Since the 1970s, the Mississippi Delta has been hit with an eroding economic base and large-scale population migration. Today, far too many Delta residents face deep and persistent poverty and significant economic, health, and educational disparities.
In November 2012, the Delta Regional Authority and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock released a new report, Today’s Delta, presenting county-level data across all eight Delta states on population, educational attainment, poverty, health, economics, and housing indicators.
The Delta Regional Authority is a government agency that supports job creation and improves quality of life through strategic economic development investments in the Delta region’s communities, families, and businesses.
According to the report, approximately 20 percent of Delta residents live in poverty—more than six points higher than the national average.
To make matters worse, 46 percent of the Delta region is classified as being in “persistent poverty”, a situation in which 20 percent or more of its residents are poor as measured by each of the last four 10-year censuses. But 46 percent is just the average—the situation is far worse in Alabama, which has 90 percent persistent poverty; in Mississippi, with 75 percent; in Louisiana at 55 percent; and in Missouri at 48 percent.
The picture is even more poignant when you ask Greenville residents what the biggest challenges facing their community are. Deep and persistent poverty; crime; lack of local leadership, education, job opportunities, and adequate healthcare; high rates of teenage pregnancy, racism, abandoned homes and office buildings, an aging community and a dwindling population are among the most commonly mentioned.
If you stopped there, you might think there was no hope for Greenville and its residents. But that wouldn’t be the whole story….
When asked what keeps them going in tough times, residents readily responded:
“What keeps me moving forward is to see this community thrive and be the best that it can be.”
“Trusting and believing that a generation of people who can make a difference in our community will be raised up.”
“The things that keep me moving forward are my children and seeing other people’s accomplishments.”
“Over the past 10 years, a lot has happened, but our residents have maintained a love for their city. What keeps me going is the same thing that keeps a lot of us going—with so many depending on us, if we were ever to stop, not only do we fail, but we fail them.”
Headquartered in Greenville, Mississippi, Mid South Delta Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) serves 56 distressed counties and parishes in the Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The organization provides training, technical assistance, funding, and financing to community development corporations to help them make communities affordable and safe places to live, work, conduct business, and raise children. Simply put, Mid South Delta LISC “helps neighbors build communities.”
As Executive Director George Miles puts it: “Improving housing is one huge way to show people that things are changing for the better. It’s the thin edge to a much larger wedge and a very important first step.”
In late 2012, TDI and Mid South Delta LISC concluded a formal agreement to work together to combat some of the worst consequences of poverty in Greenville.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, Greenville, Mississippi was known as the “Queen City of the Delta”. Since then, its government officials and community leaders have been working on closing the social, economic, and health gaps that far too many of its residents have been experiencing. Together they have made some headway, helping to improve educational systems, re-imagine economic development opportunities, and strengthen community leadership.
LISC’s role in restoring hope for Greenville’s revival is becoming increasingly pivotal given its work plans for the next several years. By working together, TDI and LISC hope to enhance local decision-making by engaging residents living in poverty and focus private and public resources on improving poor families’ access to the education, financial, business, and health systems.
“Helping residents understand and take part in the process of transforming their communities is a key strategy in our joint effort to help residents and the Greenville community as a whole pave a path from poverty to prosperity,” said Linetta Gilbert, Co-Leader of the Declaration Initiative.
“Basically, we’d like to see one day when the Delta becomes a place people want to move to instead of move from,” says Miles.
Opportunity Index for Greenville & Washington County, MS:
Over the last year, the Delta Regional Authority has teamed up with the Institute for Economic Advancement to produce Today’s Delta. This report presents county-by-county data across all eight Delta states on indicators of population, educational attainment, poverty, health, economics, and housing.
Delta 180 program, film & accompanying materials:
Delta 180 grew out of a partnership between the Washington County Youth Court and the faith-based community, as a critical effort to assist disadvantaged youth to achieve academic success and reduce delinquent behavior.
Mission Mississippi, “Changing Mississippi one Relationship at a Time”:
A faith-based strategy for community change.
The Foundation for the Mid South:
The Foundation for the Mid South is a regional community foundation that invests in people and strategies that build racial, social, and economic equity in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The foundation was established to bring together the public and private sectors and focus their resources on increasing social and economic opportunity. Their approach is straightforward and long term: enable communities to develop solutions to better conditions and improve lives.
(Unemployment, median income, number of people below the poverty line. Availability of banking institutions, affordable housing, and internet access.)
(Children in preschool, on-time high school graduation rate, and post-secondary education rate.)
(Percentage of teenagers working and not in school, rates of violent crime and homicide, access to healthcare, and availability of healthy foods.)
The Opportunity Index, a measure of opportunity at the community level, is produced by Opportunity Nation in partnership with Measure of America.
DID YOU KNOW?
“Improving housing is one huge way to show people that things are changing for the better. It’s the thin edge to a much larger wedge and a very important first step.”
—George Miles , Executive Director, Mid South Delta LISC
One of the biggest challenges is to get people to understand that even though things are a certain way today, they don’t have to be that way.”
—Latah Holloway, Program Officer, Mid South Delta LISC
“The social and economic aspects of poverty are definitely important, but the feelings of hopelessness and lack of accountability also need to be addressed. People need to realize that by taking personal responsibility for their actions, they can get involved in the game, in improving their own lives.” ”
—Sherron D. Kirk, Field Director, Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc. (MACE)
“I want JOBS for my community, where people can make decent, above-poverty-line wages to take care of their families. I also wish racism could be removed and that people would be judged based on their character and the simple fact that they’re human beings.”
—Dolores Franklin, long-time resident of Greenville and community organizer
“I wish elected officials would have a real concern, a real heart for all people in their communities, and that they would be willing to tackle the issues that we tend to sweep under the rug. Our community needs educating. We also need the assurance that we will be supported by our community leaders.”
—Olivia Williams, Greenville resident and social work student