Scott Hamilton has spent his life witnessing the positive impact that the Urban League has had on Little Rock’s Black community. His father, William, was an educator, civic leader and school board member who was the namesake of the Little Rock School District’s now-shuttered Hamilton Learning Academy, while his mother Wanda was a property manager who joined her husband as an active participant in League programs throughout the city.
Their example not only inspired Scott to take his education seriously, but also to seek opportunities to serve others whenever possible. A year ago, the 54-year-old Hamilton’s life came full circle when he stepped in as the interim CEO of the Urban League of Arkansas – just in time to spearhead the civil rights organization’s ambitious voter education and outreach effort tied to the 2020 election.
“In the 2020 elections, one of the things that we saw and started to really recognize is that unfortunately in this country, there was a lot of effort brought to limit access to voting,” Hamilton said. “We hoped that had gone away 20 or 30 years ago, but it hadn’t. In our society, we still have those whose opinions are not in the best interest of all people, so we decided to find ways to make the voting process as painless as possible.”
Those efforts included hosting virtual town halls designed to educate voters on the location of voting precincts and what they needed to bring with them so that they wouldn’t be turned away upon arrival at the polls. Partnering with the ACLU, the League had knowledgeable volunteers at many precincts ready to answer questions on rules and regulations, but the drive didn’t stop there.
“We also knew there would be long lines, so we wanted to make sure that experience was pleasant and we showed up at polling places across Central Arkansas, literally almost like airline stewards,” Hamilton recalled. “We showed up with food, beverages and snacks, and as people were standing in line we’d hand out snacks and food. Thank goodness we did, because the crowds were indeed large.”
A Hall High graduate who went on to attend Hendrix College before earning a law degree at the University of Missouri and an MBA at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Hamilton has displayed plenty of energy in pursuing his life goals. So it’s fitting that he has spent most of his career in the energy industry prior to taking over the Urban League, and now also oversees a used car dealership and a food truck court in downtown Little Rock.
After working for energy companies around the country for the first two decades of his career, Hamilton returned home to Little Rock in 2010 to help care for his mother. He headed the State of Arkansas Energy Department from 2011 to 2014 before winding up as a key part of the state’s electrical grid operator, Mid-Continent Independent System Operator.
“I’ve had a really good career around the country, had really good opportunities in life and enjoyed the things that life had offered me,” said Hamilton, whose wife Martie is an executive with Simmons Bank. “I grew up in a household where my parents always pointed out that it’s our individual obligation to try and make things as good as it can be for others, and not be selfish with what we do.”
With the election over, the Urban League continues to be active on several levels. Its Defining Arkansas Values program seeks to inform voters about key bills under consideration in the General Assembly, breaking down the complex details in order to make them easily understandable and engage citizens in the debates.
The League also helped fight hunger in December with its Food Insecurity Project, which utilized CARES Act funding to provide meals and boxed foods to 45 communities across Arkansas and seeks to continue building relationships with the Arkansas Hunger Alliance and the state’s food bank network. But perhaps its most vital focus lies in education, especially via the Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST) program, which coordinates several after-school programs to maximize positive mentoring and job opportunities for youth nationwide.
“I had the opportunity to lead the organization and it appeals to my personal sense of being able to leverage things to help other people with health, education and job opportunities,” he continued. “If you’re out there trying to do it by yourself, it’s tough. People talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but that’s not true.
“Anybody on this planet that’s done anything has had someone that helped them. I think it’s part of my obligation to do whatever I can in any shape I can to help others be successful and at least have a shot at a decent quality of life.”