Delta Center

DRA brings community leaders to D.C.

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WASHINGTON — Members of the Delta Leadership Institute’s Executive Academy, selected by Governor Phil Bryant and Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman Chris Masingill, met recently with their congressional delegation and federal officials in Washington, D.C., to talk about issues affecting the Mississippi River Delta region, including creating good-paying jobs, growing small businesses and entrepreneurs, and training a skilled workforce.

“Our cities and towns are important laboratories for policy development and economic growth in our region. To support smart, effective decision-making in our local communities, the Delta Leadership Institute is training and connecting our region’s leaders with the tools, network, and skills to improve the economic realities of their communities,” said Masingill. “This session in Washington, D.C., provides them access to each of these and empower them to share their experiences back home and throughout the region.”

Executive Academy fellows were in Washington for the fifth session of the DLI Executive Academy, a year-long program for community leaders across the Delta that teaches leadership skills and prepares fellows to collaborate across state and local borders to address the most-pressing challenges of the region. This is the eleventh class of the DLI Executive Academy.

Among the participants was Delta State’s own, Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Other participants included:
Amanda Allen | Clarksdale, MS
Tracy Ausberry | Clarksdale, MS
Joshua Bower | Jackson, MS
Shellie Michael | Jackson, MS
Lane Riley | Shaw, MS
Jessie Whitley | Greenville, MS

Congressman Bennie Thompson poses with members of the DLI's Executive Academy.

Congressman Bennie Thompson poses with members of the DLI’s Executive Academy.

The meetings also allow these Delta leaders to interact directly with their congressional representation and discuss the policies and resources that they see as being most important to the region’s economic success, such as workforce development, access to healthcare, entrepreneurship, disaster recovery and resilience and geotourism.

“I commend the Delta Regional Authority for fostering new leadership to promote economic growth and health care improvement throughout the Delta,” said Cochran. “It was a pleasure to meet the members of the Delta Leadership Institute, who will use the leadership skills they’re learning to aid their communities.”

“I enjoyed my conversation with this group of new leaders. This and other leadership programs are vital to the future success of our state,” U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS-2) said. “I tried to stress the importance of strong, competent individuals taking up the mantle of leadership in the Mississippi Delta to continue getting things done for the people they serve.”

“The DLI experience has been so educational for class members throughout Mississippi and the seven other DRA states. Participating in these DRA Hill visits is a highlight of my career and professional development,” stated Jessie Whitley. “It was an honor to meet Senator Cochran, Congressman Thompson, and Congressman Harper and share with them the great work that DRA is doing in Delta communities. We also gained insights from them about how we can use leadership skills and connections developed through this program to better our communities. It was a win-win.”

Congressman Gregg Harper meets with participants.

Congressman Gregg Harper meets with participants.

“At the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, we’re involved in lots of projects related to culture, heritage, and tourism,” said Herts. “I really appreciate the DLI Executive Academy for providing this opportunity to meet with our representatives in Washington to discuss ways that we can all help the region together. Without the Delta Regional Authority, which helps to empower so many here in the Delta, this would not have happened.”

Lane Riley is the program director for Delta Hands for Hope in Shaw. Her organization provides after-school educational opportunities for school-age children in the town.

“The DLI Executive Academy connects many Delta leaders and experts to address many of the issues and challenges effecting our region,” said Riley. “I will be able to use this experience to bring new ideas and information back to my community, and work with other leaders in the Delta to have a greater collective impact. Through this trip to Washington, D.C., we were able to advocate for continued support of programs and policies that will have a positive impact in the Mississippi Delta. Participating in the DLI is beneficial for me, my organization, and my community, and I am so honored to be apart of this amazing program.”

Australian delegation visits Delta State

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A group of 47 students and faculty members from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia made a special stop at Delta State’s campus Wednesday during their three-week international study tour between New Orleans and Memphis.

The group is taking part in the trip to focus on critical aspects of the region, including history, culture, society, site visits and more.

Their stop at Delta State included a tour of the Delta Music Institute, a visit from the Fighting Okra, a luncheon with President William N. LaForge and Dr. Christy Riddle with International Student Services, and a visit to GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi.

The students, enrolled in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, will eventually complete a region-based research project based on their visit.

For more information on La Trobe University, visit

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Delta Center begins “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop

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The Delta Center for Culture and Learning’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop kicked off its seventh year with an opening reception at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum in downtown Cleveland on Sunday.

The workshop is a week-long educational and cultural immersion experience for 36 participants from over 20 states. The workshop is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Joshuah Totten-Greenwood teaches high school history in New Hampshire. He was particularly drawn to the workshop because of the hands-on learning environment it provides.

“I like to learn by doing. I needed to see the actual places — talk about them with the people that are from here,” said Totten-Greenwood. “Otherwise forget it. It’s just not the same learning from books as it is actually being there.”

For the next five days, participants will travel around the Delta interacting directly with historically and culturally significant people and places in the region.

“I’ve always loved jazz and the blues. I’m classically trained, but I’ve never really been in the South before. I’ve always just listened to the music,” said Melody Nishinaga, a New York elementary school music teacher. “I’m really excited to be able to explore the history and the culture this week.”

The NEH workshop has created a national network of over 500 educational and cultural ambassadors for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Participants take what they have learned from the workshop back to their schools and communities, sharing stories and lessons from the Delta with students, colleagues, family and friends, nationally and globally.

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 center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project.

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area promotes region’s cultural heritage

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The Board of Directors for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently held its May meeting at Delta Council headquarters in Stoneville, Mississippi. The board, chaired by Dr. Myrtis Tabb, welcomed new board members and discussed various partnership opportunities that will continue to promote the Mississippi Delta’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am pleased to work with the Board of Directors of MDNHA,” said Dr. Tabb. “We are excited to welcome our new members and continue moving into the implementation phase of a comprehensive management plan developed by a thorough process of meetings with groups and stakeholders throughout the region. Our goal is to empower as many voices as possible so that the story of the Delta is told by a chorus, rather than a few.”

The 15-member board includes representatives from Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Delta State University, as well as the Delta Foundation, Smith Robertson Museum, Delta Council, Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and Mississippi Humanities Council. In addition, the governor and counties falling within five Delta districts appoint representatives to the board.

“Our board and our staff continue to work together, building the Mississippi Delta’s capacity to fulfill the MDNHA’s management plan through diverse partnerships,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which serves as the management entity for the MDNHA. “Regional initiatives like the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership, the Passport to Your National Parks Program, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi’s ‘Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta’ website, and the MDNHA Grants Program represent creative and inclusive ways that we are fulfilling the plan.”

In November 2015, Herts was invited to represent the MDNHA and The Delta Center in a panel discussion at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 PastForward Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference launched a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary, attracting hundreds of historic preservation scholars, policymakers, experts and activists from around the nation. The panel discussion was part of the preservationVOICES Learning Lab presentation track organized by the National Trust in partnership with the National Park Service and the Kellogg Foundation. The session, “Recognizing Our Shared History,” focused on how the National Park Service works to tell inclusive stories of all Americans.

In keeping with the PastForward Conference presentation, the MDNHA manages the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. The partnership has engaged over 800 Mississippi Delta residents and visitors through programs that raise awareness about the educational and cultural value of capturing community stories. The programs are offered to Mississippi organizations and communities in collaboration with Alysia Burton Steele, University of Mississippi journalism professor and author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” Oral history presentations about the book have been held in several MDNHA communities including Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville, Mound Bayou, Cleveland, Vicksburg and Itta Bena. Programs also have been held outside the MDNHA at Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

In March 2016, to commemorate Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership presented at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The program featured 92-year-old Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, who graces the cover of “Delta Jewels,” and Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights icons Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams. Campbell also visited the White House.

The MDNHA manages the Passport to Your National Parks program which features passport stations in each of the region’s 18 counties. The Delta Center serves as the program headquarters, welcoming passport collectors traveling the region and directing them to passport locations throughout the MDNHA, including the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Sunflower County, tourism visitor centers in Coahoma, Tunica, Yazoo and Warren counties, and courthouses in Carroll, Holmes, Quitman, Sharkey, Tallahatchie and Tate counties.

Members of the National Park Travelers Club have toured the MDNHA collecting National Park Service passport stamps as a way to celebrate the 2016 National Park Service Centennial.

“We would not have known about all of the interesting places to visit in the Delta had it not been for this program,” said Leland Warzala, a club member from Illinois. “We knew that we had to visit all of the counties here, because we wanted to get all of the stamps. We had no idea that there are so many great things to see and do along the way, like the Crossroads sign [in Clarksdale], Dockery Farms and all of the Blues Trail markers.”

GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi opened its doors to the region, the nation, and the world this year. As part of the grand opening celebration, the museum partnered with the MDNHA to launch the “Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta” website.

The website features cultural heritage attractions throughout the Mississippi Delta that tell the region’s diverse stories. The site underscores the museum and MDNHA’s shared interest in promoting the entire 18-county Mississippi Delta region as an educational cultural heritage destination of which its residents should be proud.

“As GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, we explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music, and we’re also telling the story of the cradle of America’s music right here in Cleveland, the heart of the Mississippi Delta,” said Emily Havens, executive director of the museum. “Our area’s rich musical legacy is a source of pride for Delta residents. We want to encourage everyone to explore and learn about our entire region, from local school groups to travelers from around the globe.”

In April 2016, The Delta Center hosted a group of Swedish music tourists. In addition to experiencing the GRAMMY Museum, the group visited several attractions included on the Top 40 list including Dockery Farms and Mississippi Blues Trail markers throughout the MDNHA. The group also experienced an African American church service in Clarksdale, a tribute to the MDNHA’s cultural heritage theme celebrating the region as a “Wellspring of Creativity.”

For these and various other programmatic successes, The Delta Center was presented the 2016 Georgene Clark Diversity Champion Award at Delta State University’s Winning the Race Conference.

“Through the Heritage Area partnership, the Mississippi Delta region can come together to take pride in our diverse culture and history,” said Herts. “Our stories surrounding issues of race, social injustice, civil rights, identity and expressions of faith have shaped and reflect the American experience.”

At the May meeting, the MDNHA selected inaugural recipients of the organization’s grant program. Grant programs are created and managed by many National Heritage Areas across the U.S. to support local organizations’ cultural heritage education, interpretation, and promotion efforts.

“We have recently completed the first round of a formal grants program,” explained Tabb. “The management plan calls for us to create a program to fund seed projects that meet the heritage area’s goals. Many worthwhile proposals were submitted for this round from agencies and organizations throughout the Delta. Even though we were unable to fund them all, we were excited to see the work already taking place in the region. We look forward to continuing the grants program and partnering with others celebrating our diverse Delta heritage.”

The next deadline for grant proposals is July 5. Those awarded grants will be notified at the end of August. To find out more about the grants, or the MDNHA, visit

Delta Center hosts Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services at Delta State

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The Delta Center for Culture and Learning recently hosted the Board of Commissioners of Volunteer Mississippi, also known as the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services. Volunteer Mississippi’s mission is to engage and support Mississippians of all ages and backgrounds in service to their communities.

According to David Mallery, executive director of Volunteer Mississippi, this is the first time in his eight-year tenure that the Board of Commissioners has met in a Mississippi Delta community.

“We are very impressed with the facilities at Delta State and the professionalism and hospitality that we have experienced here on campus and in the Cleveland community,” said Mallery. “We look forward to more opportunities to connect the Board of Commissioners and Volunteer Mississippi with organizations in the Delta. We appreciate The Delta Center for welcoming us to the region.”

Volunteer Mississippi commissioners and staff members from around the state traveled to Cleveland for the two-day meeting experience. The group’s various points of origin included municipalities as far east as Columbus and as far south as Gulfport and Bay St. Louis.

The meeting took place at Delta State’s Alumni House. Dr. Rolando Herts provided an overview of The Delta Center’s signature partnership programs including the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop, the International Delta Blues Project, and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Linda Stringfellow also was invited to present on the Mississippi Delta Service Corps, an Americorps VISTA program based at Delta State’s Center for Community and Economic Development.

“Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, is quoted as saying, ‘Service is the rent we pay for living,’” said Herts. “Life for so many Delta residents is economically and socially challenged. Many of these challenges are tied to the Delta’s culture and history. The Delta Center’s programming offers ways for residents and visitors not only to understand our culture and history better, but also to discover ways to become engaged in creating change for the better. We look forward to exploring such opportunities with Volunteer Mississippi.”

Dr. Richard Conville, board chair of the commission, echoed Herts’ comments about how understanding local culture enhances community service.

“Volunteer Mississippi has a strong presence in Delta communities through the Mississippi National Service Network, which includes Americorps, Senior Corps and VISTA,” said Conville. “It makes sense for our Board of Commissioners to have more regular meetings in the Delta so that we can learn more firsthand about the culture of the communities that we are serving. The Delta Center has helped us to begin this process.”

During their stay, the group also toured GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, learning about the museum’s community volunteer docent program. Afterwards, they dined on authentic Delta barbecue and catfish at Airport Grocery and stayed overnight at a local hotel.

“Everyone here has been so welcoming,” said commissioner Janis Lane from Byram. “I will definitely encourage my family and friends to visit the Delta.”

“Dr. Herts told us about the GRAMMY’s Top 40 Places to Visit in the Delta website,” said commissioner Roktabija Abdul-Azeez from Jackson. “Now that I know about it, I will be using it to plan my next trip to the Delta.”

Established in 1994 as the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Volunteer Mississippi has worked to encourage a culture of citizenship, service and responsibility to America. In partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Mississippi Department of Education, Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, and faith-based and community organizations statewide, Volunteer Mississippi fosters community engagement and building volunteer capacity throughout the state.

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 center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project.