Tara Shephard is a former Little Rock School Board member who is a manager at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center, has announced as a Democratic candidate for House District 79 in Southwest Little Rock.
I am a 7th generation Arkansan that comes from a family of sharecroppers, steel and factory workers. I was born in a small town of decent, hardworking men and women. My father, a veteran that served in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, modeled for me at an early age to not be afraid to standup and fight for the rights of others. The morals and values instill in me are what inspired me to seek public office. To be a voice and tireless advocate for our most vulnerable and marginalized community members.
I have a Bachelors from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and a Masters from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In addition, I’m an author, education and mental health advocate, auditor for the American Correctional Association, suicide-prevention trainer and youth program consultant with decades of professional experience in the areas of juvenile justice, education, substance abuse and social justice.
For nearly a decade, I hosted the annual At-Promise Girls Empowerment Conferences. After years of data collection, I partnered with the Arkansas Minority Health Commission and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Race and Ethnicity Institute producing an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) report, focused exclusively on childhood adversity and girls. Children in Arkansas experience more adversity than most children in the nation.
In addition, I’m a former board Director for the Little Rock School District in which I served as the representative for over 50,000 residents and 7 schools. A true champion for children. Not only am I a champion for children, I’m a champion for women as well. In 2016, I met with Governor Asa Hutchinson, advocating for the state to recognize March as Women’s History Month and acknowledge our valuable contributions. An official state proclamation was honored March 10, 2016.
Veterans hold a special place in my heart. My dad, Lloyd Shephard Sr., served 3 tours in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s my war hero. Nothing in life has made me prouder than seeing my dad in uniform. And nothing in life has made me sadder than not knowing if he would return home from war.
As a legislator, I will work tirelessly for those that are and have served our country. Ensuring they receive the proper physical and mental health care that they deserve. Our country would not be the great nation that it is without brave men and women, such as my dad, protecting us. Many have paid the ultimate price. It will be a top priority of mine as a legislator to assist in developing policies and passing key legislation to support those that have for so long selflessly kept so many of us safe.
It is argued that Arkansas has more traumatized children than any other state, partly attributed to our rural areas and poverty. As a result, children in Arkansas need a lot of support and in many instances, beyond what the immediate family can provide. As a State Representative, my goal is to be their most vocal advocate! The wellbeing of children should be a top priority for our state.
In partnership with the University of Arkansas Race and Ethnicity Institute and the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, in 2018, I released a report, In Their Voices – Adverse Childhood Experiences for Black Girls. This was a result of years of working with girls in their communities. There were 5 action steps identified. Those being, universal screenings, proactive public policy, trauma informed schools, coalition building and advocacy.
As a State Representative, proactive public policy will be able a top priority for me. Often times the solution to a problem is known, but because the implementation of that solution is not required, the problem continues to fester. As such, a strong focus on the passage of legislation to improve the coordination, prevention and response to childhood trauma is needed.
Current research reveals that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially the greatest public health threat today. I am convinced that as a community, it is our duty to eliminate these threats. Children need us. They depend on us.
In addition, I will take on the issue of our public schools ensuring that all students are reading at grade level regardless of where they are in the state. Currently, there are more students in Arkansas’ public school system that are not reading at grade level than there are those that are. This is a statewide unaddressed emergency. According to the most recent data, only 36% of children are reading ready.
As a former board director of the Little Rock School District, I’m all too familiar with these statistics and they simply do not seem to be getting much better.
Healthcare is a human rights issue. In 2019, my only son was diagnosed with a chronic illness. It has forever and drastically changed our lives. My family, like many other Arkansans, have firsthand experiences in fighting with insurance companies, hospitals and the ever-rising cost of prescriptions.
According to ACHI, in 2020, “Arkansas’s worse-than-average overall performance, related to the state healthcare system, including the number of adults who report poor or fair health, hospital 30-day mortality rates (i.e., death within 30 days following hospital discharge), and the number of children without a medical and dental preventive care visit, are all measures for which Arkansas is ranked last among states.
Measures for which the state’s performance worsened the most included the number of adults without all recommended vaccines and the number of adults with any mental illness reporting unmet need”. The ability to have and receive quality, compassionate healthcare is a right for all Arkansans.
As a correctional auditor, I have traveled the nation auditing adult and juvenile jails, prisons and parole authorities. In 2020, I traveled to the Pentagon and audited the United States Army Correctional Command. These experiences afforded me the opportunity to have firsthand knowledge regarding how dysfunctional our criminal justice system is.
Arkansas, particularly, has an ever growing prison population and continues to incarcerate low-level, victimless offenses. This practice can simply not be sustained. It is a strain on taxpayers and hurts individuals, families and communities. According to a 2021 Prison Policy Initiative study, Arkansas ranks near the top of other states and countries in the percentage of people in prisons. Funding to maintain this is the 2nd highest expense in the state’s budget. Financial resources that could be better used by investing more in local institutions. Through smart legislation, we can end mass incarceration in Arkansas.
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Nulla vitae elit libero, a pharetra augue.
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