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A new nonprofit in Harrison looks to provide jobs and affordable housing

Hope 9:29 broke ground for a new affordable housing unit, community center, and call center on October 27th in Harrison
Hope 9:29
Hope 9:29 broke ground for a new affordable housing unit, community center, and call center on October 27th in Harrison

Elizabeth Darden grew up in Alaska, but she said her family history dates back generations to the Harrison area.

“I actually grew up as a child as a child, every summer visiting Harrison area," said Darden, "but my roots run deep in that area. My family settled in Ponca, Arkansas in the early 1800 and I would come every summer for a few week period at a time. so I knew what Harrison was and everything and I always had a wonderful experience. The people of Harrison are incredible and the activities, outdoors, going to Buffalo River, hiking, kayaking, such a beautiful place. And we had so many visitors every year traveling through the area.”

Darden said she’s also familiar with the stereotypes and assumptions of Harrison.

“I had a cousin growing up as a child telling me, ‘there’s a hate group, the headquarters of that big hate group nearby.’ That kind of planted a seed of fear growing up. I was like ‘I don’t know if I could live there cause it’s so different how I was brought up.’ When I ended up coming to be closer to the family as I was raising my family, I fell in love with it.”

Harrison’s history with race relations is a troubled one. In the 1900 US Census, 10% of the population of Harrison was Black; 115 of the town’s 1,500 residents. Two separate race riots over the course of five years led to the deaths of dozens of Black people, and by the end of the decade, only one Black townsperson remained. When you factor in that Harrison was also a Sundown town until the early 2000s and the home of the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1990s, it’s understandable why race relations are still a major concern in the city.

Darden’s work in racial justice in Harrison began soon after she moved there. She’s a mother to three multi-cultural children, and as an elementary teacher, she said she wanted to help bridge the gaps in understanding.

“And help shift the negative narrative because of the community being such a wonderful place. I feel that we have been unfairly labeled, and that’s what inspired my work when I first moved there 12 years ago.”

She helped to coordinate an event with the Martin Luther King Commission. And that event led to meeting Selwyn Jones, who is the uncle of the late George Floyd. That meeting turned into a friendship and an opportunity to meet and interact with people around the country who had experienced loss and were reaching out to Jones for solace and to cope with grief.

“From there it pulled my heart strength to hear some of the mothers’ stories of those who lost their loved ones and still seeking justice. Enough to the point where I wanted to move forward in my career path. I was an educator, and I just saw the need in our society to provide tools to group that are looking for support to move up in life and that is what inspired Hope 929.”

Darden often refers to Jones as “Uncle Selwyn.” They started a podcast in 2022, having conversations with mental health experts, community leaders, and even the grandson of Nelson Mandela.

“And then I was like, we’re doing a lot of talking what kind of walking are we doing? What kind of tools are we providing these groups of people that we’re trying to help that want a better life but just need a little assistance.”

Hope 9:29 has partnered with local land developers and contractors to fulfill the Gateway Harrison Project. According to a press release from Hope 9:29, funding is being secured by Veterans Development Group, LLC, who will be contributing $10 million. The Gateway project will include a 30-unit apartment complex.

“And centered in the complex unit will be a community resource center, it’s going to be 3,000 square feet. where we’re going to connect the dots. What are the needs in the community, you know we’re still assessing them. We have started strategic partnership with various resource organizations and Harrison, and we just wanna help support people that are trying to level up their life.”

In addition to the housing and the community resource center will be a 50-seat call center.

“50 person means there’s 50 seats," said Darden, "but there’s going to be two shifts, so we’re going to employ 100 plus people.”

The group broke ground on the new project on October 27th. New affordable housing, a built-in community space, and upwards of 100 new jobs in Harrison is great news. But Darden says since breaking ground, she’s been frustrated by rumors and misinformation being shared by some members of the community.

“They’re thinking that we’re onto some scheme, but the truth of the matter is, as an educator, I saw students coming through my room that went home hungry. That were sleeping in cars. There are people in our community who are impoverished, and it’s important to note that not just sweep it under the rug and pretend like homeless people aren’t in our community. There are. And, we will have a vetting process for the jobs and background check. It’s not going to be 'the ghetto' or 'the hood' or 'The George Floyd Projects.' A lot of people are stirring misinformation out there and it’s unfortunate because this is a tremendous opportunity.” 

Darden recently shared on social media, “Despite the misconceptions and fears that have caused some pushback, we remain steadfast in our mission to serve and uplift our community.” Despite that, she says that the community of Harrison at large has always supported the events she has organized in the past, and the outpouring of love and support from the community as a whole has been wonderful.

“I’m excited for the long-term lasting effect to pour back into the community that gave me the opportunity to have a voice, that gave me opportunity to become an educator, to become a commissioner on parks and rec, and the chairman for parks and rec and now sitting on city council. I get to pour back into the community where I experienced such tremendous growth and where I actually have found my God-given calling. I live with purpose and every day to others and it’s my fuel when I wake up in the morning to give back.”

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.