As a Clinton School of Public Service student, you recently spent seven months in Ghana working on your international public service project. How did it feel to arrive there?
It was a true return. … We survived the Middle Passage. We survived the inhumanity and injustice of slavery and Jim Crow. We are surviving to this very day, that undercurrent of racism, where you have to explain your existence in a world where you should just be. And I just got to be myself. It was so freeing. I usually feel like someone is choking
Has the cultural shift to being back in the States been difficult for you?
Yes. Ghana was deliciously black. … We have a parallel story, as in Little Rock and Ghana, because of the Central High desegregation crisis of 1957. My late father,
What are your responsibilities as the new executive director of Local First Arkansas, a nonprofit dedicated to creating and supporting an alliance of locally owned, independent businesses?
I have a lot to do, and I have a lot that I want to do. … With my creative background, [I’m] creating signature programming. I want to introduce some merchandise that will help brand us better, and things that we can give as a gift to our membership, but [also] for other people to know who we are and what we do to build this sustainable community of local business owners. Whenever you go to a city or a town, that’s what gives it its
What projects are you excited about for Local First?
Well, No. 1, including businesses of
What impact do you hope to make on the state?
I want to continue to make people feel at home and to know that Arkansas, even though she entered the Union as a slave state, this ain’t no slave state. It’s The Natural State. It’s a beautiful state. And that’s the state I want to be in, in my natural state. That’s what I’m most excited about. I think who I am as a person is just going to add a lot of spunk and
Does it feel strange to be back in your hometown after all your travels?
No, because I know that I can leave. Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine, taught me [something] a long time ago. She said, “You don’t have to hate a place to go. You can just go.” She freed me. … It feels good to be back because I love home. I left in love and I came back with that same love in my heart for Arkansas. I feel like I still will visit places and educate myself. I feel like in order to change the world, you have to see the world. For those who will never leave and continue to build this up from the ground level, you need some foot soldiers who will go out in the world and go get it. … I will leave, and I can
Name: Crystal C. Mercer
Birthplace: Little Rock
Job: Executive director of Local First Arkansas, lead merchant and designer of Mercer Textile Mercantile, Clinton School of Public Service student
Volunteer jobs: Speaking at various organizations in the community, volunteering with Our House and the Little Rock School District
Hobbies: “Reading, cooking, gymming, staying hydrated and staying woke.”