Winning the Race: A Conference on Diversity and Community

By | Academics, Bologna Performing Arts Center, Community, Delta Center, Faculty/Staff, General, President, Students | No Comments

In the shadow of America’s not-so-distant and collective history, the scars of Jim Crow continue to dim perspectives on race, especially in the Mississippi Delta. In response, Delta State University continues down the path of international distinction with its announcement of an innovative academic conference focusing on race relations and diversity.

Introduced as a new program that is open to the public and titled “Winning the Race: A Conference on Diversity and Community,” the seminar is scheduled for March 18-19.

The conference will place special emphasis on student-level concerns, but will also offer a wide selection of sessions for all attendees — including such topics as Civil Rights history, education, religion, healthcare and multi-cultural sensitivity.

The Winning the Race Committee developed the conference with three overarching goals: engage in conversations with campus and community constituencies that will build an appreciation for diversity differences and a spirit of community through shared ideas; promote a broad discourse on race relations by building conversations to bring together diverse communities in the Delta through sharing of ideas and building cooperation; and to rekindle a hope that Delta communities will move toward greater equality and reduce racial disparities and tensions.

Georgene Clark, committee chair, has been working hard to open dialogue about race, assumptions and fears — in hopes that others will fill the silence by soliciting ideas and building cooperation.

“With its diverse population, Delta State is the obvious choice to take the lead when it comes to issues of race and diversity,” said Clark. “The purpose of this conference is to begin the conversation about race and race relations, and to encourage its continuation in an effort to foster a climate of inclusiveness through a shared appreciation and better understanding of our differences.

“It is our hope that this conference will be the catalyst for building an even stronger spirit of cooperation and community — both on campus and beyond.”

Winning the Race is something President William N. LaForge has strongly advocated for since taking office in April of 2013.

“This conference is exactly what Delta State should be doing as a leader in the Delta and the state,” said LaForge. “While classroom instruction is our first mission, we have a responsibility to host and lead programs and dialogue involving key social and cultural issues.

“This conference will engage our students and faculty with others who can enlighten and advance our understanding and appreciation for our differences and our common challenges. I look forward to a healthy and open dialogue that showcases Delta State as the academic leader we are.”

The schedule kicks off with two distinguished Mississippi political leaders who are both recognized for their work on race relations in the Magnolia State — the honorable Gov. William F. Winter and Congressman Bennie Thompson.

Winter has served Mississippi in numerous official capacities, including Governor from 1980–1984, Lt. Governor from 1972–1976, Mississippi State Treasurer from 1964–1968, Mississippi State Tax Collector from 1956–1964 and Representative in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1948–1956.

He is remembered for his dedication to racial equality, and in June of 1997, Winter was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a member of the National Advisory Board on Race Relations. He is also credited with the establishment of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus. Staff from the institute will be leading a number of activities at the conference.

The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation works in communities and classrooms, in Mississippi and beyond, to support a movement of racial equity and wholeness as a pathway to ending and transcending all division and discrimination based on difference.

Thompson, who has been in office as the District 2 congressman since 1993, has long been known for his work with race relations and giving a voice to the voiceless. He is the longest-serving African-American elected official in the state of Mississippi.

As a product of the Civil Rights movement, Thompson has supported bills that aim to improve the health of minority individuals, and has fought to increase the presence of minorities in the financial services industry, along with minorities and women in upper level positions of management.

LaForge will welcome these keynoters with an opening session at 6 p.m. on March 18 at the Bologna Performing Arts Center on campus. Delta Music Institute students will provide musical selections between speakers, followed by hors d’oeuvres and a performance by the DMI band Ole Skool Revue.

The following day begins at 8:30 a.m. in the BPAC with a presentation titled “Sharing Responsibility and Claiming Ownership” by John Dittmer, an award-winning author, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University and a nationally recognized authority on the Civil Rights movement.

Dittmer’s book “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi,” won the following awards: Bancroft Prize in American History; Lillian Smith Book Award, Southern Regional Council; McLemore Prize, Mississippi Historical Society; and the 1995 Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America given by the Gustavus Myers Center.

A number of other key speakers will highlight the full day of activities, including Leland Speed’s speech “Making the Economic and Business Case for Racial Healing and Equality” in room 302A of the H.L. Nowell Student Union. Speed, who once served as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, is recognized as an economics and business icon and in 1998 was named to the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.

Cetin Oguz, art professor and native of Turkey, has been an active Winning the Race committee member and is thrilled to see this conference come to life at Delta State.

“Discussion of these topics is very important in our region and also our nation,” said Oguz. “Our goal is to spark meaningful conversation about social issues that are sometimes difficult to discuss. Developing this conference shows that Delta State has a willingness to understand the significance of diversity and equality.”

For a full schedule of panels and discussions, visit

Delta State will continue to advance conference achievements through post-event activities and will harmonize them in a second conference in 2015 and on an annual basis thereafter.

Winning the Race Committee members include: Georgene Clark, chair; Garry Jennings, chair; Paulette Meikle-Yaw, chair; Luther Brown; Reagan Dilmore; Teresa Houston; Charles McAdams; Davlon Miller; Allan Mitchell; Billy Moore; Cetin Oguz; Henry Outlaw; Arlene Sanders; Myrtis Tabb; Tricia Walker; Sam Washington; Leigh E. Korb; and Michelle Roberts.

Sponsors for the conference include: AT&T, Delta State Diversity Committee, Delta State Quality Enhancement Plan, Aramark and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning (DCCL). The DCCL utilized an endowment established by Watt Bishop in the names of Amzie Moore and Sam Block. Earnings from this endowment will be used as a $2,500 challenge grant. The endowment resides within the Delta State University Foundation.

Sundance Institute returns with Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue

By | Bologna Performing Arts Center, College of Arts and Sciences, Community, General, Students | No Comments

Click HERE to expand the festival schedule.

Delta State University will present “Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue,” a partnership between Sundance Institute and four U.S. federal cultural agencies. The event will feature free screenings of eight films with moderated discussions, panels and artist roundtables. The program comes to the state through the Mississippi Film Office and Crossroads Film Society. Following stops in the Magnolia State, the program extends to other states and international locations.

Screenings on campus will start Feb. 20 with the film “The Rocket,” which will be presented in Holcombe-Norwood Room 151 at 6:30 p.m.

For a full schedule of events, visit, or for more information, contact Michelle Johansen at

On Feb. 23-24, filmmakers Marta Cunningham (“Valentine Road”) and Nisha Pahuja (“The World before Her”) will be in attendance for Q and A sessions. On Feb. 23 at 1 p.m., “Valentine Road” will be showing in the Bologna Performing Arts Recital Hall, followed at 4 p.m. by “The World Before Her.” The following day at 10 a.m., “The World Before Her” will be played again.

“I was compelled to make ‘Valentine Road’ and use this film as an educational tool for schools to start dialogue around compassion,” said Cunningham. “Through Film Forward, I am excited to meet audiences in Mississippi to talk about the themes, challenges and issues that unite us all.”

Common themes explored in the films include communities in conflict, overcoming adversity and the transformative power of art. In each location, Film Forward seeks audiences that have limited access to independent film. In Mississippi, the program will explore the regional tradition of storytelling, blues music, literature and filmmaking, and delve into the topic of tolerance.

Also on Feb. 24 at 12:30 p.m., a panel discussion will be held on “The Power of Storytelling,” looking at how stories are used, from music to film, to expose issues and themes to a greater community. Panelists will include Cunningham, Pahuja, Alison Fast and Chandler Griffin from Barefoot Workshops, associate producer Thabi Moyo and Chasidy Buckley, a Delta State graduate and one of the subjects of “Prom Night in Mississippi.” Each will speak about his or her experiences and motivations.

Film Forward uses the power of cinema to promote broader cultural understanding, inspire curiosity and enhance awareness of shared stories and values across generations, religion, ethnicity and borders.

“The films in the Film Forward series are stories that absolutely had to be told — not that needed or wanted to be told, but that someone had to tell,” said Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office. “We all have stories — this series teaches us about passion and about vision, about acting on a belief and about the power of film.

“All of these films come from a very driving place and will have impact. Each of these films has the power to change us as a people and in our singular lives.”

A screening of “Dancing in Jaffa” is also scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 6 at the Delta Arts Alliance in downtown Cleveland.

Thacker Mountain Radio show returns to DMI

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Thacker Mountain Radio, the award-winning literary and music radio broadcast originating out of Oxford, Miss., will return for the sixth Delta Edition on March 1 at 3 p.m. in DMI Studio A of the Whitfield Building on the campus of Delta State University.

The show marks the annual DMI anniversary and spring fundraising event with the purpose of raising scholarship funds for music industry studies students in the DMI program. Funds from this event are earmarked for the Duff Dorrough Scholarship Fund, in memory of longtime Thacker Mountain bandleader and Delta music legend, Duff Dorrough of Ruleville. In addition, a portion of this year’s funds will be used to continue recovery efforts from major flood damage to the Whitfield Building and DMI equipment that occurred over the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday.

This year’s featured author is Charlaine Harris, a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for 30 years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area, and though her early works consisted largely of poems about ghosts and teenage angst, she began writing plays when she attended Rhodes College in Memphis. She switched to novels a few years later, and after releasing the dark Shakespeare mysteries, Harris created “The Sookie Stackhouse” urban fantasy series. The first book in the series, “Dead Until Dark,” won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001. Sookie Stackhouse has proven to be so popular that Alan Ball, creator of the HBO television series “Six Feet Under,” produced the HBO series based on the books. He wrote and directed the pilot episode for the series “True Blood,” which premiered in September of 2008 and successfully continues in its seventh season.

Featured musical guest for this year’s Delta Edition will be McComb native Dan Tyler. From his first recording session at the famed Malaco Studios in Jackson, throughout his years in McComb and later, at Ole Miss, he developed as a masterful songwriter. He moved to Nashville where success came quickly with a No. 2 hit by Eddie Rabbitt called “Hearts on Fire,” and a major hit, “Bobbie Sue,” by the Oak Ridge Boys, while he was still practicing law. He left the law profession to establish Intuit Music Group, a music publishing company that is still active today. His co-write with Kix Brooks, “Modern Day Romance,” was a No. 1 hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and he has written numerous other hits for LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Rogers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and SKO. Tyler has also published a novel, “Music City Confidential,” an insider’s fictional take on the colorful country music industry.

Merigold’s favorite son, Fish Michie, will be performing with the Thacker Mountain house band, the Yalobushwhackers, and DMI’s own classic rock band, DeltaRoX, will add a couple of numbers to the show, which is hosted by Jim Dees. There is no charge to attend the show, but contributions to the scholarship fund are encouraged.

The Delta Music Institute is an independent center of study under the College of Arts and Sciences of Delta State University. The focus of the DMI music industry studies program is to provide students with a broad and thorough education in the technological, creative, and business areas of the music and entertainment industry.

To learn more, visit

Three Mississippi fiction authors to visit campus and community

By | General, Graduate and Continuing Studies, Students | No Comments

The Delta State University Graduate and Continuing Studies Department is hosting a lecture series with three Mississippi authors who highlight the South and Mississippi Delta in their writing. Dean James, Charlaine Harris and Carolyn Haines have all found literary success with their mystery and horror tales.

The trio will be on campus Feb. 28 and provide lectures to students at 9 and 10 a.m. in Jobe Hall. From 1-2:30 p.m., they will participate in a panel discussion with three local scholars — Dorothy Shawhan, Susan Allen Ford and Karen Bell.

Later that afternoon, a book signing and reception will be held at the Delta Arts Alliance in downtown Cleveland from 3-5 p.m. In addition, students, faculty and staff will be able to donate blood at the “True Blood” Drive at the H.L. Nowell Union from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The following day, March 1, Harris will be the guest reader at 3 p.m. on the Thacker Mountain Radio Show at the Delta Music Institute.

The lecture and panel discussion will focus on the use of place in the writers’ fiction, the importance of contemporary fiction as a literary genre, and the joys and challenges of creative writing. These events will explore genre fiction such as mystery, supernatural and horror as intellectual inquiry and as an increasingly valued form of the literary humanities.

Beverly Moon, Delta State University Dean of Graduate and Continuing Studies, said she is thrilled to host these established authors.

“We will have lots of fun with the various events — the student sessions, panel discussions, the readings, reception, book signing, and of course, the “True Blood” Drive,” said Moon.

Harris, a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for 30 years, was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area. She is known for writing mystery and fantasy novels, with her most popular series being “The Sookie Stackhouse Series.” The urban fantasy series is about a telepathic waitress named Sookie who works in a bar in the fictional northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps.

The first book in the series, “Dead Until Dark,” won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001. Each book follows Sookie through her adventures involving vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. The series, which now numbers 11 titles, has been released worldwide.

Sookie Stackhouse has proven to be so popular that Alan Ball, creator of the HBO television series “Six Feet Under,” produced the HBO series based on the books. He wrote and directed the pilot episode for the series “True Blood,” which premiered in September of 2008 and successfully continues in its seventh season.

Professionally, Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the American Crime Writers League, Sisters in Crime and the International Crime Writers Association. She is a past member of the boards of Sisters in Crime and MWA. She is also a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, Horror Writers Association and Romance Writers of America.

Haines, born in Lucedale, Miss., is a prolific mystery author and former journalist specializing in mysteries set in the Mississippi Delta. Her current mysteries, the “Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta Series,” is set in the fictional town of Zinnia. The series has won numerous awards, including Best Amateur Sleuth. Her work, “Hallowed Bones,” the fifth in the series, was named in the top five mysteries of 2004 by Library Journal.

Haines teaches graduate and undergraduate fiction writing classes at the University of South Alabama, where she is an assistant professor and fiction coordinator. She was the recipient of the 2010 Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, and in 2009 she received the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence.

James is the author of over 20 books, both mystery fiction and non-fiction. He is a seventh generation Mississippian having grown up in Grenada County. He is a proud double alumnus of Delta State ’80 and ’81. He also holds a Ph.D. in history from Rice University.

James has published articles on library science, the history of science and medicine and mystery fiction. His first book, which he co-wrote with fellow librarian Jean Swanson, was “By a Woman’s Hand.” In all, he has co-authored or co-edited six works of mystery reference and one short story anthology.

He has won the Agatha and Macavity Awards for his non-fiction and has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical work. Formerly the general manager of Murder by the Book in Houston, he is currently a librarian in the Texas Medical Center. Writing as Miranda James, he is the New York Times bestselling author of the “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries, as well as mysteries under his own name and the pseudonyms Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman.

In James’s series “The Cat in The Stacks,” the main character is a southern gentleman by the name of Charlie Harris. Charlie is a librarian in the town of Athena, based loosely on Oxford, Miss. In an interview with Deborah Crombie, he said of the fictional town of Athena, “I’ve tried to imbue it with the kind of feeling that I remember from my youth in Mississippi, a small — but not too small — town where longtime residents know one another, where there’s a strong sense of community and a sense of history.”

The upcoming author events in Cleveland are free and open to the public and are supported in part by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council. For more information, contact the Department of Continuing Education at 662-846-4833.


Civil Rights exhibit comes to archives

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Delta State University Archives & Museum will be hosting “The Freedom Rides: Journey for Change” traveling exhibit from Feb. 25 through Apr. 14. The display will be held in the main gallery of the Charles W. Capps, Jr. Archives and Museum Building.

According to University Archivist Emily Jones, “The Freedom Rides: Journey for Change” sheds light on one of the most prominent events in Civil Rights history. It embraces the struggles many individuals endured to create a society of equality. The exhibit includes images of the bombing of a Greyhound bus outside of Anniston, Ala., the journey from Montgomery to Jackson, Freedom Riders at the Greyhound bus station in Jackson, Miss., Freedom Riders at the Jackson airport, mug shots, and Freedom Riders going to trial in Jackson.

Many of the images were taken from the original film footage in the WLBT News Film Collection. A DVD of the original footage is included in the exhibit.

The display is part of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History traveling exhibits program. This program includes individuals of different cultural backgrounds journeying through the Deep South attempting to change practices that were legalized by the United States judicial system.

“I am also thrilled to be working with the university’s diversity committee in promoting its upcoming conference,” said Jones. “As with every exhibit we host, I hope that this provides an opportunity for reflection and thought on the impact of the Civil Rights movement in our community.”

“The Freedom Rides: Journey for Change” was sponsored by the following organizations: the MS Department of Archives & History, the Foundation of MS History, MS Humanities Council, MS Historical Records Advisory Board and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

The museum and exhibit are open to faculty, staff, students, researchers and the general public. For more information, visit