Engage AR’s Juneteenth Summit

Author: Lily Berry

Early last week, two of the Be Mighty Americorps VISTAs, Megan Bellfield and Lily Berry, spent two days in Petit Jean learning about holding constructive conversations, pitching themselves to future programs, and meeting Americorps members from across the state of Arkansas.

Though only a short hour’s drive from the Central Arkansas Library System, Petit Jean seemed to belong to an entirely different world than downtown Little Rock. There, nature sprawled beyond the sightline, providing the perfect environment for the VISTAs to meet and grow together. The retreat took place at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, which is perched over a picturesque valley overlooking the natural state in all its glory. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute “develops programs that create sustainable and positive change to benefit the quality of life of all Arkansans.” Bellfield and Berry attended the “Beyond Civility” program, led by Heather Southard. The Beyond Civility program follows the Winthrop Rockefeller ideal of collaborative approaches to create transformational change by teaching participants how to engage in challenging conversations and work toward lasting solutions. The program emphasizes mutual understanding and empathy as pathways toward constructive discussion, especially when it comes to difficult or divisive subjects. Bellfield and Berry practiced asking questions with the intent of understanding, rather than (often unconsciously) inserting an opinion.

After a full day of personal and professional development, the group of 18 Americorps members in attendance split up into groups for a team building exercise including pirates, pizza, and pitching. Each group competed for glory and prizes, seeking to make the best pizza and advertisement based on their theme: cowboys, pirates, or firemen. Megan Bellfield’s Howdy Pizza Co. (representing the cowboys, of course) came home with first place, narrowly beating Lily Berry’s Spectacul-ARRGH Pizza (representing the pirate faction).

Taking advantage of the beautiful scenery, perfect weather, and Rockefeller resources, Bellfield and Berry toured the property on bikes reserved for guests. They met some of the cows living on the land, explored the farmstead, and encountered a few surprisingly difficult hills! Of course, they couldn’t turn in for the night without a s’more and walk to the breathtaking scenic overlook on the property.

The retreat would not be complete without discussing the reason for the season: Juneteenth. Participants enjoyed a lovely presentation from Clarice and Kwami Abdul-Bey, representatives of the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement, outlining the history of Juneteenth and its significance to us, both as Americorps members and American citizens. With a spirit of service and connections across communities, the Americorps members designed and pledged their time to service projects in their fields to celebrate and honor Juneteenth this year. Whether

they chose to donate blood, organize meetings with their elected officials, or spend some extra time in the community, these Americorps members will be serving their communities with pride this Juneteenth.

This summit in Petit Jean provided Megan Bellfield, Lily Berry, and all of the participants with an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth that they will be able to

implement in their service sites. Our Be Mighty representatives returned to Little Rock refreshed and ready to better serve their communities, having learned how to engage in complex dialogue, advocate for themselves, and build relationships across the state