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Mercer Highlights MLK Event

Mercer Highlights MLK Event(Posted: January 23, 2014)

Following her performance of a famous civil rights play, Crystal C. Mercer told community members at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith's annual Martin Luther King Jr. event held Jan. 23 to support the arts in the community, in the home and in the classroom.

"Even if you're not an artist, you can still support the arts and be a part of the conversation," she said in response to a question about how to keep the arts movement alive. "The arts aren't going to go away. I'm not worried for your kids or your grandkids."

A freelance performance artist and sole proprietor of Columbus Creative and The Social Soapbox, Mercer performed an excerpt of Spirit Trickey's "One Ninth" before participating on a panel discussing the importance of finding one's voice in the visual and performing arts.

"When I taught elementary school in Baltimore, [the students] might have been yelled at or discouraged by people who didn't see their potential, but in my space I let them be themselves," said Mercer, who is the daughter of the legendary civil rights lawyer Christopher C. Mercer Jr. "I think that's the power of arts in education. It allows somebody who can be something when they grow up to definitely feel like they can do that."

The 10 a.m. event, titled "Unsung Heroes: Celebrating Freedom in the Visual and Performing Arts," was held in the Reynolds Room in the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center and honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. three days after the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. day.

The event included a ceremony commemorating recipients of the Unsung Hero Award, an award honoring community members and students who have promoted and contributed to the arts in the community.

Recipients included Cosaundra Chapple, a UAFS student who heads the local theatre company God Given Talent Productions; Benham Dangers, a deceased visual artist who served as an art correspondent during World War II and forged an ensuing career as a renowned portrait artist; Dick Renko, a deceased performing arts promoter and music producer who helped start Second Street Live; Dr. Dennis Siler, associate professor of English at UAFS, recognized for overseeing a student-made documentary on a master woodworker; Bob Stevenson, UAFS theater arts director and collaborative playwright; and Nichelle Christian, former UAFS Testing Center Director and ADP Committee member who is now an advisor with the Fort Smith Adult Education Center. UAFS Provost Dr. Ray Wallace presented the awards.

The event was hosted by the American Democracy Project, a national initiative designed to foster citizenship at all levels. Dr. Amy Jordan of Fort Smith is the chair of the ADP at UAFS.

Mercer participated in the panel with Wallace, Dr. Henry Rinne, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Don Lee, head of the art department. UAFS students Tony Jones and Christopher Ha facilitated the discussion.

The final question asked at the panel was how the panel members deal with the hardships of being an artist, and Mercer closed the event with a poignant answer.

"There will always be naysayers because they don't have anything else to say but 'nay.' What you have to do is be strong and believe in yourself," she said. "You need people around you who support you and love you and care about you. And that person was my dad."

She told the story of performing "One Ninth" in front of a crowd at Little Rock Central High School, a crowd that included her father, who was moved to tears by her reenactment.

"Afterwards, he leaned over to the person next to him and said, 'My daughter is brilliant – not because she's my daughter, but because she is,'" she said.

Article by: John Post, Public Relations Assistant
Photo(s) by: Corey S. Krasko, Photographer, Marketing and Communications Office

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