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Shades of success: minority leaders of many colors make impact on life in Arkansas.

If you don't think minority leaders in Arkansas have had a rough climb to the top, take a closer took at the statistics.

The state's racial minority group suffered a collective. 13.3 percent unemployment rate in 1991, compared with only 6.4 percent for Caucasians.

That means minorities were twice as likely to be out of a job last year than their Caucasian counterparts.

About 135,000 minorities were employed in the state last year, compared with 901,000 Caucasians.

And, although minorities made up 17.3 percent of the state population, a 1980 study showed they comprised only 5.5 percent of the state's executives, administrators and managers.

These numbers make it all the more impressive when black, brown and yellow Arkansans beat the odds, make their mark in business, education or politics, and rise to the to

Because of the space limitations, it's impossible to mention all of the minority leaders that keep Arkansas in motion, but Arkansas Business has chosen 15 inspiring individuals.

In the next generation, perhaps they will be remember as shining examples of human achievement. Already, they've beaten staggering odds.

Dr. Dee Bennett

Age: 57

Title: State Representative; Executive Director of Greater Friendship Inc.

Dr. Dee Bennett of North Little Rock does not like to be known as a politician.

"I would really rather be seen as a servant trying to make change," Bennett says.

She followed a career in education two years ago by becoming the first black to be elected to the North Little Rock City Council, then capped the feat by winning the new District 59 seat this year in the state House of Representatives.

"I'm just a wife and a mom and a grandmother, trying to do my part for the state of Arkansas," she says.

Bennett is pleased by the simple successes of her political career, such as drainage improvements to South Woodland Street in North Little Rock that have the thoroughfare in the dry for the first time in 34 years.

She spent 21 years working for the Pulaski County Special School District, first as an elementary, special education and secondary teacher, and finally as a psycho-educational consultant for special students. She holds a doctorate in psychology from California Western University.

Bennett devotes much of her time to Greater Friendship Inc., an outreach program of Friendship Baptist Church offering counseling and help with substance abuse. She is executive director of the program.

She also is interim state chairman for the Rainbow Coalition and state chairman of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).

Ben Rodriguez

Age: 64

Title: Manager of the Commercial Credit Department, Simmons First National Bank of Pine Bluff; state Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens

Ben Rodriguez is one of the best-known Hispanic members of the Arkansas business community. As manager of commercial credit at Simmons First National Bank in Pine Bluff, he analyzes the financial strength of businesses seeking loans.

He is also a leader within the state's Hispanic community as state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which seeks to preserve the heritage and language of its members.

Under his guidance, LULAC has worked to integrate Spanish speakers into American life, performing such tasks as translating into Spanish the standard driver's examination.

Rodriguez serves on the state's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, and on the board of the Arkansas Human Development Corp. He also volunteers as a chaplain for Spanish-speaking patients at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.

Rodriguez was born in San Antonio, Texas, to parents who did not speak a word of English. He did not speak the language himself when he started school.

"It's very tough for anyone who does not know the English language to progress," he says.

Julius Kearney

Age: 40

Title: State Public Service Commissioner

Julius Kearney of Little Rock has made a name for himself as a member of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state.

Kearney, a Gould native and graduate of the Harvard University School of Law, spent the last year as president of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

An expert on natural gas, Kearney got his start in state government when Gov. Bill Clinton appointed him in 1983 as director of the state Department of Disability Determination.

Kearney has not forgotten his hometown and county.

In Pine Bluff, he recently directed a tutoring program sponsored by the Cornerstone Project. He is also a board officer for Gould Inc., an organization attempting to create jobs, keep children in school and promote general improvements within the city.

He hopes to continue tutoring in the Sweet Home, Granite Mountain and College Station areas.

Sanford Tollette

Age: 40

Title: Executive Director of Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp

Sanford Tollette, a native of Hope, has gained notoriety for directing the alternative educational programs at Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp in northwest Pulaski County.

Last year, Tollette was chosen as the recipient of the International Michael Stratton Outstanding Practitioner's Award by the Association of Experimental Education.

Tollette is the developer of the Alternative Classroom Experience concept, which provides quality alternative experiences to motivate young people who have difficulties at home and school.

He developed the concept about a decade ago with a two-year weekend Alternative Camping Experience program in conjunction with the three Pulaski County school districts.

The concept incorporates outdoor experiential education, reality therapy, group dynamics and environmental education.

Tollette has been involved with youth and adult programs for more than 17 years. He formerly served as an environmental education teacher for the Little Rock School District, a classroom teacher and program director for Camp Aldersgate.

Virgil Miller Jr.

Age: 39

Title: Senior Vice President and Director of Community Development for Worthen National Bank of Arkansas

Banking business aside, Virgil Miller Jr. of Little Rock is excited about the prospects for a new volunteer project he has undertaken.

As chairman of Project Blueprint for the United Way of Pulaski County, Miller is seeking to create a consortium of talented minority and female citizens to serve on boards and commissions in central Arkansas.

Project Blueprint will offer a training school for prospective board members. It will then catalog its graduates for agencies expressing an interest in broadening the demographics of their leadership structures.

"A lot of agencies would like an opportunity to increase the number of blacks and females on their boards," says Miller, the senior vice president and director of community development for Worthen National Bank of Arkansas.

He also is enthusiastic about the bank's efforts to revitalize run-down neighborhoods in Little Rock by renovating entire city blocks.

"We are working with the city of Little Rock and their model block programs," Miller says.

Miller serves as a board member of the Wrightsville Optimist Club and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. He offers his time to the Volunteers in Public Schools program with the Little Rock School District.

Dr. James Suen

Age: 51

Title: Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

The medical talents of Dr. James Suen recently earned him recognition as one of the top 400 cancer specialists in the country by Good Housekeeping magazine.

He is proud of that distinction.

But Suen -- a specialist in cancers of the head and neck and maladies of the ear, nose and throat -- also has drawn a good bit of attention and enjoyment from taking care of Gov. Bill Clinton's voice.

"I'm the only one who can get him to shut up," Suen says gleefully.

The recurring voice problems of the Democratic presidential nominee have led to many consultations.

Suen is a professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. Also, he is director of clinical services for the Arkansas Cancer Research Center on the UAMS campus.

Suen is the son of Chinese natives. His father and mother migrated to this country in the early part of the century, and his grandfather was one of many Chinese laborers who built the railroads extending from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Along the way, the family settled in Dermott (Chicot County), where Suen was born.

"When I was a child, the Ku Klux Klan used to give my father problems," Suen says. He hastens to add that he has experienced little other prejudicial barriers during his life.

Suen also is involved with Partners of America, through which he travels to South American countries like Bolivia to teach doctors how to care for tumor patients.

Irma Hunter Brown

Age: 53

Title: State Representative

Before Irma Hunter Brown of Little Rock was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980, there were no blacks on the state's medical, dental and pharmaceutical boards.

However, thanks to legislation she co-sponsored, minorities are now represented on all three boards.

Brown began her professional career as a school teacher in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. From there, she came to the Arkansas Department of Education, where she initiated a study on day care placement, matching facilities with the particular needs of children and parents.

Later, she served on the Little Rock School District's first biracial panel.

She is currently active in Links Inc., a service organization for women, and leads a local Links project to provide mentors and anti-drug counseling for junior high school students.

Brown has worked to get adequate water and sewer services to residents of the Wrightsville area.

Among her legislative committee assignments are revenue and taxation, state agencies and governmental affairs, and the joint audit committees.

She is vice chairman of the House Affairs Committee. Brown also chairs a committee on state and local relations for the National Conference of State Legislators.

Michael Booker

Age: 34

Title: Attorney

As an attorney for the Little Rock branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Michael Booker performs a good deal of free legal work for troubled black Arkansans.

He also stands in when needed as a spokesman for the local NAACP when Dale Charles, branch president, is unavailable. Occasionally, Booker can be seen at school board and city board meetings, ensuring that the needs of black Arkansans are being addressed.

Booker was a member of the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock until he took a leave of absence to run for the 56th District seat in the state House of Representatives.

He recently opened a private law practice in Little Rock.

When he is not in court, Booker is often in school. He teaches older students about government and younger students about positive lifestyle choices.

At least twice a month, Booker speaks to and plays with students at College Station Elementary School.

"I talk about the importance of education, the importance of good manners, the importance of saying 'yes sir' and 'no sir,'" Booker says. "One of my biggest |goals~ is to try and raise their level of self-esteem and self-worth."

He also teaches graduate students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock about the public policy process. He instructs Philander Smith College students on the ins and outs of managerial economics.

Booker has political aspirations. Besides his unsuccessful race for the state House, he has worked in many campaigns.

Johnny Hasan

Age: 45

Title: Outreach Counselor, Central Arkansas Substance Abuse Programs

Johnny Hasan is making a difference in the black community -- even during his time off.

During working hours, Hasan counsels drug abusers at Central Arkansas Substance Abuse Programs in Little Rock.

In his free time he hosts a minority affairs-oriented television program called "Vision of the Past and the Future" on Storer Cable's Black Access Channel. The program looks at black historical figures and movements and places them in the context of the state's current racial climate.

Hasan, a certified religious assistant for the state Department of Corrections, also established Islamic services in the state's prison system.

He serves on the Arkansas board of directors of the National Council of Christians and Jews, belongs to the Arkansas Interfaith Counsel and is a board member of DIGNITY (Do In God's Name Incredible Things Yourself).

DIGNITY is an anti-drug, anti-crime community group in Little Rock.

Patrick Oliver

Age: 34

Title: Owner, Images of Africa

For 10 years, Patrick Oliver worked as an aerospace contract administration in Los Angeles, volunteering in his spare time at a nearby African art museum.

But when the Little Rock native was laid off from the slumping industry a year ago, he turned his passion for African culture into a full-time business.

The result is Images of Africa. It's an art gallery in downtown Little Rock that displays and sells native African masks, sculptures and jewelry, some as old as 50 years.

Oliver also has opened a branch store in Hot Springs.

He believes blacks and other Americans are becoming ever more aware of African culture and its influence on life in the United States. His artifacts serve as visual reminders of the history that shapes the consciousness of the black community.

In addition to art, Oliver offers speakers and courses on a variety of subjects relating to African culture, such as dance and music.

Oliver says his clientele is expanding outside the black community. He sees the shift as a sign of expending awareness of black heritage.

Mahlon Martin

Age: 47

Title: President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

It isn't enough that Mahlon Martin serves as President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock and volunteers much of his time.

Martin topped off his community service resume this year with work on the Southern Growth Policies Board.

For nine months, Martin and his fellow board members have researched and studied the demographics of the South. They've made economic and social comparison between 14 southern states.

"As we look at Arkansas in comparison to other southern states, there are some positive signs, and some signs that we have some things to work on," Martin says.

The Southern Growth Policies Board meets every six years. The members plan to make a final report in early December.

Martin, meanwhile, should stay plenty busy with the Rockefeller Foundation, which contributes almost $3 million annually in the areas of education, civic affairs and economic development.

Rodney Slater

Age: 37

Title: Senior Adviser to the Bill Clinton Presidential Campaign, Vice Chairman of the state Highway Commission.

Rodney Slater took a break from his noteworthy career in public service this year to explore another challenge: presidential politics.

Slater took a leave of absence as director of Governmental Relations for Arkansas State University in Jonesboro to join Gov. Bill Clinton as a senior advisor to Clinton's Democratic presidential campaign. Slater is said to have Clinton's ear on many important issues and regularly accompanies the governor on his campaign travels.

Slater, a Marianna native, obtained a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1980. Then, he quickly launched into an effort to make improvements in the Delta.

He has served as coordinator of "The Delta Symposium," a group that focuses on social and economic issues in the region.

Slater's role in the 1991 highway bill will also help the Delta, as increased fuel taxes are expected to provide $1.25 billion for highway and transportation needs in the region.

Ben L. McGee

Age: 48

Title: Vice President of McGee and Associates, State Representative

State Rep. Ben McGee of Marion seems to pop up everywhere minority issues are discussed. His vibrant personality makes him one of the most popular speakers in the state's black community.

McGee has for the past five years been concentrating his energy on McGee and Associates, a health insurance firm owned by his wife, Rose.

He is also a strong advocate of education. McGee has served on the boards of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, the Marion School District and Shorter College of North Little Rock.

Of course, politics is McGee's strong suit.

He has held the District 48 seat in the House of Representatives since 1989. Also, he is a member of the House Public Transportation Committee, the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Children and Youth.

Bob Nash

Age: 45

Title: President of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority

Bob Nash has spent more than three years weaving the interests of business and government as president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in Little Rock.

Nash was appointed to the position by Gov. Bill Clinton, whom Nash served as an adviser for seven years.

He attended Howard University at Washington, D.C., on a scholarship from the International City Management Association, with the stated goal of some day becoming a city manager.

Instead, his path led to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, where he served as vice president.

ADFA, his present charge, issues bonds and other debt instruments for financing qualified business enterprises, capital improvements, educational and health care facilities, housing developments and industries.

Nash also has served on the boards of the Arkansas Community Foundation and the Manpower Development Corp.

Michael Jackson

Age: 34

Title: Executive Director of the Delta Community Development Corp.

Michael Jackson of Brinkley received a good taste of public service in the six years he spent on the staff of U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark.

But as a government insider, he was growing weary of the limitations of bureaucracy to affect social changes.

"One day I was talking to a group of kids and I told them that there were career opportunities where people would pay you to do things that you wanted to do," he says.

It was shortly thereafter in 1991 that Jackson took his own advice and joined the Delta Community Development Corp. as executive director.

"This offered the things that government could not do," Jackson says, referring to the opportunity to assist economic development in one of the poorest regions in the country.

Jackson created a staff of six, helped start a manufacturing company, established a second office and acquired 60 acres of land and two commercial buildings in three counties.
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Title Annotation:Leadership in the '90s, part 2
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 28, 1992
Previous Article:A builder moves on; Dennis Davis looks to new challenges as he turns over Arkansas Aerospace.
Next Article:The great rate debate.

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