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Mayors unite at Delta State

President William N. LaForge welcomed about 20 local mayors to a new program called the Mayors' Summit Wednesday at the Hugh Ellis Walker Alumni-Foundation House. Discussion focussed on development of community-university partnerships.

Delta State University held the first meeting of a program called the Mayors’ Summit on Wednesday at the Hugh Ellis Walker Alumni-Foundation House.

The event was attended by approximately 20 local mayors who met with President William N. LaForge and a number of institutional leaders to discuss collaborations between the university and Delta communities.

“Since becoming president of Delta State in April of 2013, I have decided to make it a priority to reach out to our surrounding communities and engage local leaders in university activities,” said LaForge. “Delta State is fortunate to be located in an area where the communities it serves are supportive of its efforts and are an intricate part of its success.

“I grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Delta State, and I recall the importance of university-community partnerships and positive ‘town-gown’ relations.”

The goal of the summit was to discuss and develop these relations, and to discover new and meaningful ways that Delta State can partner with regional municipalities.

LaForge urged the discussion to be a solid starting point, but to be more satisfied in action, rather than just discussion.

“I am pleased to host this event to facilitate an important dialogue that needs to occur between our municipal leaders and the university leadership — to working with you to explore ways we can support one another,” he added.

Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell, who helped provide the summit welcoming, was thrilled with the turnout.

“I think we had a great crowd today,” said Nowell. “Of the 15 towns in Bolivar County, I think 12 were represented today. That speaks well for the county, along with the other Delta counties in attendance.

“I think everyone is very excited about the great leadership at Delta State. We’re looking forward to working with Delta State in the future. There are many things to look forward to for all of us mayors.”

One highly anticipated topic was the upcoming GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, slated to open on Delta State’s campus in the fall of 2015. Local spearhead for the museum, Lucy Janoush of the Cleveland Music Foundation, provided a progress update and spoke about the impact the museum will have on surrounding communities.

Delta State is also the recent recipient of a $598,000 grant from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation for the formation of the academic-centered International Delta Blues Project.

Thanks to this grant, the university will introduce the Blues Leadership Incubator — a program for community outreach and engagement open to local community leaders. The format will utilize public lectures and workshops that have practical applications in entrepreneurship and economic development.

“With the opening of GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in 2015, and the anticipated tourism that will accompany this opening, it is imperative that Delta State provides opportunities for local business owners to gain insight and knowledge on how best to promote and portray the blues, and to be able to communicate its rich tradition,” said LaForge.

“The project will maximize Delta State’s existing partnerships with entities such as the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Blues Trail to bring experts to the region to engage local businesses and entrepreneurs in promoting and providing positive Delta-centric tourism experiences.”

Wednesday’s event also provided opportunity for the mayors to interact with LaForge and leading administrative and cabinet members. The open forum allowed the mayors to voice both praise and concerns.

LaForge urged discussion through the following questions: what concerns do the mayors have that relate to Delta State?; what can Delta State do for you and your community?; and what partnerships can we expand or establish?

The meeting adjourned with encouraging words from LaForge, who welcomed the mayors to visit campus often and become a central part of the university’s ongoing effort of international distinction.