Beyond the exposure, though, this article has a great deal to teach us about making change in the rural South.
It Teaches Us about What's Needed
- VISION – Ron Nurnberg, the Executive Director of Teach For America - Mississippi Delta (now Mississippi), has done an incredible job of crafting a unique vision for the Delta and Mississippi. He holds the vision, he owns the vision, and he sells it 24/7. In the long-term, he has created an umbrella of sorts under which people have built their own, often unprecedented careers. Beyond that, I bet - to a person - that Jamie, Luke, Anna, Doug, Matty, Suzette, Michelle, Greg, and Julia could articulate a greater vision for their town and the region at large that drives them in what they do. Vision drives the work.
- PARTNERSHIP – all of these people know each other, to the point of some of them having been in each others’ weddings and other major life/family events. There is a level of trust and constructive criticism that they are able to share to make each other better that deserves mentioning. Beyond that, they have embedded themselves in the community. Matty attends the meetings of local groups like the Rotary Club, Doug actively sought a role that placed him at the center of the community, and Michelle is an adjunct professor at the university that now houses the Teach For America - Delta Institute each summer, to mention a few.
- PERSISTENCE - This is a long, hard process; and it has and will continue to be a long, tough road in many respects. They are doing hard work where there are few right answers or precedents, typically far from family and far from the creature comforts that many of us take for granted. For that they deserve respect and support.
It Teaches Us about What's Next
- BROADENING THE SCOPE - Despite these major accomplishments - including starting businesses, schools, and non-profits - there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done. As heartening as it is to hear of colleagues making a difference in this way, we could identify hundreds of other rural Southern towns where such an infusion of energy would be beneficial, but is absent.
- TACKLING INEQUALITY FROM ALL ANGLES - There are systemic issues in the health care, criminal justice, and financial literacy spaces that, if left unaddressed, will prove to be overwhelming forces despite the business and education work being done. (In Mississippi, the rate of felony disenfranchisement is 13.9% for African Americans. In New York, it is 2.1%.)
- DEVELOPING PARTNERSHIPS ACROSS THE REGION - Going forward, it will be instrumental for people like Matty, Doug, Julia, and Luke to forge greater partnerships across the South to extent their impact. I say that knowing that some of that work is already in progress, and that they would certainly say that they could learn from others elsewhere. We are tackling a many-faced problem in the South, though, and it just so happens that those faces reveal themselves similarly across the entire rural South. Their work can and must be reconsidered for new contexts.
The bottom line here is that community-based change is possible in the rural South; but the rate and scope of that change depends on two things: the development of an extensive network of changemakers in the region and continued efforts to set and achieve unique goals that will unify and ignite each community.
Enjoy your Tuesday,