Charles Stewart, 73, co-founded the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1992. Its foundation gives grants to nonprofits across Arkansas. A 37-year banking veteran, he built a 16-state community development division at Regions Financial Corp.
Stewart earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a graduate degree from Louisiana State University’s School of Banking.
Why is a Black Hall of Fame important?
We often say that the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame corrects the omissions of history. It is critical that people and especially African American and other minority youth see people who look like them being recognized for significant achievements. The Black Hall of Fame provides inspiration and motivation for the aspirations of these young people.
You and Patricia Goodwin founded the hall in 1992. What was your original intent?
Patricia Goodwin was the executive director of the Arkansas Minority Business Development Council; I was a board member. Patricia had attended the Trumpet Awards in Atlanta and was interested in doing something like that in Arkansas. I told her that I had developed a concept that I thought would be a good way to recognize the achievements of African Americans with Arkansas ties and a good fundraising event for the council. The Hall of Fame operated in partnership with the council until 2003, when the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame moved to expand its mission and moved to get its own 501(c)(3) designation as a nonprofit.
The organization marked its 25th anniversary in 2017. What would be your hope for it on its 50th anniversary?
While I don’t expect to be present at the 50th anniversary, it is my hope that the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame would have continued to grow in impact and effectiveness and that there will be a great pool of outstanding African American men and women with Arkansas roots who are changing the world for the better. It is my further hope that America will have grown to the realization that Black history is American history and that we will be a nation that values the contributions of all its people.
What specific areas do you focus on for awarding grants?
[Grants] are specifically targeted to nonprofit organizations in Arkansas working to improve education, youth development, health/wellness, strengthening families, and economic development in Black and other underserved communities throughout Arkansas. Our grants support capacity building for small grassroots organizations as well as specific projects related to our mission for any nonprofit organizations with a compatible mission and objective. In 2014, we were awarded the Outstanding Foundation Award by the Arkansas Association of Fundraising Executives.
You were the state’s first Black bank executive. How has the industry changed for the better at creating employment opportunities and providing financial help for the underserved and underbanked?
The early 1970s was a time of great hope in America and in Arkansas. Many corporations were affirmatively moving to break down barriers that had prevented African Americans from moving into and upward in the corporate sector. ... I may have been somewhat of a trailblazer in banking, but it is gratifying to know that I was not the last Black banking executive.