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.

Flooding Update & Overview of the May 5-6, 2011 Delta Conference at the Clinton Center

Posted on June 05, 2011 at 09:57 AM

May 17, 2011


The May 5-6, 2011 Delta Grassroots Caucus conference featured presentations by President William Jefferson Clinton, Gov. Mike Beebe, Congressman Mike Ross, Congressman Rick Crawford, Congressman Tim Griffin, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall of Missouri, former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, now a partner at Patton Boggs in Washington, DC, internationally recognized disaster relief expert Kay Goss, former FEMA Associate Director and now a senior executive at SRA Corp in Washington, DC, Larry Williams, CEO of the Delta Citizens Alliance, President Fitzgerald Hill of Arkansas Baptist College, James Miller of the Community Health House Network, Obadiah Simmons of Grambling State University, and grassroots leaders from across the Greater Delta Region from southern Missouri and Illinois to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt.

The storms and flooding disasters in the region were the most pressing subject, although there was also attention to long term economic development issues, of which disaster relief and recovery are obviously very important.

Despite losing the attendance of many people due to the devastating flooding, a total of over 175 people came for one or more of the sessions. There was extensive media coverage. We will be continuing to work on disaster relief regarding the flooding for the foreseeable future. May 16, Monday evening, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy holds another meeting at the McGehee Municipal building, which will be attended by Lee Powell and other Delta Caucus partners. McGehee is close to Arkansas City, whose levees are currently holding against the massive flood waters.

The flooding in east Arkansas caused the unprecedented step of the closing of Interstate 40 for several days. The White River flooded causing devastating damage to Prairie County and our colleagues like Harvey Joe Sanner in that area have been waging a strenuous battle there.

The Mississippi crested at Arkansas City on Sunday, May 15, at 53 feet, and the water was below the levee. Lee Powell and others who were on the levee looked over areas where there used to be dry land and a large parking lot, which are now invisible due to the waters. Judge McElroy and others are relieved that the levees are holding thus far, but a serious concern is that the levee will be under pressure for a long time, and sand boils could weaken them.

While the news that the levees continue to hold is good, there will be danger for several weeks to come because the water will be there in large quantities for probably at least a month, and the constant pressure of such a huge volume of water can weaken the levee at lower levels.

HEROIC EFFORTS TO DEAL WITH SAND BOILS: We need to praise local officials like Judge McElroy, Chicot County Judge Mack Ball, and many others, volunteers, the Arkansas National Guard, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and others are working long hours to keep the levees in good condition. At one point there was a potentially dangerous sand boil in Chicot County, and their neighbors from Desha County pitched in with all the other federal, state, local officials and volunteers to place huge numbers of sand bags to contain the damage. They worked until after 3 a.m. in the morning. By Monday, May 16, that sand boil had been contained.

The Corps, Judge McElroy, Judge Ball and Mayor Jack May of McGehee held a meeting Monday night in McGehee to give an update. The levees are still holding and it does not appear there will be a need to evacuate, although dangers like the sand boils will have to be monitored and taken very seriously.

Judge McElroy said people need to remain calm and said rumors were causing panic, such as erroneous allegations that the levee had been blown up near Arkansas City. The levee is in fact in strong condition in Arkansas City.

Lee Powell and other Delta Caucus partners have walked on that levee and found it to be just as solid and dry as it can be (Delta partners are not able to walk on water, contrary to popular belief). There are still serious concerns but the rumors need to be avoided. One such rumor floating around before the Delta Caucus conference was that the conference had been cancelled due to the flooding. There were over 175 people there, so attendance was good for a conference that had been cancelled.

Judge McElroy added some humor to the situation by saying one confused person had called to ask “Are we going to need to evaporate (editor’s note–we believe this individual meant evacuate) the county? And will my chickens be safe?” Judge McElroy said he saw no need for evacuation at the present time, but her chickens might not be safe because he loved to eat fried chicken.

Detonations of the levees in Missouri by the Corps were intended to lower flood levels farther down the Mississippi. Dr. Martha Ellen Black of East Prairie, Missouri, DRA Alternate Federal Cochairman Mike Marshall of Sikeston, Missouri, and our colleagues in southern Illinois had large stretches of their territory flooded. Those explosions saved Cairo, Illinois and some communities in some areas of Missouri, but the Corps in Arkansas City said it had no impact on the situation down in southeast Arkansas and Mississippi, because it was not a large enough volume of water to have a major result with such massive amounts of water involved.

The Mississippi River is normally one mile wide at Arkansas City but is currently three miles wide.

The Yazoo River flooded in Mississippi causing terrible damage on that side of the river. Judge McElroy and Lee Powell toured several of the most severely damaged areas, including a huge casino in Mississippi that was flooded, with its once enormous parking lot now under water and water surrounding the first story of the tall building.

The Morganza floodgate was opened in Louisiana to prevent catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The National Weather Service predicts that the Atchafalaya Basin will experience record flooding. Four bays of the spillway were opened by the Corps by Sunday, the only time that many have been opened since it was completed in 1954.

James Milller of the Community Health House Network emphasizes as he has many times in the past that the Health Houses are very effective in responding to disaster relief and recovery. A statement from James Miller summarizing the merits of Health Houses was distributed at the McGehee meeting on May 16. There is a profound need for a system of Community Health Houses in the Delta emphasizing preventive care and lower costs. Please encourage your Members of Congress to vote funding to set up a system of Health Houses throughout our region.

This is an overview briefly hitting the highlights of each of the sessions. We will follow this up with a series of messages about particular sections of the program in the coming weeks, along with updates on the floods and disaster relief and recovery.

The key sponsors included the Delta Regional Authority, Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas, Heifer International, the national Housing Assistance Council in Washington, DC, Grambling State University in Louisiana, the Inspire Hope Institute chaired by Laymon Jones, McGehee Industrial foundation, Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in southeast Missouri, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Delta Citizens Alliance based in Greenville, MS, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, southeast Arkansas Delta grassroots partners, and the Mississippi County Economic Opportunity commission.

President William Jefferson Clinton gave another superb presentation, largely focusing on the opportunities presented by renewable energy and energy efficiency in retrofitting buildings across the country. We will be sending out a separate message summarizing his views on renewable energy, green jobs and related issues. We appreciated his kind words supporting the work of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

President Clinton was introduced by Fernando Cutz, president of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service student body, who is doing public service work in the Delta along with a number of other Clinton School students. The Clinton school students are truly the leaders of the future for our region.

Fernando Cutz was also introduced at the opening session by James “Skip” Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School. Dean Rutherford as always did a great job as host of the opening session.

CHAIRMAN MASINGILL AND FLOODING–DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill gave a great presentation on a wide variety of issues regarding the Delta. Chairman Masingill is monitoring the flooding situation very closely from Missouri and Illinois all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. One of his duties at the DRA is to coordinate the many local, state and federal agencies working on flooding issues. He is working long hours staying on top of this situation and we greatly appreciate his leadership on this and many other regional issues.

We will be following up in greater detail with messages devoted to several of the presentations at the conference. Here we would like to present some bullets briefly encapsulating some highlights:

Energy issues: State Rep. Garry Smith of Camden stated that he believes the large lignite reserves in southern Arkansas can be developed in an environmentally friendly way, and that this would create jobs and partly reduce dependence on foreign oil. Rep. Smith also indicated that he is a strong supporter of biomass and other renewable forms of energy. Lignite is of course not renewable.

Former US Assistant Secretary of the Interior, environmentalist and energy expert Ken Smith indicated that there are serious environmental issues regarding a policy choice for the development of lignite, that if we choose to pursue that policy we need to be aware of many potential air, water, and other environmental issues. Ken Smith did not say he was definitely opposed to the idea of developing the lignite reserves, but that if Arkansas does choose to follow that option we need to go into it with our eyes wide open to the environmental concerns and take all necessary steps to prevent any environmental damage. Delta Caucus partners reiterated that they would only support lignite if it can be done in an environmentally friendly way.

One of the surest ways to scare off investment is to get a reputation for not being respectful to the environment. The Delta Caucus partners believe that the biggest and most important area of progress in energy policy lies in the realm of biomass and renewable energy. We will continue to research the lignite issues.

In addition to President Clinton’s emphasis on renewable energy, several renewable energy experts stated their support for biomass and other forms of renewable energy, and we plan to send out full messages focusing on their energy policy presentations in the coming weeks. Included among the renewable energy experts were Dr. Elizabeth Hood, Distinguished Professor at the Arkansas State University Biosciences Institute, David Baker of Future Fuels in Batesville, Arkansas, a significant producer of biodiesel; and Loretta Daniel, Director of the Regional Business & Innovation Center at Murray State University in western Kentucky.

Robert Cole of the East Arkansas Enterprise Community was scheduled to speak about a success story in east central Arkansas regarding the stimulus bill, although he had to stay in the Forrest City area to work on flooding issues, and his colleague Frederick Freeman as well as State Senator Jack Crumbly filled in for him.

Dr. Cole and his colleagues worked with Chris Masingill when he was the point man for Gov. Beebe on the economic stimulus package. Because of their regional approach in the east central Arkansas area, they were able to submit a package of “shovel-ready” projects to Gov. Beebe and Chris Masingill, and Frederick Freeman explained how those projects continue to have a productive impact in that area of the Delta today. Robert Cole has done great work in the Delta for many years now and we were glad to have a strong contingent from Forrest City and nearby areas at the conference.

Mayor Jack May of McGehee spoke about one of the many tourism projects related to the Delta’s unique heritage, in this case the Japanese American Relocation Site, Visitors & Interpretive Center commemorating the sad story of Japanese Americans held in southeast Arkansas during World War II. Not only Japanese Americans but many Americans need to be learned about this melancholy page in our history. We also should remember that many Japanese Americans fought in Europe in World War II and were highly decorated for their bravery.

Mayor May, Judge McElroy, Johnnie Bolin of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council presented the Inspire Hope Award, given jointly by the Inspire Hope Institute, Laymon Jones, chairman, based in Jonesboro, and the Delta Caucus to J.D. “Doc” Bilberry, president of the McGehee Industrial Foundation, for his many years of service to the Delta’s economic development.

Doc Bilberry unfortunately was in the hospital and could not receive the award in person, but he sent word that he greatly appreciated the honor, which has only been given twice in the entire history of the Delta Caucus. Doc Bilberry is now out of the hospital and Kenny Gober, one of our key southeast Arkansas leaders, reported the good news that Doc has been getting better recently. A special thanks to Laymon Jones for his key role in this award.

Obadiah Simmons of Grambling State University, for many years our top coordinator for the state of Louisiana, led a panel on best practices in community and economic development in the Delta region. Grambling is a major academic institution for our region and was one of the sponsors for this conference. Dr. Simmons helped organize a key meeting in Monroe, Louisiana a good many years ago, and we are still benefiting from the ties and partnerships that we began at that time. Grambling is a major unifying force for the region and we wanted to express our appreciation to Dr. Simmons for his leadership.

Bill Ransdall, DRA Designee for Gov. Jay Nixon in the Missouri Department of Economic Development, gave an overview of the DRA’s accomplishments in the state of Missouri, along with an account of the DRA’s efforts at disaster relief. Gov. Nixon is the current state Co-Chairman of the DRA, and Missouri is currently playing a very important role in the regional efforts, with Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall of Missouri as the second highest ranking federal official in the DRA,

James Stapleton of Southeast Missouri State University having taken on Mike Marshall’s previous role as co-coordinator of the Delta Caucus for Missouri, and as always Dr. Martha Ellen Black playing a key role on the Caucus board of directors. We look forward to further expanding our network in Missouri.

Shiloh Distribution Center was represented by their two key leaders on each day of the conference–Charita Johnson Burgess at the opening session and Vivian Fry-Greer at the Friday session at the Clinton Library, in recognition of their important work not only in west Tennessee but across the region. Charita spoke about the educational and technological activities conducted by Shiloh Distribution Center, based in Lexington, Tennessee but expanding their work in other areas of the region, and Vivian spoke about the Manna Connect hunger and nutrition program of SDC. Ms. Fry-Greer demonstrated her broad-minded and generous work by going to Missouri to help flood victims shortly before the conference.

Johnnie Bolin, director of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, led a “big picture” panel on regional and economic development to begin the Clinton Library session on May 6. Johnnie Bolin is one of the most knowledgeable transportation experts in the entire region. He is a tireless advocate for progress on I-69 and the entire Delta Development Highway System plan. He also worked with the state government this year to improve state sources of funding for highway improvements in Arkansas.

J. William McFarland, director of the Center for Business and Economic Services, University of West Alabama based in Livingston, Alabama gave a presentation about the long term economic development activities of his university, and we plan to send out a message in the near future focusing in detail on his excellent presentation. Billy McFarland is a new partner for the Delta Caucus and one of the promising young leaders for our region. He is from Tuscaloosa, and also gave a moving account of the devastation his home city suffered from in the recent tornado.

Joe Black of Southern Bancorp is based in Helena-West Helena, although as you know Southern Bancorp engages in a wide variety of activities throughout the Delta. Among the many constructive projects they help is the Phillips County small business incubator project, and we heard later that day from Terrance Clark of the nonprofit THRIVE organization updating us on that constructive effort to promote small businesses in the heart of the Delta in Phillips County. Southern Bancorp exerts a major positive force on the region’s community and economic development and we greatly appreciate their participation at this conference.

We have already mentioned the important role of our Missouri partners, including James Stapleton, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. SEMO has a longstanding record of being a strong supporter of the Delta Caucus. James Stapleton works closely with Mike Marshall of the DRA and others in promoting entreprenurialism and business innovations in our region.

Mayor JoAnne Bush of Lake Village, Arkansas was one of the many people scheduled to come to the conference who had to cancel due to the flooding. Mayor Bush had to monitor the flooding situation each day. She is one of our highly regarded mayors in the Delta and we will look forward to staying in touch with her and we plan to ask her to speak at future Delta conferences.

Congressman Mike Ross as mentioned above was one of the key speakers, and he gave us an update about the flooding and also discussed his energy policy plan to create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil. He was introduced by Chicot County Judge Mack Ball, who managed to take a break from his hard work regarding the flooding in Chicot County to come to part of the conference. We appreciated the dialogue about flooding with Congressman Ross, who has many friends and admirers in our group.

Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives Robert Moore from the heart of the Delta in Arkansas City gave a presentation about his views on economic development, including the potential of tourism for promoting the regional economy. Speaker Moore has been doing great work in the legislature and is at the center of the flooding situation because Arkansas City as you know is on the Mississippi River. Speaker Moore has expressed confidence that the levees will be maintained and southeast Arkansas will survive this crisis. The Speaker introduced Gov. Mike Beebe.

Gov. Beebe again mostly focused on the flooding and gave us an up-to-the minute report on the flooding along the White and Mississippi rivers. He especially paid tribute to the many Arkansans who volunteered and went to other areas of the state to help those hit the hardest by the flooding. The governor also gave a strong endorsement for renewable energy as a way to promote the Delta’s economic progress.

Lee Powell, Caucus director, led a panel focusing on the question “Why does it make sense to take a regional approach to the Delta’s development? What’s the point of regionalism?” This would seem to be a conclusion that everyone would agree to, but surprisingly there is still a lack of appreciation among too many people about why it is more effective to join forces in a regional coalition to work on issues like support for the DRA, transportation systems, flooding, economic growth, energy and other key issues.

Mike Marshall, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman from Missouri, summarized many of the DRA’s accomplishments in the field of regional development. He emphasized that the responses to the flooding were a classic example of the value of regionalism. The entire Mississippi River system is connected, and what happens to water levels in Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, have a direct impact on water levels in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Larry Williams, CEO of the Delta Citizens Alliance (DCA) based in Greenville, Mississippi but active in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, is one of the Delta’s leading advocates for regionalism. The DCA is active in a large stretch of the heart of the Delta and is one of the key partners of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

Larry Williams gave a broad-minded picture of the new forms of leadership that need to be pursued to create a brighter future for the Delta region. Larry practices what he preaches, as was demonstrated by collaborating with the Delta Caucus in posting messages on their website at (please go to the blog) while the Delta Caucus is planning a major renovation and changes in our website. The DCA was one of the sponsors of this event and Larry has been an invaluable and steady partner for the Delta Caucus in recent years. Lee Powell praised DCA’s work, and emphasized that the Delta Caucus welcomes more participation by newer organizations and recognizes that “we are not the only game in town but are one among many organizations working for positive change in our region.”

Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena has a long and distinguished record in the Delta regional movement. He worked for US Senator Dale Bumpers and then Governor Bill Clinton on the original Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission, then served as a state senator in the east Arkansas Delta, and was one of the key leaders of the old Arkansas Delta Caucus, one of the forerunners to the present Delta Grassroots Caucus organization. Kevin’s strategic contribution, among others, is to remind us that we cannot always be effective advocates for our region if we always take the attitude that we have to meekly ask for help from the powers that be and accept quietly whatever decision they make. On many occasions the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the grassroots leaders need to be vocal at times both in the region and in the halls of national power in Washington, DC. Kevin Smith emphasized to the group the importance of not only participating at these major conferences but also remaining in communication with the powers that be in a constant, week by week, month by month and year after year program of advocacy for the region.

Jerry Smith of the Arkansas State University economic development center spoke on the value of regionalism based on his many years of experience in doing constructive development work in the region. ASU is one of the major academic institutions in the entire region and has been a strong supporter of the Delta regional movement for many years. Jerry Smith discussed the value of having a number of communities pool their resources in a collaborative way to open up opportunities that otherwise might not be utilized. Jerry Smith and ASU have been very helpful in their expertise in many community and economic development projects throughout the Delta for many years and we greatly appreciated their collaboration.

Rex Nelson, president of Arkansas Independent Universities and Colleges and former DRA Alternate Federal Co-Chairman introduced Congressman Rick Crawford. Rex Nelson has played a constructive role for many years as a senior aide to Gov. Mike Huckabee, at the DRA and in his current role. Rex is also a syndicated columnist and has written a number of excellent columns on the historic flooding that we would encourage you to find on Google and read. One site where that is available is at the Arkansas News bureau website,, and go to the link for Rex Nelson’s Southern Fried blog, which often has many excellent reports about the Delta.

Congressman Rick Crawford (R-AR) is the new US Representative representing the First District in Arkansas, which contains a large section of the Delta. Congressman Crawford gave a very fine presentation in support of the Delta Regional Authority, demonstrating what we believe is now the strongest level of bipartisan support for that agency in its 10-year history. Congressman Crawford also gave an update about the terrible flooding in his district, including the White and Mississippi rivers. Rep. Crawford continue to work hard on disaster relief and recovery and we appreciated his participation at the conference.

Kay Goss, former Associate Director of FEMA under President Clinton and now a senior executive at the SRA corp. in the Washington, DC area is one of the most knowledgeable disaster relief experts not only nationally but internationally. She provided a great deal of information at the luncheon about disaster relief and the flooding and we will continue to stay in touch with her regarding this disaster. She has been called upon in all the major emergencies that have struck our region from Hurricane Katrina to the BP oil spill to the current flooding and is always an excellent resource. She is also working with James Miller on the Community Health House Network, which Afghanistan recently expressed interest in adopting to address their health care needs in rural impoverished areas.

The Hon. Rodney Slater was US Secretary of Transportation for President Clinton and the leader of the Clinton administration’s Delta Regional Initiative that led to the creation of the DRA as well as the establishment of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, which is based upon the networks and relationships created during the Clinton administration. Secretary Slater first gave an eloquent inspirational presentation encouraging the Delta Caucus to continue giving a voice to economically distressed areas in the Delta. He also gave a substantive analysis of some specific transportation issues including I-69 and several other policy initiatives.

Secretary Slater is now a partner at the renowned firm of Patton Boggs in Washington, DC, which has strong ties to the Delta region.

We have mentioned James Miller and the innovative Community Health House Network initiative. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and other Members of Congress from the region are supportive of funding a series of these Health Houses throughout the Delta region through the pot of funding for preventive care in the health care reform bill. The Health Houses began in the state of Mississippi and are extremely helpful for dealing with health care issues generated by disasters such as flooding, and we urge all the Delta Caucus partners to ask your Members of Congress to join in the bipartisan effort to fund a major expansion of Health Houses across the Delta.

Heifer International was one of the major cosponsors for this conference and we deeply appreciate their participation every year. Tamidra Marable works in the east Arkansas Delta on a series of excellent initiatives in the fields of economic development, promoting better nutrition, farmers’ markets and other beneficial activities. We plan to send out more information about Heifer’s activities in the Delta to go into the specifics of their innovative work and that message will be going out in the next couple of weeks.

State Senator Jack Crumbly represents a district in the heart of the Delta in east Arkansas. He is a leader on a variety of issues including education and job creation, and is the chair of the committee on minority health issues in Arkansas. He is an excellent role model because he has lost a substantial amount of weight in order to improve his health, and we know that so many people in our region need to follow his example. He especially emphasized the value of preventive care.

In so many health problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other maladies, getting regular check-ups and engaging in preventive care is very inexpensive. If preventive care is not done, the costs later on will become massive. Senator Crumbly noted the disturbing fact that the life expectancy of a child born in the heart of the east Arkansas Delta is fully 10 years below the life expectancy of a child born in the much more prosperous northwest Arkansas area. We would encourage everybody to listen to the message of Senator Crumbly on health issues, especially in prevention, and we want to do whatever we can to help get that profound message out across the Delta. We greatly appreciate Senator Crumbly’s eloquent presentation.

Natalie Jayroe is CEO of the CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, and she is engaged in the vital and extremely challenging work of responding to the stresses placed upon New Orleans and nearby areas by their multiple disasters in recent years in Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and the BP oil spill–and now we still do not yet know what the impact of the flooding will be in the New Orleans area. That area has always had serious pockets of poverty and food insecurity, but it was greatly worsened by the devastation inflicted by Katrina and then the oil spill. The Gulf Coast Louisiana has been devastated by catastrophes twice in the span of five years. We need to understand that this recovery will be lasting for many years to come.

This food bank serves an enormous area and the economic losses from the oil spill and Katrina placed great strains on the neediest of the needy people in this area. We would encourage all of our partners throughout the region to support the efforts ot the Greater New Orleans Food Bank. We had many of our people go to New Orleans to volunteer after Katrina. If additional volunteers are needed now we will do so again. We want to commend the great work of Natalie Jayroe, Mike Kantor and all the people at the Greater New Orleans Food Bank who are engaged in the beneficial task of helping the people in that area struggling to get access to a nutritious, affordable supply of food.

Congressman Tim Griffin was kind enough to take time from what was an unusually busy schedule for him that Friday to come by and speak briefly. He stated his strong support for the Delta Regional Authority, and again this is another indication that the DRA has attained levels of bipartisan support that are the strongest the agency has ever enjoyed. We also appreciate Congressman Griffin’s participation because he represents Little Rock and the central Arkansas Congressional district, and it is very important that we want to include Little Rock in our efforts and encourage them to see themselves as part of the region, and NOT as a more prosperous, urban area that sees itself as being apart from the region just to the east. Congressman Griffin’s presence and statement of support were thus very helpful in that way and we appreciated his participation.

President Fitzgerald of Arkansas Baptist College gave us an eloquent message about his college’s work for the Delta, particularly in the field of literacy. This problem multiplies all the other problems we have in the region, and unfortunately it is far more extensive than many people realize. Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, for example, reports that one in four people in his county suffer from illiteracy. President Hill gave the poignant example of elderly people or others who have serious medical conditions, and their doctors and nurses will give them their prescriptions and tell them to follow the directions printed on them. Most of them are too proud to admit they are illiterate and therefore they cannot read the directions, and their health problems persist and they are back in the hospital shortly afterward as a result.

President Hill is active in many communities in the Delta such as Helena-West Helena, Arkansas and Lake Providence, Louisiana, among others. He had the idea of using the UAPB-Grambling football game to help raise funds for literacy centers in the Delta. He humorously but accurately stated that you will not get 50,000 people to attend a chemistry lecture, but you will get 50,000 people to go to a college football game. By adding one dollar to the admission price to fund literacy centers, President Hill’s idea raised $50,000 to combat literacy in the Delta.

We can truly say that the panel led by President Hill said more in a short period of time than many others did. All the speakers at the conference were very good but President Hill and the people on this panel were unusually eloquent.

President Hill led a panel focusing largely on faith-based initiatives in the Delta, such as Arkansas Baptist College’s activities not only in fighting literacy but in many other areas, such as recruiting people from the Delta and giving them a chance to get a college education.

President Hill and one of his professors, Karen Buchanan, a long-time leader in education in Arkansas, spoke about their efforts to recruit non-traditional students and give them an opportunity to succeed where others had not. They cited success stories of students who originally did not have the academic requirements colleges have traditionally considered necessary to gain admission, but who eventually learned a lot through determination and the encouraging and innovative atmosphere provided by Arkansas Baptist College (ABC).

We were also honored to hear from Anitha Kobusingye, a young student from Rwanda who is now studying at Arkansas Baptist College. Rwanda as we all know was torn by one of world history’s worst cases of genocide. The world community tragically did not intervene to take effective action and large numbers of people were murdered as a result. We say this to remind people that we are all inter-related in this world and we all have a responsibility for better or worse. Rwanda has recently stabilized and is now a safe place to live. President Hill has traveled to that fine African country on a number of occasions and is developing ties to that country. He has two students from Rwanda who are now getting an education at Arkansas Baptist College. Anitha Kobusingye is a dynamic speaker and we were honored that she spoke to our group.

Mollie Palmer of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Together for Hope anti-poverty initiative in Helena-West Helena talked about some of her activities in that very fine Delta community on the Mississippi River. The Delta Jewels program teaches teen-aged girls how to produce items for sale and become gainfully employed as a result.

This program is teaching many young people in the economically distressed area of Helena-West Helena how to learn job skills and become productive. This is a model program that should be replicated in many other areas across the Delta. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was one of the major cosponsors for this project, and we greatly appreciate our cooperation from Arkansas coordinator Ray Higgins, Catherine Bahn, Mollie Palmer, Charles Ray, Carolyn Staley and other leaders affiliated with CBF’s work in the Delta.

We have mentioned Terrance Clark’s productive work for the Phillips County small business incubator project, for which he is one of the key managers along with his business partner Will Staley of the nonprofit THRIVE organization. They are working with foundations and other larger organizations, but we ought to recognize that without people doing the work on the ground in places like Phillips County, such projects would not be able to thrive.

Terrance Clark and Will Staley are also role models for our brightest youth, and are similar to Catherine Bahn and Mollie Palmer in this respect–in that they have chosen to work in the heart of the Delta. Many people tend to go to urban and more prosperous areas like Dallas, St. Louis, and Chicago, but these young people are demonstrating that there can be tremendous professional rewards in going to work in smaller, economically distressed areas in the rural Delta. With young leaders like these, there will come a day in the future when our region’s economic outlook is much brighter.

Last but not least, long-time Delta regional advocate Alan Gumbel spoke about the great work of another faith-based institution, the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association in Memphis, Tennessee, which was founded shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to deal with diversity and poverty issues in that major city. While we recognize that the worst poverty in the region is in rural and small-town areas, we believe it is very important for Memphis, Little Rock, Jackson, Mississippi, Baton Rouge, LA and other urban areas to see themselves as part of the region.

Alan Gumbel is a major voice helping our efforts in that regard in the great city of Memphis. Mr. Gumbel worked for then Governor Bill Clinton on economic development projects in the 1980s, was a key staff member on the original Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission, worked with us on the Clinton administration’s Delta Regional Initiative and the “Delta Vision, Delta Voices” conference led by President Clinton, Secretary Slater, Clinton administration personnel like Lee Powell and many others in May, 2000, and since then has been a strong supporter of the Delta Grassroots Caucus activities. Alan Gumbel now has an important post with the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and they made an excellent choice in placing him in that position. We deeply appreciate Alan Gumbel’s many dedicated services to our region for so many years.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTING–While the top priority of the conference was disaster relief and economic recovery, Congressional districting was also covered. Lee Powell opened up by summarizing the importance of Congressional redistricting in Arkansas. Three counties were added to the First District (Desha, Chicot and Lincoln counties, as well as a small part of Jefferson County) to assure that the First maintains a majority influence of Delta counties.

The Delta Caucus successfully resisted moving all of the Fourth District DRA areas–including Pine Bluff, Bradley and many other DRA counties somewhat farther west, on the grounds that there needs to be some influence from the Delta in the Fourth District. With Pine Bluff, Ashley and Drew counties and the other DRA counties still in the Fourth, whoever represents that district now and in the future cannot afford to ignore the DRA section of that district.

Originally there was discussion of the possibility of moving Ashley and Drew counties to the First District. The Delta Grassroots Caucus partners were informed that most people in those two counties were deeply in favor of staying in the Fourth District, so the testimony to the legislature in its final form requested that Lincoln, Desha and Chicot counties but NOT Ashley and Drew be moved.

Powell and Desha County Judge Mark McElroy testified to the Arkansas legislature on these issues. The final Congressional map was a compromise and Delta Caucus partners generally agreed with parts of it and disagreed with other parts of the map. The Delta partners generally agreed that Speaker of the House Robert Moore and Rep. Clark Hall from Phillips County had worked tremendously hard and did a very fine job under difficult circumstances. A compromise will necessarily have some components that some will disagree with and some components that others will agree or disagree with. Reps. Moore and Hall did a very fine job.

Powell and McElroy testified only about the eastern half of Arkansas, since western and northwestern Arkansas is too different from the Delta to be considered part of the same region.

Thanks very much. The Washington, DC Delta conference will be Oct. 25-27, 2011. We will be sending out a series of messages about particular presentations at the May conference at the Clinton Center. Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347