Delta Center hosts Robertson Scholars’ Community Summer internship program

By | Community, Delta Center, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area | No Comments
Summer 2018 Robertson Scholar interns gather in front of the W.C. Handy Blues Trail Marker on the grounds of the Bolivar County Courthouse, downtown Cleveland.


Before working with The Delta Center at Delta State University, Lawton Ives had never heard of koolickles.

“It’s a reddish sweet and sour pickle made with Kool Aid and lots of sugar,” said Ives, a rising sophomore from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “We have made lots of them for The Most Southern Place on Earth Institute for teachers who come here to learn about Delta food, music and culture.”

For more than 10 years, The Delta Center has hosted summer interns from the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

“I am learning so much about how the Delta has influenced the nation and the world,” said Jake Sheridan, a rising sophomore from Duke University interning with The Delta Center. “The Blues, the Civil Rights Movement, slavery and the cotton industry, these stories and so much more are all right here.”

The Delta Center recently held a Robertson Scholars dinner at Mississippi Grounds in Cleveland. Interns and their mentors attended from various Delta community sites including Delta Arts Alliance, Delta Music Institute, GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, St. Gabriel’s Mercy Center, and Sunflower County Freedom Project.

Members of the Robertson Scholars administrative leadership team traveled from North Carolina to attend as well, while conducting Mississippi Delta site visits.

“We call it Community Summer,” said Allen Chan, executive director of the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. “It is a critical social interaction and character building experience for our students. It provides them with a greater understanding of social justice issues that communities are facing throughout the South and the nation.”

“The Delta Center continues to be an excellent lead partner for our Mississippi Delta program,” said Vicki Stocking, director of summer programs for Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. “The Delta Center’s strong connections with organizations and people here in Cleveland and the surrounding area make this a life-changing educational community service experience for our students every year.”

Robertson Scholars with members of The Delta Center team (left to right) Shelia Winters, Jake Sheridan, Dr. Rolando Herts, Lee Aylward, Lawton Ives and Sarah Hicks.

Through a generous $24 million gift from Julian Robertson, a 1955 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, and his wife, Josie, the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program provides a full tuition four-year scholarship to Duke and UNC Chapel Hill freshmen. Serving as a Community Summer volunteer intern is one of the requirements of receiving the scholarship.

“We have loved hosting the Robertson Scholar interns for several years now,” said Lee Aylward, program associate for education and community outreach at The Delta Center. “They learn the importance of giving their time and talents toward improving social conditions in the Mississippi Delta. In turn, organizations increase their capacity to offer community service programs to Delta residents and visitors every summer. It truly is a win-win.”

“Through this partnership, The Delta Center helps to place these very bright student interns with several organizations that are doing important educational and cultural development work in the Mississippi Delta,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center.

Ten Robertson Scholars have been assigned to volunteer in the Mississippi Delta this summer. Their names are listed below by their Delta community organization placements along with their university affiliations and hometowns:

Delta Arts Alliance
Kyle Ryan (Duke), Kennebunkport, ME
Allayne Thomas (Duke), Raleigh, NC

Delta Center for Culture and Learning
Lawton Ives (UNC), Chapel Hill, NC
Jake Sheridan (Duke), Charlotte, NC

Delta Music Institute
Warner Lamar (UNC), Nashville TN

St. Gabriel’s Mercy Center
Rahi Patel (UNC), Waxhaw, NC
Antonia Young (Duke), Auckland, New Zealand

Sunflower County Freedom Project
Liza Becker (Duke), Elkins Park, PA
Adam Enggasser (UNC), Greenville, SC
Naraya Price (UNC), Poughkeepsie, NY

Community Summer places Robertson Scholars in other parts of the South including Edgecombe County, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Whitesburg, Kentucky.

The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program was created in the year 2000 by Julian and Josie Robertson. The program invests in young leaders who strive to make transformational contributions to society. To learn more, visit

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit

LaForge hosts fifth annual Mayors’ Summit

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Mayors from across the Mississippi Delta gathered at Delta State University on June 19 for the fifth annual Delta Mayors’ Summit hosted by Delta State President William N. LaForge.

The university invited local mayors to engage in discussion about campus and community activities, and to continue forging collaborations and partnerships in the region.

This year’s meeting focused on the Local Government Leadership Institute’s (LGLI) inaugural year of training sessions. Dr. Temika Simmons, director of LGLI, along with LaForge and President Mark Keenum of Mississippi State University, recognized those in attendance who participated in the inaugural training sessions.

Mayors were given the opportunity to discuss popular themes from the first year of training, and they offered suggestions on additional topics to be discussed in year two.

The platform also included an overall campus update and a summary of university initiatives, including updates on campus projects and a tuition increase.

LaForge was pleased to build on the success of previous summits, a conference he instituted after becoming president in 2013.

“The fifth annual Mayors’ Summit was another success for Delta State in engaging and collaborating with the mayors in the Delta,” said LaForge. “We discussed some issues vital to all of us who call the Delta home, and we also set the stage for additional program content for the Local Government Leadership Institute. I am grateful to the mayors of the Delta for coming to campus to participate in our summit, and I look forward to working with them throughout the coming year.”

Desiree Norwood, recently elected mayor of Sunflower, was thankful to take part in the program.

“This summit is certainly beneficial, especially for newly-elected officials,” said Norwood. “It’s a learning process for new mayors, and Delta State University has created this program to help with that — to teach us about issues and concerns. We can use this program to find resources for our towns, but it’s also an opportunity to network with other municipalities.”

Just prior to the summit, Delta State hosted a press conference marking the completion of year one of the LGLI.

Delta State launched the LGLI program last year in partnership with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government & Community Development at Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Municipal League, with support from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and Casey Family Programs. Initial programming kicked off in November of 2017.

The LGLI assists and supports local officials of the Mississippi Delta in addressing governance challenges by providing activities, basic training, and helpful tools to run their municipalities effectively and efficiently.

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Presidents LaForge and Keenum announce Local Government Leadership program

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In conjunction with Delta State University’s fifth annual Delta Mayors’ Summit on June 19, Delta State President William N. LaForge and Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark E. Keenum hosted a press conference to announce a partnership between the two universities to benefit local government leaders.

The new program, termed the Local Government Leadership Institute, assists and supports local officials of the Mississippi Delta in addressing governance challenges by providing activities, basic training, and helpful tools to assist them in running their municipalities effectively and efficiently.

Since November 2017, the Local Government Leadership Institute, in partnership with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State and the Mississippi Municipal League, has provided training for more than 130 elected leaders across the Delta. These leaders represent nearly 35 Delta cities and towns. Through the Leadership Institute, participants have collectively earned more than 225 Certified Municipal Officer elective hours offered by the Mississippi Municipal League.

“Delta State is very pleased to partner with Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Municipal League to provide this unique training experience for local government officials,” said LaForge. “The university’s vision for, collaboration with, and improvement of, our Delta communities is well served by this dynamic program.”

“I am very grateful to MSU President Keenum and the MML leadership for joining with us in an enterprise we believe can be transformational,” added LaForge.

Keenum echoed LaForge’s praise for the program.

“Mississippi State University and the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development are very pleased to partner with Delta State University and the Mississippi Municipal League to deliver education and training opportunities through the Local Government Leadership Institute,” said Keenum. “The Stennis Institute is an exceptional example of Mississippi State’s commitment to making a difference in the many diverse communities it serves throughout the state.”

LGLI seeks to cultivate more knowledgeable, skilled, and effective municipal leaders and managers; improve local government services and environment for business, education and citizens; enhance community relations; increase public trust in local government; advance public civility and racial harmony; and, improve the community’s economy and quality of life.

The program is under the direction of Dr. Temika Simmons at Delta State University.

“We believe that well-managed local governments are important not only to the citizens they serve, but to the businesses, industries and other institutions that are located in those communities,” said Simmons. “The leadership, management and infrastructure provided by local governments are key elements in a community’s delivery of services and quality of life efforts. As a civic and institutional partner, Delta State University is committed to providing the support needed by our local elected leaders as they continue their work to strengthen and grow the Mississippi Delta jewel that we call home.

Simmons reiterated that the program is made possible by generous support from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation, Casey Family Programs, and the collaborative relationship with partners at the John C. Stennis Institute at Mississippi State and the Mississippi Municipal League.

Delta counties served by LGLI include: Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower, Washington, Issaquena, Sharkey, Quitman, Tallahatchie, Leflore, Humphreys, Yazoo, Warren, Desoto, Tate, Tunica, Panola, Carroll, and Holmes.

“Our reach has extended beyond the initial counties targeted in the first year cohort,” said Simmons. “We have seen participation from elected leaders statewide and continue to see interest and growth at each training session. Our services include monthly trainings, opportunities for collaboration, and access to municipal resources.”

Dr. Dallas Breen, executive director of the Stennis Institute, is looking forward to improved education and training opportunities as a result of the institute.

“Working collaboratively, Mississippi State and DSU, along with partners like MML and others, are leading the way to greater educational attainment and economic opportunity for all Mississippians through innovative programs like the Local Government Leadership Institute,” said Breen.

MML Deputy Director Robbie Brown is also thrilled by the institute’s impact.

“The Mississippi Municipal League is always striving to provide our member municipal officials with education and training that will help them be better leaders and improve their community,” said Brown. “When Dr. Temika Simmons approached us about partnering with the Local Government Leadership Institute to provide training to municipal officials in the Delta, we were thrilled to be a part of this opportunity. A lot of small towns have very limited funds for traveling to conferences and education opportunities. By holding this training at Delta State, LGLI is providing a need to those municipal officials in the Delta area without stretching their funds. MML looks forward to continuing our partnership with LGLI in providing education and training to municipal officials in the Delta and around the state.”

For more information on the Local Government Leadership Institute, visit or contact Simmons at 662-846-4254.

Planters Bank receives President’s Award

By | Bologna Performing Arts Center, Community, President | No Comments

Planters Bank received the 2018 President’s Award, given for outstanding service to the Bologna Performing Arts Center.


The Bologna Performing Arts Center recently announced Planters Bank and Trust Company as the 2018 recipient of the President’s Award, the highest honor given for outstanding service to the BPAC.

Delta State University President William N. LaForge presented the award May 22 at a special event on the theater’s stage.

“Our good friends at Planters Bank have been staunch supporters of the Bologna Performing Arts Center since its inception,” said LaForge. “Over the years, the bank’s engagement and generosity have helped the BPAC develop a strong programming component that adds so much to the culture of the Delta. Planters Bank is a remarkable exemplar of what it means to be a strong corporate supporter of the arts and community activities. Delta State is very grateful to Planters Bank for its unwavering support, and it is our pleasure to recognize the bank with the 2018 President’s Award.”

The award is given by Delta State’s president to those who have contributed their expertise, insights and energy to promote the arts for the enrichment of the Delta in special ways. The award is the BPAC’s highest honor. Acknowledgement is made through a unique award modeled after architectural details of the BPAC façade, which are covered in gold leaf.

Planters Bank is the first business to receive the award.

Founded almost 100 years ago in Ruleville and headquartered in Indianola, and with branches across the region, Planters Bank is an independent community bank with a strong focus on the Delta. The bank has been a strong supporter of Delta State, including the athletics program and various departments across campus.

Particularly notable is their consistent and continued support to the BPAC. Since the center’s construction in 1995, Planters Bank has supported the BPAC’s performances, the Janice Wyatt Mississippi Summer Arts Program, and year-round education programs such as the Juliet Kossman Arts Pass.

A multidisciplinary facility, the BPAC presents an annual season of national and international touring productions in addition to hosting university and community events. The new 2018-19 lineup will be announced June 1.

To learn more about the BPAC, visit or stop by the center.

Doyle to exhibit cowboy photography in NYC galleries

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Delta State University photographer and news writer, Rory Doyle ‘11, will be exhibiting his ongoing documentary photography project on Mississippi Delta African-American cowboys and cowgirls at two New York City galleries in June.

On June 17 at 4 p.m., Doyle will lead an exhibit opening talk at Tikhonova+Wintner Fine Art Gallery in Harlem. On June 19 at 7 p.m., Doyle will also host an exhibit opening talk at the Half King Photo Series in Manhattan.

Doyle has been working on the project for nearly two years, traveling across the Delta to photograph a unique cowboy sub-culture.

“Everything started when I met an African-American cowboy riding his horse backwards in the Cleveland Christmas parade,” said Doyle. “He told me about an upcoming rodeo celebrating black cowboy heritage in the area, and the project expanded from there.”

Doyle took on the personal project to compliment his work at Delta State.

“Delta State has instituted a meaningful Winning The Race race-relations conference, and I feel this body of work closely aligns with conference objectives,” he said. “The conference challenges us to break down racial barriers and be more socially conscious of our neighbors. Making an effort in this regard has been such a meaningful experience. Everyone has been extremely welcoming of my camera and me.”

“Many people are unaware of the local black cowboy scene, and it’s been truly educational meeting all the riders here. Thinking about the bigger picture, black cowboys have been under-appreciated in American history.”

Throughout the project, Doyle has been researching the historical impact of black cowboys. He said historians have estimated that one in four cowboys were African-American following the Civil War — yet this population was drastically underrepresented in popular accounts.

“This work sheds light on a prominent sub-culture historically overlooked — one that’s also overlooked here in the Mississippi Delta,” Doyle said.

In April of 2018, Doyle also exhibited photos from the project at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

“I have made strong connections in many towns, but each meeting reveals how deep and diverse this community is,” added Doyle. “Through word of mouth and social media, I’ve been introduced to a web of cowboys and cowgirls of all ages. Their advice on who to meet, and which upcoming events to attend, guides me as I continue the body of work.”

View some images from the ongoing project at

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