Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Report from the Delta

Director’s Report from Jackson and the Mississippi Delta, August 2, 2009

In the Bible, it is written: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Although we at CSC do not promote any religion, so we can reach people of all religions (or of no religion), we understand that great pearls of wisdom are found in the Bible … and in many of the world’s spiritual books.

We are also finding great pearls of wisdom now in the Bible Belt, in Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta region, which includes the fine states of Louisiana and Arkansas.

After this last week in the Delta, I personally believe now, that in the case of the Delta region—which suffers from some of the most severe poverty, mental depression, diabetes, infant mortality, and HIV rates in the nation—we will see that the “last shall be first.”

You all read about our first experience, last spring, with Larry Williams and the Delta Citizens Alliance, our current project partner in the Delta. The DCA put on an annual conference last spring that was “off the hook,” according to one local participant.

The folks who came out to our first 3 Principles-based, 2-day workshop were mostly African-American, Delta and Mississippi residents, and mostly women, with three or four men in the crowd. They were well-connected, positive, eager to learn, (and also learn-ed, in many cases) effective, eloquent, powerful and idealistic.

Cynthia and I learned much from them … and after their introduction to the Principles, these Delta residents formed a Steering Committee with us to “get the show on the road” with the Principles in greater Mississippi and the tri-state region.

I have this powerful feeling that with these folks, the sky is the limit here … and beyond.

Cynthia Stennis-Sera and I flew into thunderstorms sweeping across Mississippi on Tuesday evening, the last week of July. Gloria Dickerson, currently of the Kellogg Foundation, picked us up at the hotel for dinner, and we spent a lovely evening getting to know her. She is a great advocate of changing mindsets through looking at Thought, and is working on building a center in the state where such changes can take place in a tranquil and supportive atmosphere.

The next morning, we braved flooding Jackson roads and whipping rains to get to the Hinds County Behavioral Health Center and do a workshop there. Gloria Roberts and Professor Stephen Rozman of the Center for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility invited us to present the Principles to their colleagues at Tougaloo College, a Historically Black College in Jackson.

Although numbers were small because of the flooding, power outages, thunder, lightning and what-have-you, the women who showed up were key players at Tougaloo. One woman who works with people with “other abilities” made it immediately clear that she was a natural at bringing out the “can do” and “will do” in her clients … some who have gone on to Washington DC to advocate for others.

Another woman related later (at dinner) how she went home and had a profound talk with her son that helped him to trust his own inner wisdom and common sense around parenting.

Has anyone heard the frogs in Mississippi? Goodness! These frogs ought to get themselves on “America’s Got Talent,” they were making such an interesting and LOUD noise just outside the Chinese restaurant where we ate on Wednesday.

We left Gloria Roberts and her colleagues to finalize discussions on how they would like to bring the 3 Principles to Jackson in a more targeted and/or comprehensive manner, and high-tailed it again to Harlow’s Casino … two + hours away in Greenville, near the river.

I believe we at the CSC now hold the interesting title of presenting the first 3 Principles Training in a casino. It’s a bit smoky at Harlow’s, but the seafood buffet is fabulous (with loads of crab legs, crawfish, and fried frog legs … No wonder the frogs are complaining!)

The two-day training for DCA members and supporters, including board members and funders, included roughly 25 people, most of whom kept calling Larry and his staff looking for some kind of an agenda before the thing started. Larry finally had to “make one up” out of topics I thought we might discuss … and send it out to agencies for their approval. An excellent cross-section of folks from throughout the Delta and from Jackson showed up. (Good work, DCA!) We had a wonderful two days presenting the Principles, our past & ongoing community work, sharing stories, laughing and, at times, sharing tears.

By the end of the training, excitement and enthusiasm was bubbling for getting the ball rolling in the Delta, and also in Jackson-based agencies like Community Outreach for Health Awareness, Inc. (headed by the gracious and powerful Elloris Cooper, who gave us a ride back to the Jackson Airport.)

On Friday evening, Larry, myself, and a small group of participants, including Gloria Dickerson, parked ourselves in chairs for two or more hours and started brainstorming a “regional” roll-out of the Principles in the Delta. This same group formed itself into a bona fide Steering Committee to begin a regional “Road Show” through the Delta, recruiting residents of some of the most “challenged” communities in the Delta to become involved in a Facilitator Training. We are pleased to note that the Steering Committee is composed of Larry Williams and Tasha of the DCA, as well as some of the most powerful, energetic and courageous women in the area (that’s my personal view, but that’s also the truth!)

The Mississippi Delta Community Resiliency Project Steering Committee now consists of myself; Onie Norman, Board of Directors, DCA, community activist & consultant and just named one of the South’s most influential Black women; Doris Miller, Board of Directors, DCA, educational consultant, mayoral candidate, Clarksdale, Miss.; Tasha Griffin, admin. assistant, DCA; Gloria Dickerson, led the Mid-South Delta Initiative for the Kellogg Foundation; Helen Jean Bush, community organizer, Mississippi Action for Community Education; Larry Williams, E.D. of the DCA; and Kathy Robison, Founder & CEO of Yuru corporate consulting firm based in Dallas, TX.

This is the first time we at the CSC have embarked on a regional, three state community resiliency project, while at the same time supporting resiliency projects in two other states as part of our National Community Resiliency Project (NCRP), currently funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

We will need tremendous resources to get this job done: financial, creative, physical, human and organizational. Through the power of positive collaboration and the high energy and optimism of our current and new partners, momentum is building in the Delta. I am starting to lose all doubt that this project will not be a great success in the few years to come, and perhaps a model for the nation …

Please do contact the Center if you would like to be of help.

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