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Delta Jewels to host final program at Smith Robertson Museum

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Delta Jewel Lela Bearden of Sumner, Mississippi, speaks during an oral history gathering in Charleston, Mississippi.

The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership is hosting its final program at the Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson on Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public through support from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center.

“We are honored to host the final Delta Jewels program,” said Pamela Junior, director of the museum and MDNHA board member. “This partnership has meant so much to the Mississippi Delta region, the state and our nation. In addition to great speakers and special guests, we plan to feature live performances. This will be an exciting cultural celebration for our entire community to enjoy during the holiday season.”

Since March 2015, the MDNHA and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning have engaged communities through the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. The program features Alysia Burton Steele’s book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” a collection of oral histories and portraits of African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta. The program has engaged over 1,000 residents and visitors in the Delta, the state and Washington, D.C.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about educating and engaging people, connecting organizations and building community pride by telling the Delta’s story,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership Program has accomplished this by fostering collaboration among numerous people and organizations. We have effectively raised awareness about the importance of preserving community voices and stories through oral history gathering, storytelling and photography.”

An attendee holds a copy of the Delta Jewels book.

An attendee holds a copy of the Delta Jewels book.

“It has been such a pleasure and an honor to partner with the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center on this educational project,” said Steele. “On behalf of all of the Delta Jewels, thanks to these partners and all sponsoring organizations that have made these events so educational, so impactful, and so meaningful for so many people. Words cannot express our appreciation.”

Through The Delta Center, Steele first presented Delta Jewels sessions at Delta State University’s Winning the Race diversity and race relations conference in 2015. A month later, the MDNHA and The Delta Center partnered with various regional organizations to host a series of Delta Jewels community gatherings in Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville and Mound Bayou. The Mound Bayou program was held in conjunction with the town’s 128th Founders Day celebration and witnessed a gathering of 30 Delta Jewels church mothers. Over 300 guests attended the Mound Bayou program.

“The importance of this work truly came to life for me when I attended the Mound Bayou Program to meet the real Delta Jewels,” said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, chair of the MDNHA. “This remarkable group of strong women inspired me and others with their wisdom and humor. What an honor to be in their presence and hear their stories. I am happy the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area could play a part in promoting and celebrating their legacy.”

Continued demand for the events led to the official creation of the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership in October 2015. Through the new partnership, events were held at Mississippi Valley State University, Jackson State University, Delta State University, Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation in Vicksburg, Alcorn State University, University of Southern Mississippi, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland and Holmes Community College in Grenada.

Alysia Steele discusses the project during a gathering at Alcorn State University.

Alysia Steele discusses the project during a gathering at Alcorn State University.

The partnership culminated in March 2016 with a historic presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., to commemorate Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial. This special program featured Annyce P. Campbell of Mound Bayou, who appears on the front cover of “Delta Jewels,” and Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, who also is a Delta Jewel.

For more information about the Dec. 15 Delta Jewels program, contact Pamela Junior or Charisse Bester at the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center at 601-960-1457.

Dr. Rolando Herts (left to right) with Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts, and Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, at "The Future of Arts and Creativity" convening in Washington, D.C.

The Delta Center represents Delta State at National Endowment for the Arts convening

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Dr. Rolando Herts (left to right) with Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts, and Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, at “The Future of Arts and Creativity” convening in Washington, D.C.

By special invitation, Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State, recently attended “In Pursuit of the Creative Life: The Future of Arts and Creativity in America.” The event was hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

Over 200 artists, industry leaders, educators, scientists, and civic leaders from across the country attended the day-long convening at The Kennedy Center. Participants developed ideas and strategies to enhance America’s creative infrastructure for the future toward making the arts and creative opportunities more accessible to all Americans.

“This event provided opportunities for interdisciplinary idea exchanges in strategic issue areas like economics, technology, and cultivating creative talent,” said Herts. “Our discussions will enhance The Delta Center’s community-engaged programs like the International Delta Blues Project and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area that connect arts, culture, the creative economy, and people in our region.”

The convening featured keynote speaker Questlove, GRAMMY Award-winning founding member of The Roots and musical director for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” in a moderated discussion with National Public Radio media critic, Eric Deggans. Facilitated working group discussions were framed by expert panel sessions on how to help creative people and communities thrive now and in the future.

Support for the event was provided by the Ford Foundation, Heinz Endowments, The Henry Luce Foundation, McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation.

Travel supplements for invited entities like The Delta Center were provided by South Arts. South Arts is a nine-state regional arts organization based in Atlanta that provides grants, programs and services to artists and arts organizations in the southern United States.

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 Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area 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 http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

(Left to Right ) Dr. Stuart Rockoff, Lee Aylward, Sen. Willie Simmons, Dr. Rolando Herts, President William N. LaForge, National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William “Bro” Adams, Provost Dr. Charles McAdams and Mound Bayou Mayor Darryl Johnson, pose after a lunch meeting at the Senator's Place.

NEH Chairman visits The Delta Center to experience “The Most Southern Place on Earth”

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At the invitation of the Mississippi Humanities Council, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University hosted National Endowment for the Humanities chairman William “Bro” Adams during his recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

The Delta Center is the home of “The Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops for K-12 educators from throughout the U.S. The workshops are funded by the NEH.

This was Adams’ first time visiting the Delta and the state of Mississippi.

“It’s really very powerful being here,” said Adams. “Seeing all of the young people in Ruleville celebrating the birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer, that was extremely impactful and shows how much this kind of work matters.”

“We are honored that the Mississippi Humanities Council brought chairman Adams to The Delta Center so that he could learn more about our ‘Most Southern’ workshops and our region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “This was an excellent opportunity for him, us, and our community stakeholders to participate in an educational exchange about the historical and cultural significance of the Mississippi Delta.”

Adams started his morning at The Delta Center speaking with staff about the “Most Southern” workshops and how they’ve created an alumni network of over 500 K-12 educators across the country. These Delta ambassadors educate their students, colleagues, family members and friends about the culture and history of the region. They also have returned to the Delta as education and cultural heritage tourists.

Adams also learned about The Delta Center’s other partnership programs, including the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the International Delta Blues Project.

National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Bro Adams views the blues marker at Dockery Farms during a recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Bro Adams views the blues marker at Dockery Farms during a recent visit to the Mississippi Delta.

Additionally, Adams was taken to various educational landmarks and cultural attractions featured in the NEH workshops. Stops included Dockery Farms, widely considered to be the birthplace of the blues; the Taborian Hospital and IT Montgomery Home in the historic black town of Mound Bayou; and Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Park in Ruleville, where community members celebrated the 99th birthday of the legendary voting rights activist.

“We thank The Delta Center for taking the chairman around the Delta on a Saturday morning,” said Dr. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council. “Bro had an incredible day and was very inspired by what he experienced. The Delta Center provided a perfect start to a memorable day in the Delta. We are lucky to have such wonderful guides to the ‘Most Southern Place on Earth.’”

The morning wrapped up with an authentic Delta soul food experience at The Senator’s Place in Cleveland. The traveling group was joined by Delta State President William N. LaForge and Provost Dr. Charles McAdams, as well as Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou and Senator Willie Simmons, owner of The Senator’s Place.

“Having the chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities visit this morning is a wonderful experience for the Delta and for Delta State, particularly considering all of the wonderful cultural activities that are occurring in the region, ” said LaForge. “We appreciate his coming to take a firsthand look at all the work taking place in the Mississippi Delta.”

The chairman spent the afternoon and evening visiting other nationally significant Mississippi Delta landmarks, including Emmitt Till civil rights sites in Tallahatchie County and blues establishments in Clarksdale.

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 Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area 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 http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

William Bell acknowledges the audience for their standing ovation following his performance at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi on Oct. 12.

International Delta Blues Project, GRAMMY partner for free public film and music event

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The Delta Center’s International Delta Blues Project at Delta State University recently partnered with GRAMMY Museum Mississippi to present a free, public event of educational film and live music on Oct. 12.

The “Take Me to the River” community film screening is one of several Blues Leadership Incubator events that have been offered by the International Delta Blues Project. The incubator events focus on economic opportunity related to blues education and tourism in the Mississippi Delta. The events are free and open to the public through a generous grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.

Martin Shore introduces his film "Take Me to the River."

Martin Shore introduces his film “Take Me to the River.”

Nearly 150 guests from throughout the Delta gathered at the museum to see a 45-minute version of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Take Me to the River,” produced by Martin Shore and created at historic Royal Studios in Memphis. The film brings multiple generations of award-winning Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians together, following them through the creative process of recording a historic new album. “Take Me To The River” features Terrence Howard, William Bell, Snoop Dog, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Lil P-Nut, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, The North Mississippi Allstars and many more.

After viewing the film, the crowd enjoyed live performances from The Hi Rhythm section (featuring Charles and Leroy Hodges), Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, William Bell, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, and GRAMMY winner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, owner of Royal Studios. Mitchell recently served as keynote speaker for Delta State’s International Conference on the Blues during a Blues Brunch held at the museum.

According to Frayser Boy, an Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, these performances are as much about education as they are entertainment.

“I come from a hip-hop background. I never really used live music in performances before I was invited to be a part of this project,” he said. “But these guys have taught me more in a couple of years than the 15 or so previous years I was working in this business. All these old guys — these guys that have spent their lives making music — they taught me to better understand where music comes from, and how important it is to our communities. Just as importantly, they are teaching me how to make a career out of this, not just a single record. To do that, I need to know where my music comes from and why it was made the way it was made.”

To underscore the educational emphasis of the event, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area was invited to open the program with oral history documentaries created by students from Delta Hands for Hope of Shaw, Mississippi, and the Rosedale Freedom Project of Rosedale, Mississippi. The students attended after-school workshops learning film and oral history skills through a grant from the MDNHA. The students interviewed and photographed Mississippi Delta residents to learn how music has influenced their lives.

Attendees linger in the lobby of the museum and visit with the musicians following the performance.

Attendees linger in the lobby of the museum and visit with the musicians following the performance.

“The ‘Take Me To The River’ program was one of the best nights of music we’ve had at the museum,” said Jane Marie Dawkins, education and public programs manager for the museum. “The artists, film and student projects all provided a very entertaining and educational experience. It meant a lot to us to showcase this music from our region, and it was an unforgettable night at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.”

For more information about the International Delta Blues Project, visit http://www.internationaldeltabluesproject.com/.

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 Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area 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 http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

Members of Delta State's Delta Center for Culture and Learning, along with members of the Community Center of Economic Development, recently participated in a community development panel discussion at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale.

Delta Center, CCED participate in rural community development research panel

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A group of applied population researchers recently held their annual workshop and mini-conference in the Mississippi Delta. The meeting was part of a multi-state research project titled “The Great Recession, Its Aftermath, and Patterns of Rural and Small Town Demographic Change.”

To better understand issues of concern to rural community and health development professionals, participants engaged in an interactive panel discussion held at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale.

Sixteen scholars from research institutions across the nation – including Cornell University, Penn State University, Auburn University, University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin, and the USDA Economic Research Service —joined seven of their Mississippi colleagues to present research on demographic and socioeconomic issues of concern following the Great Recession.

The group discussed strategies for better disseminating their work to the public. Additionally, they developed plans for the next five years of their work together, including their recently launched research brief series that is available online as “Population Trends in Post-Recession Rural America.” Interested readers should check the website periodically as new publications are released at http://w3001.apl.wisc.edu/.

The panel discussion was moderated and organized by Dr. John J. Green, director of the Center for Population Studies at University of Mississippi. Panelists included: Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State; Linda Stringfellow, director of the AmeriCorps VISTA Program in the Center for Community and Economic Development at Delta State; Aurelia Jones-Taylor, CEO of the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center; and Desta Reff, Delta Clinical Fellow, a partnership between Mississippi State University and Harvard Law School.

The group of applied population researchers is associated with the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Directors. The 2016 meeting was co-hosted and co-sponsored by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Population Studies, Department of Sociology and Anthropology and McLean Institute.

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 Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area 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 http://deltacenterdsu.com/.