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.

8 Major Political Leaders, over 100 Attendees, Oct. 30-31 Delta Caucus in Helena

Posted on November 11, 2014 at 04:40 PM

The annual fall Delta Grassroots Caucus conference at historic Beth El Heritage Hall in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas attracted well over 100 attendees for either all or parts of the program, eight major candidates and/or Members of Congress, former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and grassroots leaders from across the region.

It is always important to have a dialogue with elected officials and political powers that be about the grassroots coalition’s concerns regarding key community and economic development issues. We were glad to have an equal number of Republican and Democratic leaders for this bipartisan event: Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), Mike Ross (D-AR), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), and Mayor Jackie McPherson (D-AR).

This was a strong turnout and we were glad to meet in a relatively small, heartland Delta community for a change of pace. We were impressed that we were able to get so many high-level political leaders to take time out of their hectic schedules during a very busy election campaign season to come to the event in Helena-West Helena.

(Note: Delta Caucus partners will hold some informal gatherings at the Clinton Presidential Library’s Nov. 14-16 10th Anniversary celebration at the Holiday Inn Presidential’s Camp David Restaurant at breakfasts, happy hour and the evenings. If you are going to the Clinton Library event, please drop by the Holiday Inn Presidential for an opportunity to visit in a relaxed setting.)


  1. Appreciation for Helena-West Helena community leaders’ support

  2. Delta Grassroots Caucus urges continued support and funding for Arkansas’ innovative private option health care plan

  3. Distinguished leaders on women and children’s issues

  4. Distinguished Mississippi participants

  5. Additional best practices and role models for development in the region

  6. Delta leader David Solomon is recovering nicely

Great support from Helena-West Helena community leaders:

We would like to extend a special message of appreciation to the many community leaders in the Helena-West Helena area, including Mayor Arnell Willis, Julia Malinowski of the Helena Advertising & Promotion Commission (one of the two lead sponsors along with Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas), Katie Harrington and other staff members of the Delta Cultural Center, Munnie Jordan, Kevin Smith, state Rep. Chris Richey, Becky and Clark Hall, Ernest and Cathy Cunningham, Phillips County Judge Don Gentry, City Attorney Chalk Mitchell, the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce, Bernadette Messina, Lynn Chadwick, and many others from the local area who were helpful in many ways.

We would like to give a special thanks to Martha Ellen Black, executive director of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in southeast Missouri, for coming down from Missouri to help coordinate the logistics, and they did a great job as always.

Help support the Delta Cultural Center: At every conference we select a good cause to encourage charitable donations to, and in this case it was logical to choose the Delta Cultural Center, which was one of our key hosts for this event, is based in Helena-West Helena but does many constructive activities all across eastern Arkansas. We encourage our partners to go on the website of Sharemeister, a new firm that finds innovative, entertaining ways to encourage donations to good causes at and make a donation on their social giving platform.

The Delta Cultural Center Challenge will continue on through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. On the Sharemeister website, this challenge is divided into the West Delta Team, which includes such institutions as Arkansas State University, Grambling, the LSU Tigers, Arkansas Razorbacks, Missouri Tigers, UAPB, UA-Monticello, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas and other great institutions.

Lee Powell, Caucus director, challenged the West Delta Team to beat the East Delta team in making contributions to the Delta Cultural Center on the website, emphasizing that in comparison to the great institutions just cited in the West, all the East can muster are Ole Miss, Mississippi State, University of Memphis, the Alabama Crimson Tide and other schools that very few people have ever heard of (smile). Powell predicts a landslide victory in this competition for the West Delta Team.

We would like to thank Rodney Slater, President Clinton’s US Secretary of Transportation and now a partner at the nationally prestigious firm of Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, DC for an eloquent and inspirational presentation on the great importance of continuing the Delta grassroots coalition’s work in advocating for the region’s community and economic progress. This was a homecoming for Secretary Slater, since he grew up in the heart of the Delta in the nearby town of Marianna, Arkansas.

Helena-West Helena speakers: We would like to thank the Helena-West Helena leaders who did a great job of speaking about their promising work for a brighter future for the Delta, including Mollie Palmer of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Together for Hope program, Will Staley of the nonprofit Thrive, Scott Shirey of KIPP Delta schools, Rhonda St. Columbia, Vice Chancellor for College Advancement, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, and Mayor Arnell Willis who introduced Asa Hutchinson and Kevin Smith, who introduced Mike Ross.

Support for the private option health care plan in Arkansas:

The Delta Caucus supports the private option health care plan in Arkansas, which over the past year had the largest reduction in the number of uninsured people of any state in America. More than 211,000 people in the state now have insurance that did not have it before. Gov. Mike Beebe has stated that $89 million of his proposed budget is based on savings from the private option, and budgetary gains over the next 10 years is estimated at $670 million.

The Arkansas Hospital Association’s CEO, Bo Ryall, spoke at the luncheon in favor of the private option due to its great benefit to the hospitals across Arkansas. Three fourths of the Arkansas legislature including many members from both parties supported it in the last two years, as have Gov. Mike Beebe, the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, and many other Arkansans.

We have worked well with legislators from both parties, including state Sen. David Sanders and Sen. Jonathan Dismang among Republicans, as well as Delta Caucus Vice Chairman and Representative from southeast Arkansas, Mark McElroy, and Rep. Chris Richey of Helena-West Helena.

We have encouraged Governor-Elect Asa Hutchinson to support the private option as governor in a letter sent to him a few days ago. He has promised to engage in an intensive review and indicated he understands the benefits to the state budget and increased health insurance coverage.

Most of the Delta Caucus partners are supportive of changes, improvements and reforms in the private option as this complex but highly beneficial new program continues to develop, but there is a strong consensus in favor of revising and improving it rather than abolishing it altogether.

Gov.-Elect Hutchinson has just appointed State Sen. Pro Tempore Michael Lamoreaux, a supporter of the private option when he was in the legislature, as his Chief of Staff. This has to be an encouraging sign for the private option’s future. Sen. Lamoreaux will leave his post in the legislature, of course, to become the new governor’s chief of staff.

We greatly appreciated Asa Hutchinson’s participation at the Delta conference in Helena at the height of the election campaign when he had many other demands on his time. He has participated at every one of our events when we have invited him over the years and always gives thoughtful, informal presentations.

The private option health care plan in Arkansas has been widely spoken of as models for other states who want to make changes tailored to their states’ needs in the national Affordable Care Act, which allows for modifications by the states.

Distinguished leaders on women and children’s issues:

We would like to thank our many distinguished women leaders who played a major role at the conference, starting with our senior adviser Kay Goss, Associate Director of FEMA for President Clinton, nationally recognized disaster relief expert, educator, and author of a new, critically acclaimed biography of Congressman Wilbur Mills: Mr. Chairman: The Life and Legacy of Wilbur Mills. Kay Goss is also chairman of the University of Arkansas J. William Fulbright College Fundraising Campaign for 2020.

We are supporting Secretary Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton’s No Ceilings initiative for uplifting women and girls across the globe. When women do better social, politically and economically everybody benefits, and women and children unfortunately have alarmingly high poverty rates in our region so some special attention to women and children’s issues is logical and much needed in our region nowadays.

We would like to thank our impressive line-up of women leaders, including:

• Millie Atkins, Public Policy Manager for Century Link’s broadband expansion program based in Monroe, Louisiana but active across Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi in the Delta,

• Vanessa Sneed of the Southern Illinois University Paul Simon Public Policy Institute,

• Martha Ellen Black, director of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in East Prairie, Missouri,

• Lynette Watts, executive director of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas,

• Anna Strong, Executive Director for Child Advocacy and Public Health at Arkansas Children’s Hospital,

• Mildred Barnes Griggs of Arkansas Delta Seeds of Change program,

• Karama Neal of Southern Bancorp Community Partners,

• Charita Johnson of the nonprofit Shiloh Distribution Center based in Lexington, Tennessee,

• Gina Winchester, who engages in a wide variety of regional outreach activities for Murray State University in western Kentucky, including an innovative program for expanding broadband access,

• and the women’s leaders from Helena-West Helena mentioned above.

Henry Snorton, director, Minority Economic Development Initiative (MEDI) in western Kentucky. It is important to emphasize that with the large number of single women heading households, the fact that we have many more two-income households nowadays, and the greater economic participation of women, it is not just women who take important actions regarding deepening economic opportunities for women. Henry Snorton of MEDI in western Kentucky has a broad range of activities for promoting greater economic participation for women and minorities in our region.

Mississippi leaders:

Helena’s central location in the region just across the Mississippi River from the state of Mississippi facilitated participation from Sen. Thad Cochran, Rep. Travis Childers as well as grassroots leaders from that state, including:

• Mayor Bill Luckett of Clarksdale, Mississippi, a distinguished attorney and one of our region’s most dynamic mayors; Mayor Luckett is a former Democratic nominee for governor in Mississippi;

• Justin Burch of the Foundation for the Mid-South, based in Jackson, Mississippi and active across the entire region on a range of community and economic development initiatives;

• George Miles of Rural LISC based in Greenville, Mississippi; Rural LISC is one of the major regional and national foundations promoting community and economic development for the Delta and rural America as a whole;

• Representatives of Coahoma Community College, one of the major colleges based in Clarksdale, Mississippi, playing a vital role in promoting the development of a well-educated, well-trained workforce;

• Suzette Matthews of Teach For America based in Cleveland, Mississippi; Teach for America is a great institution promoting better education in the region and we were also glad to have Chintan Desai, Manager for Community Partnerships for Teach for America in the Arkansas Delta.

Additional best practices and role models for development in the region

We would like to give a special thanks to Robert Culler, Vice President of First State Bank & Trust, for his presentation about his bank’s invaluable community service in the Caruthersville, Missouri area in reducing high school dropouts and teen pregnancy, and improving opportunities for home-ownership in their local area. Bob Culler is a great role model in having grown up in a lower-income family that instilled the work ethic and dedication to all their members, leading to four of the six children graduating from college and Mr. Culler leading a distinguished career in the banking field.

First State Bank & Trust has been a stalwart partner for the Delta Caucus for many years now and we would like to express our appreciation to all our colleagues at the bank and our other Missouri colleagues like Martha Ellen Black of Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center (mentioned above) in southeast Missouri, and Mike Marshall, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority from Sikeston, Missouri. Mike Marshall took time out from his busy schedule to be there at the conference and that is greatly appreciated.

We would like to extend our appreciation to two Arkansas leaders who are conducting programs that we believe are best practices and role models for development in the Delta:

• Calvin King of Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, who spoke at the conference regarding his organization’s highly constructive work in helping small farmers, enhancing housing opportunities and other innovative initiatives across eastern Arkansas. Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corp. and Calvin King have received a great deal of recognition for their accomplishments in the Arkansas Delta.

–Matthew Pelkki, University of Arkansas at Monticello spoke about a project in Monticello for using wood pellets as a source of renewable energy to create jobs and develop alternative sources of energy in the Delta.Demand in Europe for the wood pellets that energy companies there use to generate electricity, led to a doubling of US exports of the pellets last year, from 1.6 million tons in 2012 to 3.2 million tons in 2013. Zilkha Biomass Energy LLC of Houston announced in July that it would build a $90 million facility creating 52 jobs in Monticello. Matthew Pelkki and UAM are leaders in this field of renewable energy, and the Monticello Economic Development Foundation and other local leaders are playing important roles in the project.

Media coverage: There were articles about the conference in the Arkansas News Bureau, Arkansas Times, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Clarksdale, Mississippi Press Register, and other papers in Helena, Pine Bluff, southern Arkansas and elsewhere.

We knew there would be a trade-off between meeting in the heart of the Delta and much larger locations like Little Rock and Memphis where television stations are based in the local area, making it easier for them to come to the conference; but practicing what we preach about the importance of convening in a smaller, Delta heartland community was well worth that trade-off. We appreciated the media coverage we did get, noted above. We were honored to meet in Helena-West Helena.

David Solomon, Helena attorney and community leader, is recovering nicely:

Unfortunately we were unable to have a presentation from David Solomon, a distinguished attorney, community leader and grand old man of the Delta, because he had an accident in his golf cart. Lee Powell spoke with him shortly before the conference and learned that he hurt his ribs in a minor accident but is recovering nicely, and we are glad to hear that.

Powell had spoken with President Bill Clinton at a September Clinton Foundation event in Washington, DC and told him that at the age of 98 David Solomon still goes to the office every day and was scheduled to speak at the Helena event. President Clinton said “Wow, I’ll write him a note,” and he did so.

David Solomon was a supporter of President Clinton earlier in his career when he was a rising young star in Arkansas politics, and in the President’s note he reminisced about their earlier days together and ended by telling Mr. Solomon, “You are amazing.”

David Solomon is one of the last remaining members of the historic former synagogue where we convened, Beth El Heritage Hall. It once had 400 members but is now down to only four, but it is a beautiful building and we all treasure the great contributions of the Jewish community in Helena-West Helena, in addition to all the other ethnic and community groups.

Solomon joked to Powell that “Well, I’m sure the meeting will just have to be called off since I can’t speak.” But then they started thinking that well, we do have Members of Congress and grassroots leaders from eight states coming-, so maybe we should go ahead and hold it anyway.

Solomon said he was recovering and Lee Powell-whose late father James O. Powell was an old friend of Solomon’s-joked that “As tough as you are, we’re sure you’ll be fine, but how is the golf cart that was in the accident doing?” As it turns out, Mr. Solomon survived the accident better than his golf cart did.