LJR Board Chair Steve Copley Honored as Peace and Justice Hero

Arkansas Peace, Justice and Environment Project, Jun 29 2009
6th Annual Arkansas Peace & Justice Heroes Banquet
Sponsored by: Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, July 11, 5:30 pm, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 224 North East Street, Fayetteville, AR

This event honors 5 Arkansans who are doing excellent work for peace and justice in their communities. Nominations are selected from all over the state, and a panel of judges select the slate of Awardees. This is always challenging because there is some amazingly creative and caring work happening in this state.

Awardees this year include:

Steve Copley, Little Rock, Director, Justice for Our Neighbors

Rev. Copley is director of Justice for Our Neighbors, that serves the immigrant community, and is past senior minister for First United Methodist Church in Little Rock. He has also served with several interfaith groups, and the National Coalition for Community and Justice of Central Arkansas. He’s been part of hunger task forces, the Benefit Bank, Arkansas Committee for Worker Justice, Arkansas Hunger Coalition, Arkansas Friendship Coalition, and many more. His work carries him often to the halls of the capital, and the wrong side of the tracks. In all situations he is gracious and caring, and has accomplished amazing things.

When he chaired Give Arkansas A Raise Now, asking for a living wage, the experts said, “You have no money, no clout, and no time. This will never work.” But Steve thought it was the right thing to do, so he convinced the governor to agree with him and got low income Arkansans a new minimum wage above the national scale.

Nominator Lowell Grisham says of Rev. Steve Copley, “I know of no other Christian clergyperson in Arkansas who has done as much as Steve Copley to bring the best values of religion and the compassionate spirit of Jesus into the public and political arena. He represents the politics of compassion… Steve Copley is a hero for peace and equality.

Gary Baird, Siloam Springs, Director of Genesis House

Genesis House is a day shelter for the homeless in Siloam Springs. Since 1996 it has provided services to this most marginalized population of all. Things like showers, telephone, a place to receive mail and messages while people are hunting for work, meals, services for children, and health screenings.

Director Gary Baird is an Episcopalian deacon, and a tireless advocate for the homeless. In addition, he has served in many other capacities. He has directed camps, founded a food bank and the Boys and Girls Club in Siloam Springs, mentored young people, done international work for world relief with his church, served on boards that coordinate services to AIDS sufferers, and led as treasurer, and now chair, of the Northwest Arkansas Housing Coalition.

Gary says: “I don’t feel I’ve accomplished anything of ‘award’ status. What you’ll find here is something ‘Every Person’ should be involved in. So if you find something here that deserves some kind of recognition, I’ll accept it on behalf of ‘Every Person’. “ This kind of unassuming service is characteristic of OMNI Peace Heroes, and Gary Baird personifies this sterling quality.

Hattie Daniels, Little Rock, ACORN

Hattie has for several years been a leader and spokesperson for ACORN in Arkansas. Her name is familiar to anyone from central Arkansas. She’s also a union member who has struggled for workers rights and women’s rights, a federal minimum wage increase, tax relief for Katrina survivors, immigrant dignity and rights, to improve Walmart’s treatment of its employees, against power plant pollution, and in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Social change is in her blood, so to speak. When she was 9-years-old she recalls a bus ride with her mother, who was pregnant with Hattie’s sister. She and her exhausted mother had to stand so a white man could have her seat. This happened on the very day that Rosa Parks decided to say “no” in the same circumstance. Rosa Parks’ experience empowered Hattie’s family and got them into the civil rights movement, and the tradition continues. This makes Hattie a second generation Peace and Justice Hero.

Next Step Day Room, Fort Smith,
Gary Hays, Director, Linda Gabriel, Assoc Dir.

It is a symptom of the current situation that two of this year’s Awardees work on issues of homelessness. Next Steps Day Room serves 120 clients per day with a staff of three, and is the only service to the homeless in Fort Smith. It opened in 2002, and it provides many services, including individual case management, which they feel strengthens their capacity to assist greatly. First Step focuses on encouraging employment search, and this involves many services, like an address, a phone number, a place to shower and wash clothes, and lockers where people can safely keep belongings that would otherwise be hidden under bushes. They also have a computer lab where skills can be developed, jobs can be found, and communication established.

Each person is treated with utmost dignity and respect, and because of this, and the proactive approach to solving homelessness, their clients experience fewer incarcerations, find employment sooner, and step out of homelessness and into self-sufficiency. Next Step Day Room represents the kind of Peace Heroes Arkansas needs to create the culture of peace.

Phi Iota Alpha Service Fraternity, Fayetteville,
Raphael Arciga, president

Immigrants to the United States face many hurdles, but a strong goal for all of them has been to find a better life for themselves and their children. Education plays an important role in achieving that goal. Two years ago Phi Iota Alpha formed at the University of Arkansas to give mutual support to Hispanic students studying there, and to encourage other students to pursue higher education. It’s part of the national Phi Iota fraternity that was founded in 1931, but its roots extend into the 1800’s. Its goals are to empower the Latino community by providing intensive social and cultural programs to appreciate, promote and preserve Latin American culture.

Phi Iota members work tirelessly to encourage Latino families about the opportunities their children have in higher education. On their own time and using their own money, members travel through Northwest Arkansas and Missouri to visit churches and community groups to talk to people.

At UA one of Phi Iota’s founding members is its current president, Raphael Arciga. Raphael’s story is a story of immigrants everywhere. Raphael and his mother are the only members of his family, and he is the first ever to go to college. Raphael’s mother came to the US legally when he was small, but when he was 8, she had to pay coyotes’ to bring him across the border to her. Now as a permanent legal resident, he wants to see other Latino young people have the gift of education. It promises good livelihood, self-respect, and a future of hope. Rafael is currently president of the campus LULAC group (League of United Latin American Citizens), Deputy State Director of Young Adults for the state LULAC organization, and president of Phi Iota.

Phi Iota Alpha and Raphael Arciga represent the potential of new Americans to contribute to our society and encourage the culture of peace. They do this with gracious determination, even in the face of politically charged language from many quarters. We’re proud to regard them as Peace Heroes.