One of Frank Scott's two cellphones rang in the middle of a recent interview.
"Hi, Chief Bewley." Pause. "You think I need to come out there?" Pause. "Officer involved shooting. Is he OK? Is she OK?" Pause. "Call me back."
The newly minted mayor of Little Rock was just dealt another nightmare.
"You just saw it," Scott tells a reporter.
Minutes before -- on Feb. 22 -- Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks shot and killed Bradley Blackshire on West 12th Street near Kanis Road. At the time, Wayne Bewley was the city's acting police chief.
About an hour before it happened, Scott was saying he is called every time there is a homicide in Little Rock -- day or night.
"No one prepares for that type of phone call," Scott says. "It hits home with my heart, my mind and my soul. I was not prepared for that whatsoever."
On April 19, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said no criminal charges would be filed against Starks. Starks shot Blackshire as the 30-year-old allegedly steered a vehicle toward the police officer. In a letter, Jegley said the vehicle was a "deadly weapon" and Starks had no duty to retreat.
Blackshire's family continues to call for the termination and prosecution of Starks. Scott said after Jegley's letter was released that, "I earnestly await the Department of Justice's civil rights review and its results." Starks is white and Blackshire was black.
On April 20 Little Rock's new Police Chief Keith Humphrey advised Scott to travel with a security detail as a safeguard. In a statement, Scott said he was aware of safety concerns in the months since he was elected.
Scott is the city's first black elected mayor. Two others came before him but they were both appointed by their fellow city directors to the position.
"I did not run to be the first black elected mayor of Little Rock. I ran to be the mayor of my hometown. To truly unify Little Rock, irrespective of race, culture, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity."
His campaign focused on his southwest Little Rock roots -- a part of town he continues to live in. It is also where he preaches -- he is an associate pastor at Greater Second Baptist Church in southwest Little Rock.
"Being someone who wakes up every morning in southwest Little Rock and being blessed by having many different experiences by becoming the first college graduate of my family and after receiving an education and having the opportunity going back and forth in business and politics throughout my career, I was able to understand the good, the bad and the ugly of Little Rock," Scott says.
Scott grew up in a house off Baseline Road and now lives in a house off Chicot Road. "We come from very modest means," he says.
His mother, Brenda Scott, was a young teenager in the ninth grade in Little Rock when she became pregnant with her first child, Narkisha. Scott was her second child, born five years later. His brother, Darrell, came along five years later. His father, Frank Scott Sr., is a retired firefighter and father to the two boys. He also adopted Narkisha.
"My mother is definitely the backbone of our family with what she has persevered in life," Scott says. "Being a young teenager, having my sister, and still graduating from high school. ... She wanted to make certain her children had a better life and you are talking about someone who had no intention of going to college. Not at all. It wasn't anything that I wanted to do. I wanted to get a job."
His mother had other plans. She insisted that Scott apply to colleges and scholarships -- sometimes even applying for him. And she also insisted he go to college outside of Little Rock.
He chose the University of Memphis. He was named Mr. University of Memphis in 2004-2005, a distinction given to him by his peers based on student involvement and leadership.
"Going to the University of Memphis really changed my life," Scott says. "Many people don't know or realize that I am an introvert and not an extrovert and the University of Memphis really helped me gain confidence."
At the University of Memphis, Scott met Creston Lynch, who now is an associate dean of university life at George Mason University in Virginia. Both men pledged the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
"I know Frank as my friend. Frank is unquestionably loyal," Lynch says. "He is one of the most dependable people I know."
Despite Scott's relatively young age -- he's 35 -- Lynch says he has an "old soul." Lynch adds that winning the mayor's office is "more a beginning for Frank than the pinnacle."
"I don't know where he will be," Lynch says of his friend's future. "But I do know Frank's calling will lead him to do great things."
BALLET, TAP AND JAZZ
In southwest Little Rock, Scott grew up seeing violence. "As I like to share with many people, I am merely a blessing away from either being dead or in jail. It is just through the grace of God that I have been able to live the life that I've lived. I had a mother who was there for me. But as I sit here in this mayor's office, there is no difference between me and anybody else I grew up with in southwest Little Rock."
He says he was never pressured to join a gang, but he was around family members and friends who were part of gangs. Instead, he and his close friends focused on athletics. Scott played football at Parkview Arts and Sciences Magnet High School.
In childhood, he found he had a passion for dance. He spent seven years in dance classes under C. Michael Tidwell, studying modern, jazz, tap and ballet. He no longer dances, but thought he was an "OK" dancer. "I have performed ballet. I don't do it anymore."
Scott was an executive with First Security Bank, focusing on new business development and commercial lending, when he decided to run for mayor. Before that, he spent five years in then-Gov. Mike Beebe's office, first as assistant deputy policy director and later as director of intergovernmental affairs. Earlier in his career, he was a distribution operations manager for Target's central Arkansas distribution center.
Beebe says he hired Scott because of his intelligence and willingness to understand different points of view.
"He is decisive but not precipitous," Beebe says. "He seeks alternatives and is willing to listen to all sides of an issue."
The former governor adds Scott's two professional life experiences -- working in the governor's office and his work as a banker -- give the new mayor a leg up.
"When you combine these two experiences, it bodes well," Beebe says.
Scott has served on many boards and commissions -- including the Arkansas Highway Commission and the Little Rock Port Authority, as well as had seats on boards of nonprofit organizations.
"Once I realized I was being invited to the table as the check box when I was trying to make changes and wasn't necessarily being listened to, it frustrated me because I knew Little Rock had such a great potential that we hadn't reached.
"I wanted us to move from surviving as a city to start thriving as a city to meet our true potential," he says. "After reaching that frustration point, I decided to run for mayor."
When he told his parents of his plans they asked "Are you serious?"
"But they were very supportive. Both of my parents -- I couldn't ask for two greater parents -- who really went above and beyond. They were on the campaign trail doing whatever I needed them to do whether it was pick up signs or any menial task they could do for their son," Scott says. "They were out in the rain, in the hot weather, cooking hot dogs for our volunteers. They did anything and everything for their son and it truly was a family and friend affair. It was -- what I like to call it -- my village stepped up for me."
Five men were in the race. Scott led the pack in the general election but did not receive 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. He faced Baker Kurrus, a lawyer and business consultant, as well as a longtime Little Rock School Board member who served as the schools' superintendent following the state takeover in 2015.
CRYING LIKE A BABY
The night of the general election, he was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn. He couldn't sleep and got up at 2 a.m.
"I took a walk and I went to a corner of the hotel and for whatever reason something came over me and I just balled out and cried," he says. "I had so much emotion and the reason I cried was because at this point I had been running from Sept. 12, 2017, to Nov. 6, 2018. I was like I've got to do this all over again. You put in so much time and effort and you really just want a resolution, whether you won or you lost. But you had to suck it up and we sucked it up and the next day was a new day."
On the day of the runoff -- Dec. 4 -- he and a few top campaign aides and friends drove to different polling precincts to check on the vote. As he was leaving the Temple of Restoration he saw a news alert that he was up in early voting. He asked to be taken to his church -- Greater Second Baptist Church.
"We pulled up and I got out and I got in the corner of the front of the church and I got on my knees and prayed and told God thank you."
His senior adviser, Antwan Phillips, was driving the vehicle. His friends state Rep. Charles Blake and Roberto Young also were in the car.
"It was a moving moment. I remember telling the guys in the car I loved to see that because that's just Frank," Young says. "He is going to give reverence to God no matter what. It just showcased the type of Christian he is, the follower of Christ he is."
Phillips also vividly remembers what happened. He said he and the other two men remained in the car when Scott got out to pray.
"He came back very emotional," Phillips says. "You could just tell there was this sense of gratitude and probably a sense of responsibility that he was about to embark on."
Young and Scott met at the University of Memphis where Young brought him into the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and served as a fraternity mentor.
"Frank is like the little brother I never had," says Young, an entrepreneur in Atlanta. "We were kind of drawn to one another. He reminds me a lot of myself. His perseverance and determination, he's very disciplined. When he has his goals laid out, he moves to achieve them."
Phillips also grew up in southwest Little Rock but he and Scott went to different schools and didn't really know each other until after they both graduated from college. Phillips is now a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings law firm.
When Scott was appointed to the state Highway Commission, Phillips was there to hear his speech.
"He said a phrase I will never forget. ... He said 'I don't deserve this, but I am going to earn it.' I was like this dude is for real. I admire him because that highlights his work ethic and his humility," Phillips says.
MOST IMPORTANT DECISION
After being sworn in as mayor, Scott appointed Kurrus to his transition team. About two weeks into his term, Scott announced he was implementing a new organizational structure at City Hall that increases his executive authority and shifts the role of the city manager.
Six of the city's departments -- finance; fire; human resources; planning and development; police; and public works -- now report directly to the mayor. The other departments continue to report to City Manager Bruce Moore, who now reports to the mayor.
Little Rock voters gave the mayor increased authority in 2007 by approving Ordinance No. 19,761, which states in part that "the mayor shall be the chief executive officer of the city and the city manager shall be the chief administrative officer of the city."
"Until we can change to a full-fledged mayor/council form of government, I am going to adhere to what was passed by the people in 2007 and be the CEO," Scott says.
On March 21, Scott announced he hired Keith Humphrey, the police chief of Norman, Okla., as chief of the Little Rock Police Department. Before he made the announcement, Scott said hiring a new chief would be his most important decision he will make during this term as mayor.
In his March 28 State of the City address, Scott called for a single school district south of the Arkansas River under city oversight; a change in the Little Rock Police Department's use of "no-knock warrants" and for body cameras for officers.
In this interview, he shared his "internal why" he decided to run for mayor.
"I didn't want to go another election cycle where we didn't at least have a voice of the voiceless being heard. One of the things I love to say is the voices of the voiceless will eventually be heard loud and clear."
"One person does not unify this city. It takes all of us through intentional interactions and intentional relationships to figure out how we attain and extract the value of diversity and inclusion."
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Nov. 18, 1983, Little Rock
• MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS INCLUDE: Sims BBQ, Lassis Inn, Copper Grill and Raduno.
• AS FAR AS MY DIET: I am a practicing pescatarian. I only eat seafood and catfish but on holidays I eat meat.
• MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIE: Coming to America.
• IN MY DOWN TIME: I am the guy who can sit in the movie theater and watch three or four movies and not move.
• PEOPLE SAY I LOOK LIKE: My great grandfather and I've been mistaken for Hannibal Buress -- a comedian -- in airports, particularly when I'm in casual clothes.
• MY HEROES ARE: My parents. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.
• THE BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER RECEIVED: Success is fleeting so be careful how you treat people because you don't know who you will need on your way down -- former Gov. Mike Beebe.
• MY MENTORS ARE: I have several mentors and it kind of depends on what phase of my life. Dr. J.J. Lacey, Judge Marion Humphrey and Secretary Rodney Slater (Secretary of Transportation, Clinton White House) come to mind.
• ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: Persistent
CORRECTION: Scott played football at Parkview Arts and Sciences Magnet High School. An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the sports Scott played
High Profile on 04/28/2019
Print Headline: HIGH PROFILE: Mayor Frank D. Scott Jr. hopes to unify the city