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.

Overview of Media Coverage & Appreciation for Sponsors at April 1-2 Delta Event

Posted on April 15, 2010 at 04:21 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus conference on April 1-2, 2010 at the Clinton Presidential Center featured over 150 grassroots leaders from the eight-state region, former President Bill Clinton, US Senator Blanche Lincoln, Governor Mike Beebe, Congressman John Boozman, Congressman Mike Ross, Congressman Vic Snyder, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, Speaker-Elect of the Arkansas House of Representatives Robert Moore, James “Skip” Rutherford, Dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, internationally recognized health care experts Dr. Aaron Shirley of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation and James Miller of the Oxford International Development Group, and many other local leaders from southern Illinois to New Orleans.

MEDIA COVERAGE: The media attention is important because it is one of the factors making the powers that be and the general public devote more attention to the Delta’s regional issues. The coverage received coverage in the Associated Press wire services, NBC national nightly news, the Arkansas New Bureau media chain, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, national Fox news, the ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox local affiliates in Arkansas, the magazine of the Arkansas Municipal League, public radio, and several localized articles focusing on particular areas of the region.

The mostly widely disseminated report took place on the opening evening from NBC national Nightly News, which broadcast a feature on the “Health Houses” concept led by Dr. Aaron Shirely and James Miller. The Health Houses initiative is beginning in 15 communities in Mississippi and we would like to expand it throughout the Delta. This initiative focuses on establishing a network of grassroots community health care offices to inform the public about health care issues, reduce excessive emergency room use and otherwise reduce costs, improve prenatal care, nutrition, emphasize prevention, and otherwise improve health care for the underserved Delta. It has been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and other prestigious institutions.

We also have already conveyed Rex Nelson’s great column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which he first stressed the importance of having the Members of Congress and other powers that be meet in person with and have to answer questions from a large group of grassroots leaders. Secondly, he praised the work of Clinton School of Public Service graduate student William Jeter, who is doing an important public service project in the fine east Arkansas community of Newport.

LEAD SPONSORS: We would like to thank the largest group of sponsors we have had yet, starting with the lead sponsors: Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas (Steve Southard and Randy Henderson gave a motivational presentation about Nucor’s enlightened policies and their economic contributions to northeast Arkansas); the Southeast Missouri Delta Grassroots Partners Group; and the Southeast Arkansas Delta Grassroots Partners Group.

MAJOR CO-SPONSORS: Heifer International (special thanks to Michael Ashanti for his excellent presentation on his work for farmers’ markets, community gardens, bringing nutritiious produce to the schools, and the mission of Heifer in general in the Delta, as well as Jo Luck and other Heifer representatives)

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which was also the co-host for the panel featuring leaders and organizations based in Helena-West Helena (special thanks to Ray Higgins, head of CBF for Arkansas, and Catherine Bahn, Assistant Director, CBF/Together for Hope rural poverty program in Helena-West Helena, who did a great job speaking and moderating the panel that concluded the conference. We had over 50 people who stayed to hear that panel even though it was late in the afternoon on Good Friday! Usually, people go home late in the afternoon at the end of a conference, of course.)

National Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC–HAC has displayed a strong commitment to the Delta region for many, many years. Carolyn Branton was scheduled to speak but became ill literally the day before the conference and could not make it, and we regretted that but understood. HAC is a vital supporter of the Delta Caucus.

University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service–we have noted Dean Rutherford’s leadership for the Delta. He has served as President Clinton’s right hand man for many years and we recall his support for the Clinton administration’s Delta Regional Initiative. The Clinton School was a major cosponsor as well as being host for the opening session.

Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission, Blytheville, Arkansas–Sam Scruggs and all the good folks at the MissCo EOC are stalwart supporters and always go way beyond the call of duty for the Delta Caucus. We were glad to see former Clinton administration appointee Cecil McDonald of USDA Rural Development at the event.

Great River Economic Development Foundation, Blytheville, Arkansas–Clif Chitwood does a great job of managing this excellent organization. Mayor Barrett Harrison was one of our main speakers on opening night, and his work with this foundation was crucial in bringing over 2,700 jobs to Mississippi County in recent years.

The City of Sikeston, Missouri–former Mayor of Sikeston Mike Marshall was one of our speakers on opening night. Mike Marshall is a banker, economic development expert and has done a great job of promoting our region’s development for many, many years, and we greatly appreciate his leadership. He and Dr. Martha Ellen Black of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center are our Missouri coordinators.

McGehee Industrial Foundation–Our supporters in McGehee and Desha County provide remarkable levels of support in every way, year in and year out. Doc Bilberry, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, Kenny and Melissa Gober, Michael Jones, Ken Shea, Ann Cash, and Speaker-Elect Robert Moore are always there for us.

G.A. Wildman of Alabama–We need to include Alabama in our regional efforts, because 20 Alabama Black Belt counties are in the Delta Regional Authority area. We appreciate G. A. Wildman’s financial support, as well as the steadfast participation of Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabama, who has an impressive record of bringing economic development to his fine Alabama community.

SPONSORS: Macon Ridge Community Development Corp. in north Louisiana; Buddy Spillers of Macon Ridge CDC gave a presentation about his constructive work in economic development in northern Louisiana. Buddy Spillers has gained a great deal of recognition for his accomplishments in community and economic development, including the successful efforts of the Macon Ridge Enterprise Community in the Clinton administration and continuing until today. Buddy and Obadiah Simmons of Grambling State University are our Louisiana coordinators and we greatly appreciate their work.

Tim Smith, head of the Louisiana Housing and Community Development Corp., was scheduled to speak about his constructive work throughout the state of Louisiana, but a court case prevented his participation. He is based in New Orleans and we always want to include New Orleans in these efforts.

The Municipal League of Arkansas has been supportive of the Delta Caucus for many years and we appreciated Don Zimmerman and Andrew Morgan for taking time from their hectic schedules to take part in this conference.

Kenny Gober of the McGehee Housing Authority always does a great job of backing our efforts, as we mentioned above.

Dr. Robert Cole and his colleagues at the East Arkansas Enterprise Community have our appreciation as always. Dr. Cole was a Clinton administration appointee at USDA Rural Development and is one of our region’s most experienced and knowledgeable experts on rural economic development.

Dr. Martha Ellen Black of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center is on our board of directors and is one of our most dynamic leaders. She also brought several of her colleagues to man the front desk (they did a great job and have become known as the “front desk Mafia”–just kidding)

Delta Citizens Alliance, based in Greenville, Mississippi–Larry Williams heads this organization that is active across Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Larry Williams engages in a wide range of constructive activities for our region, and he spoke on the panel along with Dr. Aaron Shirley of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, James Miller of the Oxford International Development League based in Oxford, MS, and Dr. Margaret Bogle, head of USDA’s research program on obesity and nutrition in the Delta region. Among Larry Williams’ many activities are included grassroots health care work to help inform the public and improve health care for the underserved Delta.

West Tennessee Delta Grassroots Partners Group–we appreciate the support from Minnie Bommer, rural development expert and long-time Delta regional leader from west Tennessee; Paul Van Hoesen, director of cTechnology, Inc., based in Nashville and active in west Tennessee Delta, moderated the opening session panel and gave an excellent presentation on his innovative work in expanding broadband access and educational improvements in west Tennessee and several other states. We also appreciate the support of Charita Johnson-Burgess of the Shiloh Distribution Center in west Tennessee.

Delta Local Support Initiatives Support (LISC) does great work throughout the Delta and we were glad to have their support and the participation of George Miles from Greenville, Mississippi and Andres Saavedra from Tallulah, Louisiana.

The Edgenics Corp. does a tremendous amount of valuable work in expanding broadband and educational opportunities in the Delta, and we were glad to have the participation of Robert Dansby of Edgenics. This corporation is based in New Jersey but is active throughout the country. Robert Dansby is originally from Arkansas and still stays in touch with his Arkansas roots.

Last but not least, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy is vice president of the Delta Caucus and is always there for us. This year he performed the additional service of singing while we had a short break in the action while we were trying to get President Clinton’s audio hook-up working. Remarkably, no one left in spite of his singing. He also did a great job of getting additional sponsors, but we were huffy about that because we could not fit all the new sponsors on a regular size placard to thank them for their efforts, so we had to buy a jumbo-sized placard to get everybody on there, at an additional cost to the Delta Caucus of $50. We will be sending Judge McElroy the bill for that $50, and are also asking him to make a special fund-raising drive to pay for the jumbo-sized placards in the future.

THANKS FOR DELTA GRASSROOTS CAUCUS PARTNERS MANY CONTRIBUTIONS: This is actually the most important part of our support. We would like to thank the hundreds of grassroots leaders throughout the eight-state Greater Delta Region for contributions of $50, $85, and $100. As a grassroots coalition our policy is to raise a large part of our budget from many modest contributions so as to have a broad base of financial support. We could not function without these contributions in the form of membership dues, registration fees, and other grassroots contributions.

We will be sending out another message summarizing the specifics of many of the presentations at the conference, which was intensive and we utilized every minute of it because we know you are spending a lot of time, money and effort on this and we want to use every second. Let us also mention other participants here briefly:

Ken Smith, Assistant Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration and former head of Arkansas Audubon, opened up with a presentation on climate and energy issues, biomass and biofuels. Expanded renewable energy use is tremendously important for our region so we greatly appreciated Ken’s comments on these vital issues.

Ken Shea of the McKennon Implement Co, Dumas & McGehee, Arkansas, chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Dumas Chamber of Commerce, also served on a wide variety of other economic development organizations for southeast Arkansas. As the head of a small business, he is an example of the small business sector that is responsible for most of the job growth in our region. He spoke at the opening session about various economic development initiatives in the region and we will be going into more specifics on various southeast Arkansas speakers in the next message in this series.

Johnnie Bolin, executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, is from Crossett, Arkansas, and he led the big picture panel on regional economic development that featured President Clinton and also had Buddy Spillers of the Macon Ridge CDC in Louisiana and Mayor Brad Cole of Carbondale, Illinois. Johnnie summarized issues regarding the Delta Development Highway system plan and Interstate 69 corridor, assisted by Michael Jones of the Merchants and Farmers Bank in Dumas. Johnnie Bolin is one of the most knowledgeable transportation experts in the entire region and we will be following his lead on many of the issues regarding federal highway legislation.

Josh Tubbs, director of the Marshall County Economic Development office, western Kentucky, also gave a presentation about various economic development issues from the western Kentucky standpoint. Josh Tubbs is one of the many people in western Kentucky who help us promote progress on I-69, which is one of the key ties that binds the Delta region together, starting out in Louisiana, going through southeast Arkansas, western Mississippi, western Tennessee and Kentucky. We appreciate Josh coming all the way from western Kentucky for the conference.

Mayor Brad Cole of Carbondale, Illinois, is another leader who came a long, long way to take part in this conference. Mayor Cole participates at every one of our meetings and has a great record of economic development for his important southern Illinois community. He is also one of our highly valued Republican partners, and does a great job of working with people from both parties in a bipartisan way. He was one of the Republicans for Obama in Barack Obama’s first US Senate campaign. Our southern Illinois colleagues obviously have valuable ties to the Obama administration and we appreciate Mayor Cole’s leadership.

We have already mentioned the great jobs Catherine Bahn of CBF and Michael Ashanti of Heifer International did on the final panel that focused on organizations and leaders based in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. We would also like to thank the other panelists:

Ginny Blankenship, Chief Development Officer for the KIPP school (Knowleged Is Power Program), which has a remarkable record for improving educational performance, test scores, and commitment to excellence in education for many lower-income students in the Helena-West Helena area. The KIPP program is being expanded to Blytheville, Arkansas and we hope it will expand to many other communities in the Delta.

Chalk Mitchell is a Georgtetown law school graduate who chose to come back to the Delta to work. He performs legal services for the poor and is president of the board of the KIPP school. He is an excellent role model for all those who see the value in giving back to our native region.

Will Staley of THRIVE works on expanding website access and local entrepreneurialism in the Delta. He is an example of a young leader who chose to come to the Delta to work (he was in New York before moving to the Delta), and it is so great to see talented young people who will stay in our region rather than going off to the “big city.” Will grew up in Arkansas and is the son of Carolyn Staley, a noted Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leader who has been active in the Delta for many years.

Katie Harrington of the Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena gave an excellent presentation focusing on tourism prospects for Helena-West Helena. Helena-West Helena was an important town during the Civil War and there are many tourism activities under the way to expand its potential in that regard. Helena-West Helena also hosts a major internationally recognized blues festival every year, and many of the greats of Delta blues music in the past performed there, and many talented blues musicians still do play in Helena-West Helena.

We were pleased to recognize Mayor James Valley of Helena-West Helena and Phillips County Judge Don Gentry, both of whom are steadfast, long-time supporters of the Delta Caucus and they were there at the conference.

Usually most people go home starting about 3 p.m. or so at these conferences, because after focusing on serious issues for two days, they are understandably ready to go home. However, in this case, at 4 p.m. we still had over 50 people there, a tribute to Catherine Bahn, Ray Higgins, Michael Ashanti, and everybody else who worked on that panel.

Thanks very much–Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC (202) 360-6347