UAPB and its predecessors — AM&N College and Branch Normal — have had a profound impact on Pine Bluff, the state of Arkansas and the United States of America. I won’t take the time to expound on contributions the institution’s faculty and alumni have made except to say they are numerous and varied. I challenge all of you to visit the UAPB Cultural Museum and read historical documents that attest to the impact of the university since its inception in 1873.
Our purpose today is to acknowledge the contributions UAPB has made to the citizens of Arkansas and specifically the Pine Bluff community. UAPB is –
• A major contributor to the economy of Pine Bluff. It is the 6th largest of the 36 major employers in the county.
• It is the largest source of college-educated workers in the community.
• It is the chief avenue for upward mobility for all citizens of Jefferson County.
• It is the major source of public school educators (51 percent of teachers in the PBSD and 69 percent of teachers in the Dollarway District) are UAPB graduates.
• It is a historical supporter of charitable causes in the city via its annual support of the local United Way Campaign.
• UAPB is the largest single provider of quality athletics, cultural and artistic events that can nourish the minds and spirits of citizens of Pine Bluff.
Because UAPB is a major contributor to the life blood of our community, it can be a major contributor to the revitalization of Pine Bluff if the community joins hands with the university and capitalizes on the opportunities and services offered. UAPB continually makes overtures to the community: the business incubator, the annual Mary E. Benjamin educational access conference, the annual rural life conference, the annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah, band and choir concerts, theatrical productions by the John Mclin Ross Players, and a wide array of athletic events. However, with the exception of football and basketball games, most of these efforts to engage the community are poorly supported by the citizenry.
I hesitate to say this, and what I am going to say saddens me greatly, but UAPB is no longer the institution of choice for high school graduates in our city. I know that some students simply want to leave town, and some may be seeking majors that are not offered at UAPB. But I am concerned that even when some students drop out of other colleges for financial or other reasons, they still don’t recognize UAPB as an opportunity for them to pursue an education. Many simply return to Pine Bluff and get a job or do nothing rather than take advantage of a university at their back door.
Our purpose today is to invite the Pine Bluff community to grow in appreciation of a historical institution that has so much to offer our community, our state, and our nation.
There is a reason that UAPB is in Pine Bluff! The state statute that defined its mission and location stated that a branch of the Arkansas Industrial University (now UAF) was to be located south and east of Pulaski County (the delta region of the state that was home for the vast majority of the state’s black population) for the benefit and convenience of the poorer classes of citizens.
AM&N/UAPB has raised the socio-economic status of untold thousands of black citizens of the state. It is a pity that many white citizens of our community don’t see themselves as perceived beneficiaries of what the institution has to offer, and many black citizens don’t appreciate what the institution can do for them.
UAPB can still raise the socio/economic level of the Pine Bluff community and its citizens if we get behind the university. If we support it financially and by sending it students who need the education and leadership and character development UAPB has provided for countless students in the past, and continues to do today.
• If we want to develop the kind of workforce that will draw new industries to our community – support UAPB.
• If we want to inspire youth to develop appreciation for the arts and the finer things of life, encourage them to attend the many cultural events that are offered each year – support UAPB.
• If we want to encourage youth to work hard and develop the physical skills that lead to athletic prowess and personal character, help them take advantage of the numerous sporting events held on campus – support UAPB.
• If we want first class informal educational opportunities, and if we want to enrich our lives by hearing relevant lectures and enjoying various forms of artistic expression – support these activities at UAPB.
• And finally, if we want our youth to receive a quality education with a personal touch, encourage them to explore with an open mind the benefits of a UAPB education.
UAPB is a gold mine in our midst! Pine Bluff citizens just need to harvest the gold!
Jacqueline McCray is faculty emeritus and former dean of the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.