The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Please Support Efforts to Keep the Kellogg Foundation Delta Initiative Operating

Posted on December 08, 2008 at 06:11 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus has received the unfortunate news that the Kellogg Foundation may have plans to close its Mid-South Delta Initiative (MDSI) in 2009. This is a superb program and we would ask the partners of our grassroots coalition to join in efforts to ask the Kellogg Foundation to keep the MSDI fully operating. We have a letter below that you could sign on to, and if you are supportive of this effort, please contact either Jerry Smith, Director of the Arkansas State University Center for Regional and Community Development at, or Kevin Smith, at They will be compiling a list of all the organizations and individuals who endorsed this letter. We will help relay those communications to them if you would like.

Many of you know of the great work of the Mid-South Delta Initiative in our region. Since 1997, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation has invested more than $65 million in the Mid South Delta Initiative (MSDI). Grants to nonprofit organizations expanded small businesses and the production and sale of affordable housing, and increased career and workforce opportunities and individual savings programs to strengthen the assets of youngsters and families with limited incomes.

This is a time both of great urgency and of great hope for the Delta region. The urgency springs from the reality that we are in a recession, as the nation’s most impoverished region the Delta always suffers most quickly and severely in any downturn. Yet this is also a time of great hope, with new leadership in Congress and the election of a leader who represented the southern Illinois in the US Senate and is very knowledgeable about the economic plight of the entire Delta Regional Authority area. Economic conditions are very similar across the Delta and there is great hope that our region will receive far greater attention and cooperation from the new administration. It is strange to us that a great foundation like Kellogg is considering reducing or discontinuing its badly needed activities in the region at such a historic time.

Many of us have witnessed firsthand the great work of the MSDI in general and Gloria Dickerson’s dynamic leadership in particular. I well recall that Ms. Dickerson was one of the most enlightened and informative speakers this year at our annual conference in Washington, DC, where we had 15 Members of Congress from both parties speak to our group of 100 grassroots leaders from across the region, along with national executive branch leaders and officials of the Delta Regional Authority. Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama spoke on behalf of Sen. Barack Obama and Rep. Charles Pickering spoke on behalf of Sen. John McCain, along with many other distinguished leaders at that conference. We appreciated Ms. Dickerson’s participation in that bipartisan, constructive event and many others over the years, and our partners have benefited from their collaboration with the MSDI over the years.

If you are supportive of the letter below, please sign on to it by contacting Jerry Smith or Kevin Smith, as noted above. We at the Delta Grassroots Caucus will try to help relay your communications and endorsement of this effort, if you like. Thank you very much.

Lee Riley Powell, executive director, Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus (202) 360-6347 Email:

The letter follows directly below:

December 8, 2008 To Sterling K. Speirn, President and CEO
W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Dear Dr. Speirn:

The Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus hereby wishes to join the many voices across our region who are requesting the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s continuation of support for the Foundation’s Mid-South Delta Initiative relative to the Delta region.

It is our understanding that the Foundation plans to close the MSDI office in February 2009, and that the Foundation may abort its original commitment to provide support for the implementation of some strategic plans developed through that initiative.

We applaud the tremendous philanthropy and direct involvement of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in efforts over the years to help the Lower Mississippi Delta region in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Many of us have been particularly encouraged by the Foundation’s commitment in this latest initiative to lead as well as fund a strong grassroots planning effort.

One of the most important aspects of this initiative has been the great optimism you generated, which caused many leaders in the region to believe that after so many other “Delta initiatives” failed to make a real difference, this one truly can and will. Hope is perhaps the best thing any of us can give, especially to the youth of the Delta. From what we have seen and heard, the WKKF, through the Mid-South Delta Initiative, made great strides in this regard.

Moreover, WKKF spearheaded the initial organization of a number of other national and some regional foundations around the idea of a combined funding effort to support the outcomes of the MSDI. For over twenty such foundations to come together to even discuss the idea of collaborating in support of one region of the country is a testament to the integrity, goodwill and bold leadership of the Kellogg Foundation.

Obviously, we are not at liberty to know why the decision was made to discontinue the MSDI. Given that, we only wish to express our thoughts about its early closing, as follows.

  1. Because of the very high profile given to this project by the WKKF, hope in the Delta is up. However, the message that would inevitably emanate from the WKKF appearing to be simply walking away from its oft-stated commitment to the Delta region would be that the Foundation no longer believes the Delta region can be transformed or is worth any further investment. The effect of this would be one of the worst things any of us could do to the people of the Delta, i.e., to dash their hope.

The WKKF/MSDI vision statement is worth noting:

“Safe Delta communities, in which the majority of the residents are healthy, educated and have incomes which allow them to adequately provide for their families and prepare for their economic self-sufficiency and a positive future for their children.

A strong, integrated regional set of systems that are responsive and accountable to the voice of Delta communities/residents.”

  1. Many of our youth were particularly energized by the MSDI. We hope that the WKKF would find a way to keep the MSDI closure from dampening their new-found enthusiasm for community in the Delta.

  2. The MSDI Design Work Group participants completed strategic plans in March 2008 as per WKKF’s contract with them. We are not able to take a position with respect to those strategic plans as they have not been made available because the participants have not yet received a response from the Foundation on their status and their viability. Even though the decision was made to discontinue the MSDI, we hope that a formal response will be provided, and that at least some form of support for them would come from the WKKF and the other members of the funding group.

  3. The integrity of the MSDI Design Work Group strategic plans will be questionable if not seriously hampered by the refusal of the WKKF to acknowledge their status. Naturally this would have a very negative effect on the plans receiving support from one or more of the foundations involved with the MSDI.

  4. Since the Design Work Group process was not a conventional RFP process, and since the DWG participants were not given specific funding guidelines, we hope that if the WKKF does indeed have serious concerns about the plans as submitted, that the bold commitment originally given the DWG process by the Foundation would at least allow for consideration of some means by which the plans could be revised.

Again, we are deeply indebted and grateful to the Kellogg Foundation for all that you have done in the Lower Mississippi Delta Region, and specifically in the Arkansas Delta, so we stand ready to do all that we can to work with you and the other funding circle members to help realize the vision of the Mid-South Delta Initiative.

Cc: Greg Taylor, Rick Foster, Gloria Dickerson