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.

Column Praises William Jeter of Clinton School, & Summarizes Delta Conference

Posted on April 13, 2010 at 01:36 PM

“Rex Nelson’s Column Summarizes Delta Conference and Singles out Clinton Graduate School Student William Jeter for Praise”

Thanks a million to all of you for making the Delta Grassroots Caucus conference on April 1-2, 2010 at the Clinton Presidential Center a big success. This is the first in a series of summaries of the two-day conference, which we packed with intensive use of every minute and therefore there was a huge volume of information to condense. We know people are taking time, money and effort for these conferences so we want to utilize every minute. Despite having had to schedule the conference on Good Friday due to scheduling limitations, we still got a total of over 150 people who came to all or parts of the conference.

To start the series on the conference, we would like to convey a very fine and informative column published on April 10, 2010 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper, by Rex Nelson, now a columnist and the senior vice president for government relations and public outreach at The Communications Group in Little Rock. He was formerly the Alternate Federal Cochair at the Delta Regional Authority, and we said at the conference–as we have on many occasions–that he made an excellent contribution to the work of the DRA particularly in improving communications with grassroots leaders. We could use someone like Rex in that post right now, as a matter of fact, and we have been urging the Obama administration to end the delays in appointing the Federal Cocchair and Alternate Federal Cochair.

It may surprise you to learn who Rex Nelson singled out as the star of the show–not a Member of Congress, a Governor, or other “big shot,” but a young leader who represents the hope for the future of our region–William Jeter, the dynamic Clinton School of Public Service graduate student who is doing an excellent project to help Delta artists based in Newport, Arkansas. Dean James “Skip” Rutherford was our host for the opening session, and William Jeter gave an eloquent speech about his work in the Delta. Governor Mike Beebe came on right after William and congratulated him.

Dean Rutherford of the Clinton School should be commended for his great leadership in supporting the efforts of young Delta leaders like William Jeter. We know that President Clinton, who gave a brilliant presentation on jobs and health care just before William’s speech, is very proud of William and all the Clinton School students. Congrats to Rex Nelson on another very fine column.

We also support the efforts of the Delta Regional Authority, which this week is holding a major conference in St. Louis, Missouri, with many grassroots partners from all over the region and nationally recognized speakers. Thanks–Lee Powell, executive director, Delta Grassroots Caucus (202) 360-6347

Delta dreaming : About giving back


They came from across the Delta last week. Most were from Arkansas, but there were attendees from other areas—West Mississippi, the Missouri Bootheel region, the Black Belt of Alabama, southern Illinois.

They journeyed to Little Rock for a meeting of the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus, an organization run out of Washington by Lee Powell, the son of the late Arkansas Gazette Editorial page editor James O. Powell.

As is the custom at these gatherings, a parade of politicians appeared. Some talked frankly. Some read from scripts prepared by staff members. Congressman Mike Ross spoke on Thursday night. On Friday, the agenda included Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Congressman John Boozman, Congressman Vic Snyder, Gov. Mike Beebe and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

It’s important to hear from elected officials. There are programs at the state and federal levels that can help spur effective community and economic development in the Delta.

More important, it’s vital for these elected officials to hear directly from Delta residents. Out of sight is too often out of mind in government. If the problems of the Delta are to remain on the radar screen, the region’s voters must constantly be in their ears. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

It was not a politician who stole the show last week, however. It was instead a student from the Clinton School of Public Service, William Jeter. He’s a fourth-generation Arkansan who grew up in Pine Bluff and has spent more days than he can count on the family farm at Wabbaseka in Jefferson County.

“I’ve spent nearly my entire life in the Delta,” Jeter told those gathered at the Clinton Center on Friday morning. “It’s what I know, and it’s what I love… . I’ve spent more time than I wish to remember driving tractors, laying irrigation pipe and scouting rice.”

Jeter, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and is scheduled to receive his master’s degree from the Clinton School next year, clearly loves the region. He said the best thing about the drive from Pine Bluff to the Ole Miss campus in Oxford was that it was “Delta all the way.”

Jeter went to Washington, D.C., to work for the public affairs firm Vox Global and was, ironically, assigned back to the Delta. He later was selected as one of the 36 students in the fifth class at the Clinton School.

A graduation requirement is to be involved in a hands-on project known as the “practicum.” Twelve teams of three students each have been assigned projects. The team Jeter serves on is assigned to Newport, the Delta town on the banks of the White River that has struggled economically in recent decades. Meanwhile, nearby Batesville, the hometown of Skip Rutherford, the Clinton School’s dean, has thrived. Rutherford has taken a special interest in trying to make good things happen in Newport. So has Jeter.

“I can hopefully give back to the Delta a part of what is has given to me,” Jeter said. “It has been an absolute blessing to work in Newport.”

The Clinton School team helped create what’s known as the Blue Bridge Center for the Delta Arts. It’s a joint project of the Clinton School, the Newport Economic Development Commission, the city of Newport and the Iron Mountain Regional Arts Council. A contest was conducted to find a name for the center.

In late February, the second annual Delta Visual Arts Show was held in downtown Newport. More than 40 Delta-based artists participated, and attendance tripled from last year. The center plans to provide studio space for artists, sell their work and conduct workshops, in the process helping revitalize the downtown area of a city that went from a population of 8,339 people in the 1980 census to 7,811 people in 2000.

Ultimately, Jeter hopes to be part of a wider effort to “recruit and retain young leaders who will get involved in the Delta. How amazing would it be if other schools would provide outlets for students to get involved?”

The long-term revitalization of East Arkansas won’t rest primarily with government. In the knowledgebased economy of this century, those communities that do well will be the ones that attract the William Jeters of the world—creative, articulate young people who understand what a town, county and region gave them and now wish to give something back. —––––– •–––––—Free-lance columnist Rex Nelson is the senior vice president for government relations and public outreach at The Communications Group in Little Rock.