CLEVELAND, Miss.—The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University recently held a Community Dinner welcoming the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program back to the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA).“We are thrilled that these bright servant leaders are back working in person with Mississippi Delta community organizations,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and executive director of the MS Delta NHA. Despite a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Robertson Scholars and The Delta Center have hit the ground running, creating empowering spaces and opportunities for MS Delta NHA communities to share their nationally significant cultural heritage stories. Since 2006, The Delta Center has hosted summer interns from the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. During this “Community Summer” experience, the interns learn about the land, the people, the movements, and the culture that embody the Mississippi Delta.
“Community Summer has been a signature part of the Robertson Scholar experience since the program’s inception,” said Andrew Lakis, executive director of the Robertson program. “It provides our scholars with the opportunity to learn from – and alongside – community members and change agents committed to leading through transformational change in their communities. It is a remarkably powerful experience, and it is made possible by the generosity of our incredible partners, who continue to welcome scholars into their hometowns and share the truly unique and beautiful aspects of their communities.” This year, as their primary summer project, the Robertson Scholars assigned to The Delta Center are creating digital storytelling resources for the online MS Delta NHA Civil Rights Heritage Archive, as well as helping to launch the new MS Delta NHA Grants Leadership Academy. To learn more about these programs, visit www.msdeltaheritage.com/civil-rights and www.msdeltaheritage.com/grants. “My time at The Delta Center so far has shown me that struggles that may seem historic have not only happened in the past – they’re ongoing,” said Vishal Jummalapati, a Robertson Scholar intern from Duke University. “I’ve come to see Mississippi as fundamentally different from the way I initially perceived it. It’s much more dynamic and significant in the greater struggles for civil rights than I’d initially imagined.” Exploration of diverse experiences and histories is a vital component of the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. The scholarship was initiated in 2000 when University of North Carolina Chapel Hill graduate Julian Robertson provided $24 million dollars in seed funding. While Mr. Robertson is a UNC Chapel Hill alum, his children attended Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
Towards allowing students to experience the best of both of these prestigious universities, each year, approximately 36 current and incoming freshmen are awarded fully-funded educational experiences, cross-campus access and intensive leadership training. This includes Community Summer, which requires Robertson Scholars to live and work together in rural communities across the American South between their freshman and sophomore years. During Community Summer, 8-10 Robertson Scholars are placed in Cleveland, Mississippi; Tarboro, North Carolina; Whitesburg, Kentucky; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The following scholars are currently placed in the Mississippi Delta: Delta Arts Alliance Davina Boison (UNC), Glen Allen, Va. Durga Sreenivasan (Duke), New York, N.Y. The Delta Center for Culture & Learning Vishal Jammulapati (Duke), Salt Lake City, Utah Jenna Smith (Duke), Scotch Plains, N.J. Delta Health Center Frank Mercer IV (Duke), Virginia Beach, Va. Anna Seaman (UNC), Littleton, Colo. GRAMMY Museum Mississippi Patrick Li (UNC), Hudson, Ohio Aisha Baiocchi (UNC), New York, N.Y. Sunflower County Freedom Project Jillian Vordick (UNC), Bethesda, Md. Atharva Vispute (UNC), Colorado Springs, Colo. The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program was created in the year 2000 by Julian and Josie Robertson. The program invests in young leaders who strive to make transformational contributions to society. To learn more, visit https://robertsonscholars.org/. 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 MS Delta NHA 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/.