Not content to sit back and wring their hands, these Arkansans are conjuring a smarter, safer and saucier future. Our fresh-faced Arkansas Times Visionaries for 2023 are leapfrogging right past the old boys’ club to deliver good health, a strong economy, political might and even some artistic flair.

Gennie Diaz

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Gennie Diaz
For AR People connects people with policy

Let’s face it: Asking working-class Arkansans to be engaged, active participants in the democratic process while simultaneously feeding their families and leading complicated lives is a pretty big ask. The truth is that maintaining an awareness of your political landscape — particularly at the state and local levels that don’t always make national headlines — takes time, and it’s pretty unlikely that working parents are going to find themselves at the end of their day with the mental bandwidth to delve into the minutia of tax cuts for the wealthy or pay raises for educators. That’s where For AR People comes in. 

The group describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of Arkansans restoring fairness, transparency and accountability to our state government,” with aims to reshape Arkansas into a place where “all voices are valued regardless of the net worth of the speaker, all workers have the basic protections they need to be productive and healthy, and our government works for the good of all of us.” 

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Or, in Founding Director Gennie Diaz’s words: “We basically connect the dots between policy at the state level and people’s lives. … We’re not reporters, per se, or journalists. We’ll provide the information via other sources, or provide it ourselves if there’s nobody else doing it.” (Notable here is that For AR People and the Arkansas Times have a partnership, sharing information to make sure Arkansans have the access they need to participate in their own democracy.) “But we’re always providing an action element,” Diaz, 38 and a mother of two children, said. “An on-ramp for people to be engaged in democracy in the state. And we want people to wake up to the importance of that, because: One, our electorate is so disengaged in Arkansas. But, two: Once people start participating in these smaller ways, at the local level and the state level, they start to feel a sense of empowerment.” 

As for Diaz’s on-ramp into political work? That came courtesy of former state Rep. Megan Godfrey. Godfrey also happens to have been Diaz’s college roommate, and when Godfrey decided to run for office, Diaz — whose work had ranged from graphic design to communications — signed on as Godfrey’s communications director. “My degree is in political science, and I never thought that I would be able to marry my love for visual communications — and my obsession with information, and being in the know about things — with my actual trained degree in poli sci until I started doing For AR People. So everything kind of led up to this point.” 

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Diaz’s ancestors are from the Arkansas Ozarks, and moved out west during the Dust Bowl era, so when Diaz moved to Fayetteville for college, she felt right at home. “I guess half of my DNA is from the Ozarks, and it’s a really special place to me.” 

During the upcoming legislative session, she says, For AR People has its eyes “all on public education. We of course are still going to be advocating for teacher pay increases for public educators, including paid staff … We’ll also have our eye on anything that, in our opinion, attacks public education or pulls resources from public education. An example of that would be vouchers for private schools. We’re also going to be watching jail expansion, and we know that is a priority of the majority party, so we will look for ways in which our audience can be part of that conversation. Just like anytime, we’re gonna be watching for anything that materially harms Arkansans. Or is there something that’s going to materially improve their lives? We will champion those pieces of legislation that will make people’s lives better.” SS

 

Dr. Nirvana Manning

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Dr. Nirvana Manning
Obstetrician delivers better health care to Arkansas moms

As a member of the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee, Dr. Nirvana Manning helps investigate every maternal death in the state. In 2020, the committee determined 92% of the 30 maternal deaths that year could have been prevented.

“Those are astounding statistics,” she said. But maybe not surprising. 

Arkansas is not a safe place to be if you’re an expectant mother. The state has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, roughly double the national average. 

Manning aims to change that. 

“We live in a time where we don’t have to wonder what the best way is to take care of postpartum hemorrhage, we know how to take care of preeclampsia,” she said. A doctor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Manning wants to make sure caregivers at all of Arkansas’s 37 hospitals where babies are delivered have the knowledge they need when these emergencies arise.

“We will take that show on the road and help support all of our delivering hospitals,” she said. “We hope a postpartum hemorrhage doesn’t happen, but when it does, in a small town that only delivers 200 babies a year, we hope that they know quickly how to address it, how to fix it, and they know how to get that patient the best care at that time.”

There’s plenty of work to be done beyond hospitals, too. We need community health care workers to make sure expectant and new mothers in rural areas are linked with adequate medical care, Manning said.

“There may not be a hospital within 50 or 100 miles. We need someone who can coordinate that care.” 

And getting more Black clinicians on the job in Arkansas could help close the racial disparity in maternal outcomes.

We need to break down that distrust in the medical establishment,” she said. “We need more Black health care providers.”

Manning appears in the documentary “Giving Birth in America: Arkansas,” produced by supermodel-turned-documentarian Christy Turlington Burns and the organization Every Mother Counts. In December, Manning shared a stage with Burns and Chelsea Clinton during the Women’s Voices symposium at the Clinton Presidential Center, where she talked about her efforts to turn Arkansas’s dismal maternal mortality rates around. 

Part of a series that captures women’s birth experiences in different states, the film was “a good way to shed light on some of the things we could do better here,” Manning said. It follows several mothers through delivery and afterward, as they wrangle with the new demands of mothering a newborn on top of work, classes, family and other obligations. Mental health challenges are more common than not in those first grueling months. 

Half of Arkansas births are covered by Medicaid, but coverage runs out 60 days after the baby arrives. Manning said she’s hopeful Arkansas legislators will come through in 2023 to expand Medicaid to run a full year after birth. The extension would mean new mothers could address the physical and mental health challenges that can follow childbirth, and they could get the birth control they need to be in charge of if or when they’ll have another baby. There’s no way to cram all of that into the 60 days after giving birth.  

“Your life is still upside down at 60 days,” Manning said, speaking from experience as a mom of three. AB

 

Brian Chilson
Amber Gowan

Amber Govan
Local nonprofit offers a second chance to teens

Anger management, conflict resolution, deescalation strategies and career readiness. Every day, Amber Govan works to give teens in Pulaski County the opportunities and resources she needed as a young adult. 

As the founder of Carter’s Crew, Govan has created a comfortable environment for teens to commit to life-changing outcomes. Govan said she grew up facing adverse challenges herself; violence, poverty and homelessness pushed her to sell drugs at a young age and write bad checks in college. It was these experiences that propelled Govan’s efforts to provide youth programs in the community. 

“I think that when you live in chaos, you just become accustomed to that being the way of life,” Govan said. “I would probably be a menace to society if it were not for community interventions.” 

Carter’s Crew, which is named after Govan’s 7-year-old son, started in 2018 and operates on federal funds and community donations that keep the resources free. The teens’ needs ultimately drive the types of services offered, but community members also visit to provide tutoring and discuss topics like financial literacy, mental health and gender identity. 

Teens are welcomed into a space with a computer lab, shower, fully stocked kitchen, dining area, activity room, pantry with donated clothes and activities and an art room where teens can make T-shirts to sell. 

“The [large] majority of our kids who are here at the program, they come from the courts,” Govan said. “Our program is a second chance for them. After they go through the program, they don’t have to go to detention.” Govan said she and her team work with teens who live in high crime areas, are involved in gangs and have been — or are at risk to be — involved with the justice system. The teens’ parents are also offered programs to help with career readiness and resume writing; they can even earn vouchers for business attire. 

Programs are 10 weeks long and are offered in person or virtually, but there’s currently about 50 people on the waitlist, Govan said. Her team follows up with the teens for nine months after the program, and they can reenter the program twice. Carter’s Crew served thousands of people in 2022, and Govan said she’s looking to expand the services soon. 

Govan said that when she’s offered a new seat at the table or to speak for a committee, she takes the kids with her. They also call Govan “Big Ma,” which she said is representative of the person who holds everyone together in her culture. While Govan only technically has one son, it feels like she has a bunch of kids, she said. 

On top of working directly with the youth, Govan wears many hats working closely with the federal government as a liaison between law enforcement, the justice system and the community. Govan is also part of the probation system review team in Pulaski County working to find detention alternatives and sentencing discrepancies. Eight staff members, 60 community partners and about 30 volunteers work toward the success of Carter’s Crew. “Without this community that we have, we wouldn’t exist,” Govan said. MH

 

Abraham Carpenter Jr.

Abraham Carpenter Jr.
Carpenters begin growing a new leafy green

The Carpenter family has a long history of growing produce in Southeast Arkansas and, last year, they added one more leafy green to their repertoire. 

The Carpenters planted their first marijuana crop last year and have received rave reviews since their flower first hit dispensary shelves in August, according to Abraham Carpenter Jr., the head of the operation.

“According to the people who have partaken in it, they say that it’s the best flower in the state,” Carpenter said. “When they come to the dispensaries, when they look at the appearance of it and the quality of it, they say that it’s the best flower out there.”

The Carpenters are no strangers to agriculture and success. Abraham Carpenter Sr. was inducted into the state Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Carpenter Family was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame the same year, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The family was also named the state Farm Family of the Year by the Arkansas Farm Bureau in 1988.  

Carpenter Medical Group, owned mostly by Abraham Carpenter Jr., received a license from the state Medical Marijuana Commission to grow marijuana in 2020. 

About a year ago, the Carpenters began growing in their newly constructed 60,000-square-foot cultivation facility in Grady where they employ many family members and people from the local community. 

The Carpenters grew their first 25 strains from seed and have applied their knowledge from growing produce to marijuana cultivation. 

“Just growing plants in general helps us to identify anything that a plant needs,” Carpenter said. “We can look at a plant and tell whether it needs water, tell whether it needs nutrients, by just looking at it.”

Carpenter said his family got into the business when his father saw a TV news report about medical marijuana being legalized in Arkansas. His father asked him if it was true that medical marijuana would treat or cure illnesses as its proponents claimed.

When the younger Carpenter replied that the supporters vouch for the plant’s medicinal capabilities, the elder Carpenter, now 92, said, “Well, we need to grow some of that stuff.” 

Venturing into the marijuana business was a bit of a divergence for the eldest Carpenter. 

“My mom and dad wouldn’t even let me sell beer and wine in a family restaurant,” Carpenter said. “When I got that approval, I knew it was time to try to move forward on trying to get a license to grow some medical marijuana to help heal the patients.” 

Carpenter Farms has flower and vape cartridges on the market, with edibles and topicals hitting the market in the first quarter of 2023. GC

 

Stephanie Smittle
Central High’s Young Leftist Club

Young Leftists Club
Central High students take up the microphone in the name of renewables

When it comes to talks about policy change, the adults in the room are not always the adults in the room. Take Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, for example, or the Parkland, Florida, students standing up to the big gun lobby. Or our very own Sela Booher, Heather Jennings, Gryffyn May, Rory McCuien, Ernest (Ernie) Quirk, Abe Wardlaw and Melissa Xiang. All members of Little Rock Central High School’s Young Leftists Club, the group has spent much of the school year urging the Little Rock Board of Education to replace a portion of its energy consumption with solar energy — a transition, they say, that would save the district “a significant amount of money with zero upfront costs.” 

A move to renewable energy, the students’ research posits, means “the district would pay less over time than it would if it continued to pay for energy at its current rate,” even excepting barriers like preserving Central High’s historical architecture in any new facility plans. With direction from their club sponsor Malik Marshall, the students enlisted support from the student body and from administrators, collecting over 700 signatures and 100 written comments supporting the idea of implementing a power purchase agreement, in which the energy generated by LRSD’s solar power facilities would be sold back to the district at a lower rate than the standard utility rate. 

Sounds great, right? But energy is high stakes stuff, and a potential bidder on the district’s solar contract — Entergy — has spent time in front of district decision-makers attempting to sell the company’s own energy programs to the district, and has been allowed to make its case not only before other bidders could weigh in, but before a Request for Proposals was officially approved by the school board on Sept. 22. The students spent hours together after school on Tuesdays and Thursday and often on weekends, making sure their arguments were locktight and preparing facts in the face of resistance, structural inertia and, Ernie added, “condescension.” 

“They don’t all treat us as qualified,” Abe added. “And it makes us have to go the extra mile in terms of getting research and presenting these ideas that have no holes, no gaps in them.” 

“We had to have evidence that you can’t refute,” Gryffyn said, “and to put it in the plainest, simplest words possible that are absolutely true. Because otherwise, it could just be misconstrued and make it sound different than we intended. It’s a challenge for young people who are trying to make change on this level.”

The students’ argument is rich and informed, but it’s also personal. Heather has a younger brother coming up through the Little Rock School District, and Gryffyn has a younger sister in the same boat. Though concerns about renewable energy are pressing ones, “I think it’s more about setting a precedent for future grade levels to want to get involved but maybe don’t know how,” Gryffyn said. “This sets an example and gives kind of a bar for ways that students have pushed to see change happen. It gets the ball rolling.” 

Beyond the unified mission they’ve adopted this year, their interests and college aspirations range widely. Melissa plans to study computer science. Ernest is considering social work. Abe is eager to get on the pre-law track. Heather is interested in wildlife biology, and Gryffyn plans to put her experience at the school newspaper to work with a focus on political science and journalism. All of those fields, they’d point out, can intersect with policy-making — and therefore, with things like economics and corporate overreach and equity. Lucky for anyone in their sphere of impact, they’ve got some practice with that. SS

 

Madison Hurley
Krystal Cornelius (aka Maxie Fauana)

Krystal Cornelius (aka Maxie Fauna)
Erotic history in the making

When Krystal Cornelius, known on stage as Maxie Fauna, started performing in 2018, she was one of two people of color in the Central Arkansas burlesque scene. Her relationships with other performers of color, especially those who had found their way into all-BIPOC groups or events, were exclusively virtual and far out of state, cultivated through social media. 

The gears turned for Cornelius, leading her to timidly host an interest meeting in late 2019 for the state’s first all-BIPOC burlesque troupe. Curiosity was high, drawing potential members from a variety of entertainment backgrounds like drag and theater who were eager to make the leap to burlesque. Even people with no performance experience were intrigued. The Arkansas Shake Shakers (A.S.S.) debuted on a Facebook livestream in May 2020. 

The 41-year-old Cornelius is the leader of the troupe, but is unmistakably a loyal fan of every member and can’t help but gush about them. She’s hesitant to call them a family because of how corporations have co-opted that kind of language, but it’s clear that’s genuinely how she sees it. The A.S.S. includes Cheetah Neutrále (“an amazing performer”), Lola Champagne (“an absolute smokeshow”), Ashleigh Wiggins (“a dazzling songbird”), Jada Coca (“an incredible ray of light”), Dom Trè X (“our wonderful drag king burlesquer”), Miss Angel Cakes (“an invaluable stage kitten and a captivating artist”), and Miki Gaynor (“a larger than life MC”). 

According to Cornelius, the burlesque community has been welcoming to the Shake Shakers. However, performing in Little Rock is a challenge for burlesque performers of all races due to skepticism around the financial viability of the form. Because of its history of offbeat, suggestive entertainment, Hot Springs is the most reliable place to find accepting venues. 

Cornelius’ aspirations are modest. In addition to performing, she’s a jewelry maker under the name Krystal Bijoux, and hopes to design pieces that can be comfortably worn by burlesque entertainers. As far as the Shake Shakers are concerned, she just wants a home bar where they can consistently perform every month. She longs for others to understand the wonder and complexity that she knows resides in burlesque, “an expressive art form” that she believes can be used for purposes as far reaching as straightforward eroticism, playful humor, sincere political statements and ironic commentary. DG

 

Carol Goforth

Carol Goforth
Getting crypto under control

In early 2018, University of Arkansas School of Law professor Carol Goforth was invited to meet with two men who were seeking entrepreneurial guidance for their new crypto asset business. At that point, the extent of her knowledge about digital currency was merely a basic awareness that Bitcoin existed, but she decided to go anyway. She was impressed by their charm, zeal and mastery of the technology, but recognized immediately that what they were proposing was illegal under banking and securities regulations.

“Why hadn’t they done their homework?” she wondered. “Why hadn’t they looked up these relatively basic regulatory structures that were obviously going to apply?” When she went back to her office to dig up some resources to pass their way, she quickly realized that there was almost nothing written on the topic of cryptocurrency regulation, so she became an expert. After 25 years of an academic career spent jumping from topic to topic, she finally found her niche. In the five years since, she has published two editions of a textbook, 18 scholarly journal articles, and dozens of blog posts and commentaries about the subject. 

Goforth was born in Fayetteville, but spent most of her childhood in Alberta, Canada, only to return to Northwest Arkansas for college and law school. Her parents both earned Ph.D.s, and the curiosity and drive that motivates one to do so has clearly influenced her. She’s the type of interviewee who answers questions in 10-minute-long bursts because she’s so enthralled by and informed about what she studies. “With crypto, there is always something new that nobody else has yet articulated where I think I have something valuable to contribute,” she said. “It continues to be endlessly fascinating to me.”

When asked about the stakes of cryptocurrency regulation, Goforth was emphatic — money laundering, avoidance of taxes, the funding of international terrorism and human trafficking, Ponzi schemes, fraud, conflicts of interest and a lack of investment transparency are just some of the seemingly endless list of risks associated with an unregulated or underregulated cryptocurrency market. 

Despite these challenges, Goforth believes in the social justice potential of cryptocurrency. For people who live in countries with avalanching inflation, or for those who live under government regimes that steal from their citizens’ bank accounts, or even for unhoused folks in the United States whose lack of an address prevents them from banking, digital currencies might be a saving grace. “There are hundreds of millions of people without access to reliable banks, but 70% of them have a smartphone,” Goforth said. DG

 

Russel Cothren
Aubrey Costello

Aubrey Costello
Designer celebrates trans joy through fabric and needle

When it comes to design inspiration, 25-year-old Aubrey Costello reaches all over. Costello draws from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical worlds, books that don’t yet have visual influence to skew imagination, colorful 1960s art nouveau and historic Edwardian fashion to create pieces that tell a story. Costello also pulls influence from their personal experiences as a neurodivergent, nonbinary transgender man. 

Their recent collection titled “Wellenstil” — “wave style” in English — was presented during Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week at Crystal Bridges in November and captured vibrant trans joy, the late 1960s and magic island myths like Atlantis. All trans models presented the clothing.

Trans people are “very pathologized,” Costello said. “Everything is framed in terms of dysphoria — in terms of being unhappy with your body and in pain because you’re not being perceived correctly. But there’s a flip side, which is trans joy, and the joy of finally getting into the body you want.” Gender neutral clothing has largely become muted and drab in today’s fashion, or “masculine light,” Costello said. Instead of leaning into this, Costello creates designs that celebrate the playfulness of experimenting with clothing while finding one’s identity. 

“The nonbinary community is very, very vibrant,” they said. Costello underwent top surgery this year, and they said that has opened the door for more feminine fashion exploration with a lower likelihood to be misgendered. Losing the body marker will also likely encourage Costello to make more of their own clothing, something that had previously sparked body dysphoria. 

“I think there’s something magical [about] creating your identity kind of from scratch,” Costello said. “When people come out as trans to their friends, we should be having parties. We should be saying, ‘Congratulations on your new name.’” 

Costello said clothing design has long been a part of their life. As an autistic child, “pants just made me want to crawl out of my skin,” Costello said. At age 7, Costello’s mom helped them make their first dress. After some faltering over the years, Costello committed to design about 10 years ago.

Costello is a graduate of the University of Arkansas’s apparel studies program, and is currently back for a master’s degree with the same focus. A lover of extravagant neckwear and vintage pieces, Costello is fully immersed in the design world with five sewing machines, one serger, projects on the horizon and aspirations to complete a doctorate program in Helsinki, Finland. MH

 

Nikita Lovelady

Dr. Nakita Lovelady
Spearheading a proven strategy to tackle gun violence

People spend a lot of time worrying and complaining about Arkansas’s persistent top-10 ranking for gun violence, but most of us spend very little time doing anything about it.

That’s not the case for Dr. Nakita Lovelady, head of the efforts to launch a hospital-based violence intervention program in Little Rock. Modeled on tried and tested programs in Boston, Philadelphia and other larger cities, Project Heal at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will officially get rolling this month. 

Victims of stabbing and gunshot wounds who come in for treatment at UAMS will be offered more than just medical care. 

“Mortality is on the rise, but everyone needs to know there are more survivors than those who actually die. We have a lot of people in recovery and picking up pieces of their lives. This is what hospital-based intervention does.”

Patients can tap into mental health services, along with social services they might need to extricate themselves from a cycle of violence. Project Heal will help victims find housing, transportation, legal assistance and jobs. 

It’s a thorough approach, and it’s proven to work. 

“What I will say about these programs is they have a history in urban northern areas like Baltimore, D.C., Boston, in some parts of Michigan. There have been hospital-based intervention programs around for more than a decade,” Lovelady said. 

There’s certainly a need for fresh approaches.

“What we know about community violence, gun violence, is that there has been a recent increase over the past few years affecting communities across the nation,” Lovelady said. That increase was met with more federal funding for research and prevention. The City of Little Rock is sending some of its American Rescue Plan funds to take Project Heal from the planning stage to implementation. 

One novel component of Project Heal will be the social support peer specialists, former victims or perpetrators with a lived experience of community violence who can help stop cycles of retaliation and re-injury. These specialists make near-daily phone calls and visits to the victim to find out what he or she needs and make the needed connections. 

These social support peer specialists are the secret sauce for keeping participants engaged and making strides, but the work is tough. And integrating these street-smart peer specialists into the buttoned-up institutional atmosphere of a hospital can be tricky, adding to the stress of an already challenging job. Turnover is usually high, Lovelady said.

Keeping victims engaged can be a challenge, too. The goal will be to keep them in the program for nine to 12 months, but they’re welcome to stay as long as they like.

Lovelady says she’s a health disparities intervention researcher at heart, which means she focuses on the preventable differences in suffering, injury and opportunity to achieve optimal health for socially disadvantaged groups. And like most of us, she has her own close brushes with gun violence. Battling Arkansas’s high gun violence rates with a proven program will help.

“I know I don’t have the magic solution, but I know I can make a difference in the community,” she said. AB

 

Brian Chilson
Alicia Watson

 

Alicia Watson
Plant-based gains

“Today’s a good day for plants, man,” Little Rock Chef Alicia Watson said in a confessional interview after winning the 2022 Food Network competition series “Big Restaurant Bet.” Hosted by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, Watson competed on the network’s inaugural cooking competition cooking plant-based (when challenges allowed) while pitching the concept for a deli version of her food delivery and culinary wellness business Vito and Vera. Watson, a former occupational therapist in home health, enrolled in UA Pulaski Technical College’s culinary arts program at age 58 with a plant-forward focus inspired by the idea that food is medicine. 

Watson’s prize for winning Big Restaurant Bet was $250k in Zakarian Hospitality consulting services. She met with investors and made trips to Florida and LA, but ultimately decided against opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2022 citing the high investment costs. Six months after winning the Food Network show, she’s still in her same house in Little Rock and still cooking all the food for Vito and Vera with her sous chef in a commercial kitchen space in a West Little Rock church. 

But Vito and Vera has grown. In addition to the catering and weekly e-commerce deliveries to people’s homes in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Maumelle, this August she started wholesaling Vito and Vera meals to the Ozark Natural Foods co-op in Fayetteville, Drug Emporium and the Green Corner Store in Little Rock. She’d like to expand further. 

“We’re passionate about wholesale because Vito and Vera’s mission is to meet people wherever they are on the plant-based continuum,” Watson said. 

Watson envisions Vito and Vera plant-based meals carried by a food distributor and served in local restaurants and to one day be able to offer a frozen line of plant-based meal options for patients in area hospitals. While one of Watson’s mantras is “change your plate, change your life,” she said it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  

“Maybe you only make the effort to do plant-based one day a week and maybe you do that for a month and check in and say, ‘Do I feel better or not?’ If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, eating oatmeal and increasing your fiber for breakfast could be the one thing that helps you. … Get rid of the idea that you’ve got to go all the way or you’re not going to see a benefit.” RB

 

Ali Taylor

Ali Taylor
The choice is still yours, Arkansas Abortion Support Network director says

Performing abortions is no longer legal in Arkansas, but that doesn’t mean it’s illegal for Arkansans to get abortions. Women looking to end a pregnancy but lacking the finances and/or know-how to make that happen can look to the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, where a team of firebrands still safeguards a right the Supreme Court and Arkansas lawmakers got wrong.

Ali Taylor teamed up with co-founders Roz Creed and Karen Musick to launch the organization in 2016. The three women met during their shifts as abortion clinic escorts, and joined forces to form the Arkansas Abortion Support Network when they realized the need.

“At the time Arkansas was one of 11 states that did not have an abortion fund, so we decided to start it, and we did,” she said.

That money helps women cover their costs, which are usually in the hundreds of dollars.

“We raise money to help people, typically low-income folks, pay for their abortions, because typically the vast majority of patients pay out of pocket,” Taylor explained. “Abortions can cost anywhere from $600 up to several thousand, depending on the circumstances.”

The Arkansas trigger law banning providers from facilitating abortions except to save the life of the mother went into effect in the summer of 2022. This post-Roe landscape demanded a new playbook, one Taylor is now working full-time to execute. She became the Arkansas Abortion Support Network’s first paid director in September.

When Arkansas’s only surgical abortion provider closed it doors, the Arkansas Abortion Support Network took up residence in the former clinic and offers Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They encourage people to come pick up free pregnancy tests or Plan B to have on hand. The group’s website links women with vetted, reliable information about medication they can use to manage their own abortions at home. They also offer information and support both financial and emotional. 

Taylor grew up in Rochester, New York, but moved to Sherwood in 2009. She’s worked to try to give women in Arkansas access to the same reproductive care that’s available in other parts of the country. 

“I basically have always felt that abortion needs to be legal,” she said. “It’s an important right to have, and when more and more states — obviously primarily Arkansas — started trying to ban abortion or limit it to extremes, I couldn’t stand by while such a fundament right to control what happens inside your own body was being stripped away.”

Taylor remains outspoken and unapologetic about her work, which she admits can cause some social strain with people who have different politics. For the most part, though, Taylor said she finds most Arkansans are far more open-minded about reproductive health than our laws might have you believe.

“Through this work I’ve found that Arkansas may not be quite so cut-and-dried conservative about the topic of abortion as people might think. I think most people have much more complex views than what we give them credit for,” she said. “If you are someone who wants abortion to be legal in some circumstances then you are in the majority, in Arkansas and in the nation.” AB