Delta Center

Herts selected for Delta Leadership Institute program

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The Delta Regional Authority is continuing its partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School to offer an advanced education opportunity exclusively to members of the Delta Leadership Network. The
Delta Leadership Institute program, designed and led by Harvard faculty, focuses on cultivating authentic leadership to move Delta communities forward.

The program sends 41 representatives from across the eight states of the DRA footprint, including Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University.

This year’s four day-session, from Nov. 27-30, will be led by retired Air Force Brigadier General Dana Born, co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at HKS.

“This executive training will equip regional leaders across the Delta with the latest advancements in leadership skills and will prepare them to make positive changes in their local communities,” said Peter Kinder, DRA’s alternate federal co-chairman. “These participants are alumni of the Delta Leadership Institute’s Executive Academy and were selected due to the leadership they have exemplified in their communities and their ability to translate these experiences to actionable solutions for the region.”

The class includes six members from Alabama; seven from Arkansas; six from Illinois; two from Kentucky; four from Louisiana; four from Mississippi; six from Missouri; and six from Tennessee. The group reflects the diversity of the Delta region and includes public, private and non-profit leaders that have graduated from the DLI’s Executive Academy. Chairman Kinder, DLI director Spencer Lucker, and select DLI staff will participate with the delegation of Delta leaders in the continuing education session.

“Being selected to participate in DLI’s Authentic Leadership program at Harvard is quite an honor,” said Herts. “The Delta Center has provided educational and professional development opportunities to DLI alumni and people they serve, including the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, the International Delta Blues Project, and our NEH Most Southern Place on Earth workshops. I look forward to learning ways to enhance this trend through collaborative regional leadership.”

The 2017 Authentic Leadership participants are:

Susan Keith of Selma | City of Selma
Teresa McCall of Montgomery | Alabama Department of Mental Health
Donald Mills of Livingston | The University of West Alabama Small Business Development Center
Chad Nichols of Hoover | Sight Savers America
Gena Robbins of York | City of York & The University of West Alabama
Max Snyder of Northport | City of Northport

Mellie Bridewell of Lake Village | Arkansas Rural Health Partnership
Jennifer Conner of Lake Village | University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service
Lynn Hawkins-Caldwell of Lexa | Arkansas Rural Health Partnership
Bevin Hunter of Wilson | Lawrence Group
Karen McDaniel of Jonesboro | Arkansas State University
Trudy Redus of Pine Bluff | City of Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation
Peggy Wright of Jonesboro | Arkansas State University

Brandi Bradley of Marion | Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
Lynne Chambers of Grand Chain | Bigler Law Office
Brian Chapman of Ava | Southern Illinois University System
Tracey Glenn of Herrin | Peoples National Bank
Jennifer Olson of Carterville | The Lookout at the Lake
Woody Thorne of Makanda | Southern Illinois Healthcare

Brandi Harless of Paducah | City of Paducah
Mark Lee of Madisonville | Paragon Development Consultants, LLC

Cole Avery of Jonesboro | Office of U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham
Leslie Durham of St. Joseph | Office of Governor John Bel Edwards
Adam Holland of Oak Grove | Town of Oak Grove
Heather Malone of Vidalia | City of Vidalia

Josh Bower of Jackson | Hinds Community College
Rolando Herts of Cleveland | Delta State University – The Delta Center for Culture and Learning
Tim Lampkin of Clarksdale | Higher Purpose Co.
Lane Riley of Cleveland | Delta Hands for Hope

TR Dudley of Potosi | City of Potosi
Steve Halter of Poplar Bluff | Greater Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce
Maude Harris of Sikeston | University of Missouri Extension
Kris Klaus of Perryville | Klaus Construction
Scott Sattler of Perryville | Perry County Economic Development Authority
Christina Wade of Caruthersville | Delta Regional Authority

Minnie Bommer of Covington | City of Covington
Julie Allen Burke of Milan | Milan Chamber of Commerce
Landy Fuqua of Martin | University of Tennessee at Martin REED Center
Travis Martin of Jackson | TLM Associates, Inc.
Bill Rawls of Brownsville | City of Brownsville
Kayla Taylor of Jackson | Younger Associates

DLI Staff
Andrea Allen | Arkansas State University
Shawnie Carrier | Arkansas State University
Leigh Hersey | University of Louisiana Monroe
Lauren Lewis | The University of Alabama

Since 2005, the Delta Leadership Institute has worked to strengthen the knowledge and skills of community leaders across the Delta by broadening their understanding of regional issues and building a corps of alumni that have a regional and national perspective. DLI is a program of the Delta Regional Authority in partnership with three institutions of higher education from the DRA’s states: The University of Alabama, Arkansas State University and the University of Louisiana Monroe.

The DRA is a federal-state partnership created by Congress in 2000 to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development and infrastructure projects in 252 counties and parishes across eight states. DRA has provided leadership development to nearly 500 community leaders over twelve years and strengthened regional collaboration through the Delta Leadership Institute. Learn more at

Harvard Kennedy School aims to improve public policy and public leadership in the United States and around the world through research, teaching and direct engagement with policymakers and public leaders. Nearly 20,000 alumni of the school’s degree programs and 44,000 people who have taken executive education courses at the school work in more than 200 countries. In addition, faculty, staff and students of the school are currently undertaking projects to advance knowledge and strengthen public policy and leadership in dozens of countries. Around the world, the skills and energy of the HKS community are dedicated to helping make people’s lives safer, more prosperous and more fulfilling.

The mission of The Delta Center at Delta State 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

Delta State and MDNHA receive National Park Service Centennial Awards

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Pictured (l to r): Dr. Charles McAdams, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs; Dr. Rolando Herts, director, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area; William N. LaForge, president, Delta State University; Fonce’ Bates, acting superintendent, Vicksburg Military Park; and Dr. Myrtis Tabb, board chair, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Photo by Will Jacks.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently received 2016 National Park Service Centennial Awards for creating the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership.

The cultural heritage interpretation project has honored the lives of unsung Mississippi Delta church mothers featured in Alysia Burton Steele’s book, “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” Delta State was the only higher education institution and the MDNHA was the only National Heritage Area to receive a NPS Centennial Award this year.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center demonstrated exceptional leadership and creativity in organizing 15 community gatherings with Alysia Burton Steele and several of the Delta Jewels featured in the book,” said Chris Abbett, associate regional director of partnerships, interpretation and education at the National Park Service Southeast Regional Office. “The programs throughout Mississippi, as well as the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., connected with and helped to create the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates for the National Park Service.”

“We are honored to receive this esteemed recognition from the National Park Service for this important cultural heritage development project,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and executive director of the MDNHA. “The fact that Delta State and the MDNHA are acknowledged together truly demonstrates the power of partnerships and collaboration when telling the Delta’s story.”

For 18 months in 2015 and 2016, the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership’s community gatherings engaged over 1,000 Mississippi Delta residents, visitors and supporters. The gatherings took place in diverse, welcoming venues throughout the state including universities, churches and tourism and cultural centers.

Delta State President William N. LaForge said he was thrilled with the NPS recognition.

“I am very pleased that Delta State’s Delta Center for Culture and Learning, along with our partner the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, are recipients of the United States National Park Service Centennial Award. This recognition helps validate the good work the center and the MDNHA are doing here at Delta State and througought the Mississippi Delta.”

“We are thrilled with the results of the Delta Jewels partnership,” said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, chair of the MDNHA. “This program was one of our very first and was extremely successful right off the bat. We are eager to build upon that success with continued partnerships that will help share the diverse stories of the Mississippi Delta.”

The Delta Center has continued to give presentations with Steele in 2017. These presentations have focused on community impacts documented in the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership 2015-2016 Report.

Recent presentations include the National Heritage Areas Southeast Region workshop in Atlanta, Georgia; the Smithsonian African American Interpretation Workshop in Charleston, South Carolina; the NPS Collaboration Clinic in Biloxi, Mississippi; and the Association for African American Museums conference in Washington, D.C. In addition, Herts and Steele have been invited to present at the upcoming Oral History Association conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“We have used the report as an interpretive and educational resource, which enhances the storytelling experience,” said Steele, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism professor at the University of Mississippi. “In addition to photos from the community events, the report includes survey results from participants. An overall program rating of 4.9 out of 5 clearly indicates that sharing the Delta Jewels’ oral histories have had positive impacts in the communities we engaged.”

The MDNHA and The Delta Center commemorated the 2016 NPS Centennial through other projects and events. Together, they organized an opening reception with Delta State University’s 2015 Winning the Race conference featuring former NPS director Bob Stanton.

In addition, the MDNHA Passport to Your National Parks program attracted NPS Centennial travelers, and a MDNHA promotional video was screened at a NPS Centennial film festival in Atlanta. Since its release, the video has been viewed over 20,000 times on social media.

To download the Delta Jewel Oral History Partnership 2015-2016 report, visit The Delta Center’s publications webpage at To view the MDNHA promo video, visit the MDNHA website at

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.

“Take Me To The River: Live” educates Arkansas State and Delta State students

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Arkansas State University public administration student team at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi with the International Delta Blues Project banner featuring Delta State’s Blues Okra.


The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State recently hosted a group of public administration students from Arkansas State University of Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Their visit coincided with GRAMMY Museum Mississippi’s “Take Me To The River: Live” program, partially sponsored by The Delta Center’s International Delta Blues Project, in order to learn how cultural heritage is an effective tool for educating and engaging diverse communities.

Led by Peggy Wright, director of the Delta Studies Center at ASU, the group included master’s-level graduate students from the Arkansas Delta, Seattle and Saudi Arabia. The students are learning about the importance of communications in community engagement and economic development.

“We appreciate being so warmly received by everyone at Delta State and the GRAMMY Museum during this valuable learning experience,” said Wright. “Dr. Herts [director of The Delta Center] and I were in the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy together, where I learned more about The Delta Center and Delta State. Site visit exchanges among leadership network colleagues represent a strategic opportunity for our students to gain professional insights, exposure to networking, and knowledge of the Delta’s culture. We look forward to visiting again.”

“The trip to Delta State University and the Mississippi Delta truly opened my eyes,” said ASU student Ali Alghofaili. “While visiting the GRAMMY Museum and hearing the musicians interact with local youth, I saw that they all focused on education, communication, and passing on the Delta’s musical history. The beautiful landscape reminded me of the Al-Qassim region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Al-Qassim region is well known for its agriculture just like the Delta region. This trip helped me to see the importance of understanding culture when serving the public, which is what I will be doing when I graduate in December.”

Delta State University media students pose after a conversation with GRAMMY Award winning Blues legend Bobby Rush.

“Take Me To The River: Live” also served as an experiential learning opportunity for a group of students enrolled in the Digital Media Arts program, a degree in the Depertment of Art at Delta State. The students documented the concert through photography and videography. They also had a group conversation with GRAMMY Award-winning blues legend Bobby Rush.

“Meeting Bobby Rush was amazing,” said Ashliegh Jones, a senior art major from Vicksburg. “My mother and grandmother have listened to his music for years, but have never been to a concert. They were thrilled that I was able to do so, and also to have a one-on-one conversation with him where he encouraged me to keep working hard, and if I do, perhaps one day I might be hired to be his photographer. That was a really cool thing to hear.”

The Delta Center joined forces with GRAMMY Museum Mississippi to host “Take Me To The River: Live.” The program was an official bicentennial project made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council through support from the Mississippi Development Authority.

The event was also supported by The Delta Center’s International Delta Blues Project. The program served as a pre-event for the upcoming International Conference on the Blues at Delta State University and as an educational Blues Leadership Incubator event for students and the broader community.

“We are pleased that Ms. Wright and her students chose The Delta Center and ‘Take Me To The River: Live’ as a case study. We also were impressed that Delta State students were involved in documenting the concert as part of Will Jacks’ class,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “Cultural heritage offers powerful ways to bring people together to communicate and understand our shared stories. It also has become a vehicle to educate and prepare students for career opportunities.”

The students joined hundreds of residents and visitors who visited GRAMMY Museum Mississippi that day for the Take Me To The River program.

Delta State students documenting GRAMMY Award winner William Bell’s performance during the Take Me To The River: Live concert.

The program included a morning panel discussion featuring music legends discussing the importance of music and art in the world today; an afternoon conversation with GRAMMY-winning Blues artist Charlie Musselwhite reflecting on the life of Mississippi blues legend John Lee Hooker; and a night-time live performance experience based on the award-winning film and record, “Take Me To The River.” Senator Willie Simmons also hosted a post-concert meet-and-greet the artists reception at his famed soul food restaurant, The Senator’s Place.

Hundreds attended the concert on the museum’s front lawn featuring GRAMMY Award winners William Bell, Bobby Rush and Charlie Musselwhite, backed by GRAMMY Award winner Boo Mitchell, the Hi-Rhythm Section and the Stax Academy Alumni Band. The concert included special appearances from two Memphis-based rappers, Academy Award winner Frayser Boy and Critics Choice Award winner Al Kapone. Remarks from GRAMMY-nominated filmmaker Martin Shore and GRAMMY Trustees Award-winner Al Bell provided important historical and social context about the film and Stax Records.

The film “Take Me To The River” connected multiple generations of iconic Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians to record a historic new album and re-imagine the utopia of racial, gender and generational collaboration of Memphis in its heyday, including Stax and Hi Records. In October 2016, The Delta Center and GRAMMY Museum Mississippi hosted a sold out public screening of the film which included a live performance on the Sanders Soundstage.


GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi presents Take me To the River

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GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi will present a live performance on the front lawn, educational programs and more on Sept. 26, based on the award-winning film and album, “Take Me To The River.” The events will celebrate Mississippi’s music history and how the region laid the foundation for American music.

This historic show will feature a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see GRAMMY® -winning legends William Bell, Bobby Rush and Charlie Musselwhite share the stage to perform classics and new “Take Me To The River” collaborations along with an all-star Memphis band. Other special guests include Hi-Rhythm Section, GRAMMY-winner Boo Mitchell, award-winning director Martin Shore, Academy Award winner Frayser Boy, and Critics Choice Award winner Al Kapone.

In addition to the live performance, there will be an educational program for students in the morning and a conversation with Charlie Musselwhite in the afternoon.

Admission is free for the live performance on the front lawn, but attendees are required to register online prior to the event. To learn more and register, click here.

The conversation with Musselwhite is free with the purchase of museum admission. To get more details, click here.

To learn about the “Take Me To The River” education program for students, click here.

Collectively, these programs at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi are an official bicentennial project made possible by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council, through support from the Mississippi Development Authority. Support for these programs also comes from the International Delta Blues Project, which is housed in The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University.

MDNHA hosts grantee orientation

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The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently hosted an orientation for administrators of over 20 projects that have received funding through the MDNHA’s grant program. The organization has funded more than $300,000 over the last two years to projects throughout the Delta.

“I want to thank the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area as well as the National Park Service for this grant,” said Leslie Miller, a volunteer with the Rolling Fork Visitors Center and Museum. “Without the support of these organizations, we’d have never figured out how to tell the story of our community. Now, we have such a wonderful space that helps educate visitors and locals about the history and importance of our area.”

The funded work celebrates the diversity of the Delta’s rich cultural heritage, including restoration of historical sites such as the St. Francis Xavier Convent in Vicksburg, establishment of a museum featuring the legacy of Dr. L. C. Dorsey at the Delta Health Center in the historic black town of Mound Bayou, examination of Delta Chinese culture’s influence on Delta cuisine, and celebration of the “Chitlin’ Circuit Years” during B.B. King Day at Mississippi Valley State University.

“Each of these agencies is to be commended for the great work they are doing,” said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, chair of the MDNHA board of directors. “It is always inspiring to see what happens when communities are active in solving the needs of their friends and neighbors. The MDNHA is proud to play a part in empowering these amazing visions that will improve each of the areas in which they are implemented.”

“It was an amazing day meeting all of the people responsible for the important work being done throughout the Delta,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which serves as the managing entity for MDNHA. “This meeting truly demonstrated that we are building a collaborative regional network through the grant program. We are excited to be a part of empowering projects that will have a tremendous impact of the citizens of the region, and we look forward to building many more partnerships in the years to come.”

Grant recipients and funded projects include:

-ArtPlace Mississippi – Delta Wild: Connecting people to the Mississippi Delta’s natural habitat and resources
-Bologna Performing Arts Center, Delta State University – Public performance of “Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till”; development of a new track of classes for its CORE Arts Camp that showcases tales of origination in song and story
-Cleveland/Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce – Cleveland Chamber/Tourism office relocation and signage plan; restoration of the façade and interior of the Cleveland Depot building
-Cleveland Music Foundation – Exploring a Culture of Creativity: engaging students in telling local stories through music at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi
-Delta Blues Museum – Boogie Children, Celebrating John Lee Hooker website and educational programs honoring Hooker’s 100th birthday
-Delta Hands for Hope – Photography and oral history program for high school students
-Delta Health Center, Inc. – Establish the Dr. L. C. Dorsey Community Health Center Museum in Mound Bayou
-Delta State University Archives & Museum – Amzie Moore House Museum and Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum docent program; preserving the historic Mississippi Delta Chinese foodways – culture through stories of family, place and cuisine
-DeSoto Foundation – First Contact Historical Trail: Native Americans’ first encounter with Europeans in the Mississippi Delta
-Dockery Farms Foundation – Restore and preserve the historic Dockery Farms cotton gin and develop historical exhibits within the gin building
-Greenville Arts Council – Provide artist residencies to teachers and students that preserve the rich artistic traditions of the Mississippi Delta
-Lower Mississippi River Foundation – Between the Levees: telling the story of the Mississippi River batture
-Mississippi Heritage Trust – Conduct four historic preservation toolkit workshops that teach local towns and organizations how to leverage funding to preserve historic places
-Mississippi State University – Generate knowledge about and provide estimates of the economic value of preserving sites of cultural significance in the Delta
-Mississippi State University Extension Service – Warren County – The Heritage Garden – Know your Roots demonstration garden at Vicksburg National Military Park
-Mississippi Valley State University – Design and present symposium lectures, panel discussions, musical performances and other work in support of the B. B. King Day symposium
-Museum of the Mississippi Delta – Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Indians museum exhibit and research monograph
-Rolling Fork Visitors Center and Museum – Multimedia interpretive display expansion and exhibit preservation
-Rosedale Freedom Project – Unsung Voices of Bolivar County: civil rights stories past and present collected by high school students
-Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation – 1868 St. Francis Xavier convent restoration

Representatives from various grantee organizations reported on the positive impacts that the MDNHA grants have had on their projects.

“Because of this grant we’ve been able to share both the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum and the Amzie Moore House Museum with so many more people than we would have been able to without it,” said Emily Jones, director of Delta State University Archives and Museums. “It’s been very rewarding to recognize that African Americans and Chinese are in the Delta, of the Delta, and represent a piece of our history.”

In DeSoto County, the grant was used to help with the First Contact Trail, an educational initiative designed to give better understanding to Hernando DeSoto’s crossing of the Mississippi River.

“We worked with the Native American community as well as local officials to develop this trail,” said Susan Fernandez, a representative assisting with the project. “This wasn’t just about Hernando DeSoto. This project also was about the people who lived here before DeSoto. We wanted to be sure to tell all sides of the story.”

The Rosedale Freedom Project used the grant to implement story telling projects based on oral histories from the area.

“One of the things our students decided they wanted to do was a podcast to tell the story of education history in their community,” said Jeremiah Smith, director of the RFP. “The students went out and collected oral histories that connected the past of school segregation to present conditions. They realized that history isn’t just something that happened in the past. It has given them a greater sense of why things are the way they are today, which can help them find creative solutions for a better tomorrow.”

Learn more about the MDNHA at and The Delta Center at