in April with the PBS film “True Conviction.”
In August, Kahasay will present the organization with his findings along with his research questions, literature review, and reasoning.
"Any kind of work that helps to bend them towards a more just standing is something I will always get behind." Kahasay said. "This is why I chose to work with the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement, the work they are doing is something I truly believe in.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.