Emma Kelly Rhodes (1937–)

Emma Kelly Rhodes is a prominent educator and social activist who has established a series of nonprofit education centers across Arkansas. Using her own life as an example, she worked to increase access to education, especially for those who have dropped out of high school. Rhodes has sought to give these people the education and training necessary to allow them to recast their lives.

Emma Kelly was born on May 9, 1937. Growing up in a family of fourteen, she was a tenth-grade dropout at age fifteen, a mother at sixteen, and a widow at twenty-nine. Despite all this, she reared and educated seven children, each of whom earned at least a degree from a technical college, with a number going on to earn four-year degrees. She obtained her own GED at the age of twenty-nine.

Kelly started taking classes at Capital City Business College, and that training helped her obtain a secretarial position at Philander Smith College in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Working during the day and attending classes at night, she earned a BA in 1972. She then studied vocational counseling at the University of Houston before returning to Arkansas and earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). She went on to earn an EdS from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and followed that with a doctorate in education from UA in 1987. She also earned a post-doctoral degree in adult education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).

Beginning in 1972, she began to work for the Arkansas Department of Education as a business education teacher, while continuing to further her own education at night. Rhodes would ultimately become the statewide coordinator of adult education before she retired in 1998 to devote herself to providing training and opportunities for others who had seen their educations interrupted.

She established a nonprofit organization to facilitate this effort: the Emma Kelly Rhodes Education Center (EREC), which first began operations in 2001. It later expanded to include the Dr. Emma Kelly Rhodes Education and Multi-Purpose Center for Adult Education, as well as the E. K. Rhodes Activity Center, all located in Little Rock. She also founded the House of Vision. Beginning operations in 2009, it specializes in providing job, skills, and entrepreneurial training for felons and others whose prison records have made their efforts to return to mainstream society particularly difficult.

The Rhodes Center and its affiliate operations offer courses in basic education and ADE/GED Preparation, as well as technical training that prepares students to become certified nurse assistants and home health aides. The center also offers training in vocational areas such as heating and air conditioning/refrigeration, as well as painting and dry-wall work. Rhodes has developed partnerships to help provide these technical skills. The center is licensed and approved by the Arkansas State Board of Private Career Education, which also helped develop the program’s curriculum and certified the instructors. In addition, EREC worked with the Little Rock School District to offer free classes to prepare students for the Arkansas High School Diploma/GED test. Having at one time volunteered as a probation officer, Rhodes is particularly attuned to providing opportunities for those with minor criminal records.

Rhodes has received numerous accolades and honors. In 2006, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. She has also been recognized by the Arkansas Times as an Arkansas Hero, as well as one of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas” by Arkansas Business. Rhodes was featured in the nationally distributed Parade magazine.

She is married to Clyde E. Rhodes Jr., and they reside in Little Rock.

For additional information:
“Dr. Emma Rhodes.” https://arblackhalloffame.org/honorees/2006/rhodes-edd/ (accessed October 15, 2020).

Emma Rhodes Institution for Special Education. http://dremmakrhodes.weebly.com/ (accessed October 15, 2020).

“GED Recipient Gives Back to the Community in a Big Way.” Workforce Counselor, January–February 2008, pp. 4, 17.

“Rhodes to Speak at Adult Education Center.” Log Cabin Democrat, May 6, 2008.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


    I remember the lovely Dr. E. Rhodes when she was our state director of Adult Education when I was director of the Fayetteville Adult and Community Education program. She was a strong and very helpful advocate for all people.

    Karolyn Farrell