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Lessons Learned and Paying It Forward
/ November 1, 2016

Pictured left to right: Arnell Willis, Jr., Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Jane Jones, Arnell Willis, Sr., Betty Willis, Popi Willis

Arnell Willis, Sr. grew up in the 50s in the small segregated town we know as West Helena, Arkansas, located in Phillips County. Growing up in the Delta region presented many hardships, but through the lessons taught by his mother, Laura Nelson and his aunt, Lillie May Stevenson, Arnell was able to overcome incredible odds and achieve his American dream. 

His mother, a homemaker, custodian and private duty attendant, taught him the importance of faith, education, hard work and discipline. Most importantly, she instilled in him the belief that education is the great lifting mechanism in our society – through education he could realize his full potential. 

His aunt, an entrepreneur, civil-rights worker, politician and labor union representative, taught Arnell the importance of giving back to his community. Living a life committed to civic involvement, she had the most influence on his political involvement. 

During the last semester of his senior year at Philander Smith College, Arnell didn’t have the money he needed for tuition. After discussing his situation with the president of Philander Smith College at the time, Dr. Walt Hazzard, his tuition was waived – instead of paying back the money he owed, Dr. Hazzard asked Arnell to help others in a similar way; to pay it forward. Arnell and his family established two scholarships that will help students from Phillips County, Arkansas and students attending Philander Smith College in substantial ways. 

In recognition of these extraordinary examples in Arnell’s life, his family hopes to accomplish three important things by establishing these scholarships at Arkansas Community Foundation: 

  1. Recognize the importance of “lessons learned” from two important women who made indelible marks on Arnell’s character and development;
  2. Share Arnell’s story and inspire others to find hope and chase their dreams; and
  3. Help other reach their full potential by giving back because he had so many people help him find success. 
Charitable gifts should be an investment in the causes you care about and generate returns for your community. Arnell Willis, Sr. and his family partnered with the Community Foundation to honor those that mean the most to them. Learn more about how the Community Foundation can help you identify tools to help you give smart by contacting Ashley Coldiron, acoldiron@arcf.org or 501-372-1116.  

 

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