Scholarships honor judge’s late pal

Volunteering was “bred” in Judge Mark Leverett.

“My mom and dad are lifelong givers to church and community,” says Leverett, who presides over Little Rock District Court, Division 3. “That’s what I grew up in. I grew up [in North Little Rock] giving to the community. Giving to our local church, and volunteering time has been just my way of paying things forward. I’ve gotten so much grace in my life as a person, and so giving back is easy to me. It’s something that I feel like I owe. “

So as chairman of the Oscar Washington Jr. Educational Fund, Leverett is in his element. He has just overseen the organization’s 2022 banquet, held April 30 and during which students were awarded academic scholarships of $ 1,000 or more to attend the colleges of their choice.

Oscar Washington Jr., for whom the fund is named, was vice president of customer service for Entergy Arkansas. Washington passed away in April 2017 not long after being promoted. It was a tough time not just for his wife, Doris, and his family; but for friends who included Leverett.

“Oscar and I were much like brothers,” Leverett says. “Our families traveled together. My daughters referred to him as Uncle Oscar; his daughters referred to me as Uncle Mark, etc. His wife is one of my wife’s [personal training] clients. Oscar built my house. “They lived in the same neighborhood.” Oscar and I had unspoken plans of retiring in the same subdivision. We were going to be the ones that kind of grew old together – sitting on the back porch, trading stories and whatnot.

“After he passed, there was just an internal pain [that] was dull and just wouldn’t go anywhere. I knew we had to do something to kind of repurpose that and make it into something useful. “

Leverett sat down with Doris Washington and another friend who is a financial adviser. They decided it would be a great marriage if they promoted education in Oscar Washington’s name.

“Oscar was very passionate about education,” Leverett says, remembering his friend as being “very accomplished.” The Carlisle native and jack-of-all-trades was valedictorian of his high-school class, a 1990 graduate of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, held a master’s degree in business from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and served as a captain in the Arkansas Army National Guard. A certified public accountant, he was also a home builder and owned several businesses.

“So this was a really natural fit – [he] loved youth, loved education, “Leverett says.


The fund, currently overseen by an 11-member board that includes Leverett, got started with $ 10,000 in seed money from Entergy. Organizers held the first scholarship banquet in April 2018 at St. Mark Baptist Church. Scholarships were awarded to four young women at the event, which sold out about two weeks before its occurrence, Leverett says.

“Right after that event, we sat down and just started thinking, ‘Guys, this may be a little bit bigger than what we envisioned.’ We thought maybe it was going to be a one-time deal – we give away a little money and go on – but it didn’t happen that way. “

The board decided to move the 2019 event – “we were at capacity and still had people asking for tickets at the St. Mark venue” – to the Clinton Presidential Center. Former NFL player Keith Jackson was the keynote speaker. That banquet sold out 45 days in advance; the number of scholarship recipients was doubled.

“When we had it, there was just a feeling in that room that was like, ‘This feels right. This feels like something. We need to keep doing,'” Leverett says.

“Then the pandemic hit.” They put together a virtual video presentation in lieu of a 2020 event.

“What was ironic about that year is that our donations went up. So we were able to award 12 scholarships that year,” Leverett says.

“Also, each year we tithe 10% of whatever we get in,” donating to nonprofit social-service organizations and small-church ministries, Leverett says. “So as an organization we are giving to the kids, but we’re also giving to the community.”


In 2019, the fund organizers instituted the Alma J. Washington Educator of the Year Award, named for Washington’s mother, a longtime Carlisle educator.

“She was one of our first recipients that year,” Leverett says. Educators are nominated, then selected by fund board members; each winner also receives $ 1,000.

In 2021, the scholarship banquet was delivered in the form of a live virtual event, Leverett says. Donations went up – again – and 15 scholarships were awarded. Virtual keynote speaker was lawyer and political commentator Bakari Sellers. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. proclaimed April 30 Oscar Washington Jr. Day.

“Then we get to our fifth-year anniversary [this year], “Leverett says.” I don’t know if things could have gone much better for our five-year anniversary. … Everyone was happy to be back together. “

The 2022 speaker was Colette Honorable, former chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission. “We again had a packed house. We were at capacity. People [were] still asking for tickets. “

Five educators were presented with Alma J. Washington awards. There were 14 scholarships awarded this year; 12 of them were regular educational-fund scholarships. Two were special awards – Hope Scholarships – that resulted from a partnership this year with the Methodist Foundation for Arkansas.

Explains Leverett: “They had an anonymous donor who said that ‘I want to give two or three kids the opportunity to attend college, a college or university in Arkansas, and want them to graduate debt-free. So Methodist Foundation, I want you to find an organization that I can run this money through. ‘”Connections were made. And the donor committed $ 100,000 to the fund.

Regular OWJ scholars, as Leverett refers to them, can attend a college or university of their choice. In addition to the $ 1,000 award, each also receives a “college pack” – “we give them a monogrammed backpack, an Amazon Alexa, and we give them a laptop if they need one. Our students this year got [an] Apple MacBook Air. So the [scholarship] the package itself is worth about $ 2,500. “

The application period for Oscar Washington Jr. scholarships usually opens about the first week in January and runs for about a month. Applications are open to college-bound high school seniors with a minimum grade point average of 3.2.


Through the fund, youth are also served through a new initiative fled in 2021: The Internship Initiative.

“We’re trying to be somewhat of a bridge between high school and college. Well, the Lord led us to become a bridge from college to career,” Leverett says. ‘And I’m like,’ We’ve got these contacts, we’ve got relationships with these donors. ‘ And I just started reaching out … ‘Would you provide one of our Oscar Washington scholars in [your] field a paid summer internship? ‘ [They’d respond], ‘Yeah, absolutely we will. We’ll hold a slot open for one of your scholars; have them apply. ‘ So we tell the students, ‘We can guarantee you an interview. We can get your foot in the door. We can’t guarantee what happens after that, but you will have our backing with this particular donor. ‘”

So far, so good, Leverett says.

“Entergy has hired one of our scholarships and they’ve asked her to come back next summer. They’ve told her that they’re looking to hire her after she graduates as an engineer.” Another student, who plans a career in hematology, interned with CARTI; officials there have told her they want her back this summer. “St. Mark has hired one of our scholars, and wants to hire her after she graduates. So we’re providing some wraparound services for these kids.”

Meanwhile, the fund board is planning for next year. The 2023 banquet is slated to take place in another, even larger, venue.

It’s a wonder Leverett has all the energy it takes to run the fund.

“My wife … knows this has become like a part-time job for me,” Leverett says. ‘My wife has told me …’ Listen, you need to take a break …. ‘ She’s trying to make me take off for like a month or so. ” Good luck with that, judging from Leverett’s enthusiasm for his role with this organization.


One thing they’d like to do, though, is increase the amount of each scholarship, Leverett says. They’re looking at capping the number of recipients at 10-12 and increasing each award from $ 1,000 to $ 1,500. They’re also looking at starting an “Oscar Juniors” program … going into middle schools, identifying young scholars and giving them financial incentives for good grades and good conduct.

In addition to all the other things Leverett and the board accomplish via the fund, “we have the ability to give to kids anonymously. We’ll see kids who can’t afford their senior packet – pictures, cap and gown – we can write a check.

“That’s what gives me the energy to do this day in and day out. That fuels me.” Also fueling him is hearing Alma Washington talk about how thankful she is that her son’s memory is being honored thusly.

“And being able to honor the memory of my friend. There’s nothing better than that.”

Organizations and individuals who would like to donate to or partner with the Fund can reach out to Leverett directly at (501) 779-1806, or through the website,

photo “Our kids have been blessed not to need a lot of things growing up,” Judge Mark Leverett, chairman of the scholarship-awarding Oscar Washington Jr. Fund, says of himself and his wife. “But we’ve seen kids who have need. … Through this organization, we get a chance to really be an organizational blessing to kids who need it. ” (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Helaine R. Williams)

Leave a Reply

Back to top button