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About the Award

The Marie Award recognizes outstanding Arkansans who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the public interest by word, action, and example through interfaith engagement and civic service over a number of years.


2017 Recipient: Darrin Williams

CEO, Southern Bancorp, Inc.
CEO, Southern Bancorp Community Partners

Amy Dunn Johnson

Darrin Williams’ career is a unique combination of law, business, and politics. Currently serving as the CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc., Williams oversees the strategic direction and operations of each of Southern’s three Community Development Financial Institutions: Southern Bancorp, Inc., a bank holding company; Southern Bancorp Bank, one of America’s largest rural development banks; and Southern Bancorp Community Partners, a 501(c)(3) development finance and lending organization – collectively known as “Southern.”

Southern was founded nearly thirty years ago when some of the nation’s most notable political, business and philanthropic leaders, including Bill Clinton, Rob Walton, Muhammad Yunus and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to name a few, came together around a central idea – that the economic challenges facing many underserved communities could in part be addressed through the creation of a values-based financial organization focused on providing these services to those who most need them. With an initial investment of approximately $10 million and a mission to create economic opportunity, Southern has grown to become one of the most effective and largest community development organizations in the United States, as well as a model for an entire industry of mission-focused financial institutions known as Community Development Financial Institutions. Southern Bancorp today is a $1.2 billion asset organization with over 80,000 customers and 43 branches located primarily in underserved markets in the Mid-South.

Prior to leading Southern, Williams served as managing partner at the law firm of Carney, Williams, Bates, Pulliam & Bowman, PLLC, where he focused on representing institutional investors and consumers in class action litigation against some of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies. Williams also served three terms of elected office in the Arkansas House of Representatives (2008-2013), serving as Speaker Pro Tempore of the 89th Arkansas General Assembly. As a lawmaker, he was recognized nationally for his legislative accomplishments, including being named a Champion of Small Business by the National Capital Coalition, an Aspen-Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership by the Aspen Institute, and listed as one of 12 state legislators from around the country to watch by Governing Magazine. Williams received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hendrix College, his Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University School of Law, and his Master of Laws degree in Securities and Financial Regulation from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.


2017 Recipient: Karama Neal

COO, Southern Bancorp Community Partners

Cindi Blackwood

Dr. Karama Neal serves as Chief Operating Officer for Southern Bancorp Community Partners (SBCP) where she oversees all asset building and public policy programs as well as partner relations, grant reporting, and staff supervision. Prior to joined SBCP in 2009, Dr. Neal served as an adjunct professor and program director at Emory University, where she earned a Ph.D. in genetics. In addition to holding a M.A. in bioethics and health policy from Loyola University Chicago and a B.A. in biology from Swarthmore College, Dr. Neal has completed the Impact Investing Programme at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. She serves on the board of the Little Rock Branch of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and is a frequently requested speaker and panel member regarding economic opportunity.



Past Recipients

2016
Steven Blackwood, Cindi D. Blackwood, Ariel D. Blackwood and William McCastlain

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2015
Amy Dunn Johnson, J.D. and Vince Morris, J.D.

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2014
Rev. Stephen Copley

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2013
Sam Chaffin & Gary Speed

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2012
Chief Kirk Lane & Curt Bradbury

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2011
Dr. Fitz Hill

2011 Marie Award and Panel Discussion >>

2010
State Senator Joyce Elliott

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2009
Former US Senator David Pryor

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2008
Trinity Episcopal Church and Bethel AME Church

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News Article (Courtesy Arkansas Democrat Gazette)>>

2007
Grainger Williams

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2006
Jim Davis

2005
Mimi Dortch

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News Article>>

News Photo (Courtesy Arkansas Democrat Gazette)>>