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story.lead_photo.caption Honorees Matthew Waller and Annie Abrams (center) talk Wednesday with event chairman Lottie Shackelford after the Urban League of Arkansas’ Whitney M. Young Awards luncheon. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Leaders of industry, education and finance came together at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel on Wednesday to honor two people who are viewed as difference makers in Arkansas.

The Urban League of Arkansas celebrated its second annual Whitney M. Young Awards Luncheon and honored Annie Abrams, a retired educator and community leader, and Matthew Waller, dean of the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair in Business.

Waller, 54, formally became dean in 2016 after serving as interim dean the year before.

"I remember I asked him what he wanted his legacy to be here," Barbara Lofton, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the College of Business. "He asked me what do we want our legacy to be. He said together we will build a path for others to follow."

In 2017, he was appointed to the Transformation Advisory Board created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, which was created to advise on a plan for identifying efficiencies and cost-savings in state government.

Waller also helps do economic analysis for the state's Urban League and is committed to diversity and inclusion at Walton College and within the state, including launching a bridge program for high school students from underrepresented areas.

"We teach the students there about business, economics and entrepreneurship," Waller said. "We believe it helps students decide to come to college. I think we are in our third year and we have a 100 percent success rate."

Waller said he was surprised to receive the award, but thrilled by the honor.

"Whitney Young Jr. was big on fighting employee discrimination," Waller said. "One of my favorite quotes from him is 'the hardest work is to be out of work.' I believe at the Sam Walton College we are doing our part to help."

The second honoree was the 87-year-old Abrams, who is a civil-rights activist, a pursuer of social justice, an educator, a cultural worker and a museum curator.

Tamika Edwards, the executive director of the Philander Smith College Social Justice Institute, said Abrams is known to many as "Mother Abrams."

"She is not shy to tell you the importance of history," Edwards said. "She always encouraged and supported me."

In 1956, Abrams accepted a position with the Arkansas Teachers Association and became involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, working alongside Daisy Bates. In 1978, she represented the Young Women's Christian Association at a United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Abrams mentioned the importance of technology during her speech.

"Use technology to become the best communicator there is," Abrams said. "I am 87 years old and I was invited to talk about technology at a local college."

Abrams said Waller is the master of fiscal responsibility and she is master of human responsibility.

"Together we form a great team," Abrams said.

State Desk on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: Urban League of Arkansas honors award winners

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