You’ll be seeing more local faces on some billboards around the area thanks to the #believeboonecounty initiative.
The Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce began the initiative. The “Welcome Home” video highlighting the Harrison area was produced professionally and has been seen by countless people at events all across the area.
“We created that video so that our industries and our businesses here would have something to highlight our town, to be able to send when they’re recruiting employees to come to this area just to kind of showcase it,” said Melissa Collins, co-chair of the initiative and incoming chair of the chamber board. “And out of that video, we pulled some specific quotes from folks that were in that video to create these billboards.”
Eddie and Jennifer Bartlett are featured on a billboard along Highway 65 in Bellefonte.
“We were one of the contributors to #believeboonecounty and when this came up, they offered for us to be on the billboard,” Eddie said. “So, I thought it was a great opportunity for Jennifer and I.”
Eddie said the entire product is about working on Harrison’s image. He said the bulk of people in the area don’t buy into the racist image often perpetuated outside the area. Racism is a part of life in many cities and other communities across the country.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s just unfair that Harrison gets that reputation.”
Jennifer was happy with the idea of promoting the Harrison area, although she admitted she is a little uncomfortable with the prospect of the attention it might draw to her.
“It’s just too much of me,” she said with a laugh.
That billboard is visible on the south side of the highway when you’re northbound on Highway 65.
Miles and miles away, on Highway 65 north or Ridgeway, is the other billboard that has already gone up. It’s visible on the left side of the highway when you’re southbound and it highlights Yassin Mbugi, a North Arkansas College student from Tanzania.
“Yassin has been one of the stars of the “Welcome Home” video,” Collins said.
Studying for a degree in business administration and management, Mbugi said he originally thought he would come to Arkansas, get his education and move along.
“For over a year now, fortunately I’ve been blessed enough to meet the right type of people,” he said. “What else can you say? God sees your effort and rewards you accordingly.”
Mbugi said he first found out about the billboard when friends told him they’d seen it. He was surprised.
“You don’t dream about stuff like this, you know?” he said.
Mbugi said he hasn’t experienced extreme racism that people in other areas talk about.
“Harrison speaks for itself,” he said. “I normally tell a lot of people, you know, it’s not really what you hear, it’s really not what you see. You really have to experience it.”
Standing beside the highway near the billboard with northbound traffic rushing past, he prepared to take a selfie with the billboard in the background.
“You need to take a picture of that and send it to your mama,” Collins told him.
Mbugi grinned and answered, “I already sent it to her.” He went on to say his mother congratulated him. “But keep studying,” he said she added.
Collins added, "I appreciate the efforts of photographer Beth Mathis, and graphic designer, Clint Howard for their expertise on this billboard project. They both worked free of charge and we are so appreciative of their talents."