By John R. Schirmer
Howard County native Dr. Joycelyn Elders received the fourth Parker Westbrook Award Saturday night at the Parker Westbrook dinner sponsored by the Howard County Democratic Party.
Dr. Elders is from the Schaal community near Mineral Springs. She served as director of the Arkansas Department of Health when Bill Clinton was governor. When Clinton was elected president, she became United States Surgeon General.
Sen. Larry Teague and Democratic Party vice chair Julie Tuck presented the award to Dr. Elders.
In comments after the presentation, Dr. Elders thanked the county’s Democrats for the award. She told the crowd of about 115 that “nobody ever heard of Schaal. You couldn’t find it on the map. I always tell people about Howard County and Schaal. I tell them it’s a suburb of Mineral Springs.”
Dr. Elders said she is “proud to be a good Democrat, especially in this trying time. We’re going through some very trying times, but we’re going to make it. We believe in honor, justice, human rights, quality education for all our children, economic justice. We want to be sure children have an equal opportunity to climb the ladder of success.”
The daughter of a sharecropper, Dr. Elders spent part of her childhood picking cotton. “I’m grateful for a scholarship from the United Methodist Women. I decided that if I ever got out of that cotton patch, I’d make sure my family had a better life.”
Dr. Elders talked about her family, including her husband of 58 years Coach Oliver Elders. He led Little Rock Hall to four state championships and coached future Arkansas Razorback Sidney Moncrief.
Dr. Elders said that one of her brothers became a veterinarian, another a minister.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “We have a long way to go. It will take all of us to get there,” she
told the Democrats. “We can do it.”
Quality education is vital, Dr. Elders said. “It’s a long way from the school I started in to what we have today.”
However, “We don’t start early enough. A child’s hope, will and drive are determined by age 5. Eighty-five percent of brain development is done by age 3. We do too little, too late” in early chilldhood education.
To meet Americans’ needs in education, health care and other areas, “We have to become a transformational group with transformational leaders in our school and community,” according to Dr. Elders.
She asked the audience to remember the “5 C’s.”
They include clarity of vision, committed, competent, coalitions and control.
“We have to care about the community. We should learn what people need and where they need to go. We must educate and empower. Form an action plan,” Dr. Elders said.
“Not to know is hard. Not to want to know is worse.”
Dr. Elders was introduced by friends Catherine Thomas, the former mayor of Tollett, and her daughter Lisa Thomas. Catherine Thomas read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
Dr. Elders visited many of the people who attended and signed autographs as long as she was asked to do so.
She also heard two Democratic candidates speak. They included William Hanson, who is seeking the party’s nomination for Fourth District Congressman; and Josh Mahony, candidate for the U.S. Senate.