Mississippi Humanities Council Newsletter - September 2017
Stuart Rockoff
MHC executive director
Director's Message
Finding the Humanities in
Charlottesville  and Houston

I have this odd tendency of generally assuming that everyone else has the same life experiences as me. My youngest child is 13 and I'm regularly surprised to see so many babies and young children since I assumed most people stopped having children when I did. I can't understand how restaurants that I rarely go to manage to stay in business. And I get to the sports bar early to watch the U.S.A. national soccer team play because I assume it will be packed with hundreds of people (it isn't).

This solipsistic worldview proves to be constantly wrong. We err when we fail to see that the world is larger than ourselves and that different people have different perspectives and experiences (and tastes in restaurants). The solution to this problem is the humanities, which help us understand the experiences of others and connect us to larger perspectives about the world.

This essential quality of the humanities has been on my mind lately. Last month, I watched white nationalists marching in Charlottesville advocating for a very narrow conception of our country's identity. They were unable to see beyond their own experience or see the humanity in those of a different race or religion. For white nationalists, America is a nation that was established on white Christian principles - any others serve only to weaken the country.

Contrast this vision of America with what we saw in southeast Texas during Hurricane Harvey. In Houston, my hometown, we saw people of all races and nationalities helping each other; both the rescuers and the rescued reflected the diverse demographics of 21st century America. But instead of reflecting a weakened America as white nationalists would argue, these incredible images of heroism and selflessness represented the best of our country and reminded me of another core value of the humanities, empathy.

Empathy offers an understanding of the basic struggles and triumphs of being human that cuts across race, ethnicity, and politics. For all of our racial and historical differences, we still share a common humanity. This idea has been central to most of the world's great religions and philosophies, and it forms the intellectual basis for the humanities.

How do we build a society shaped by human understanding rather than narrow tribal particularism? I suggest the humanities must play a crucial role.

How do we build a society shaped by human understanding rather than narrow tribal particularism? I suggest the humanities must play a crucial role. Here in Mississippi, the Humanities Council develops and funds programs that explore our common heritage while not shying away from the difficult parts of our history. Our programs help foster dialogue across differences and further greater understanding of different perspectives and experiences. We need to talk, listen to, and learn from each other in this time of hyper political and social division. This is not always easy, but as the events in Houston and Charlottesville have shown, our country is stronger when we work together and emphasize our common humanity. For all of our differences, we remain Mississippians, Americans, and human beings.
Ibram X. Kendi to Present Cora Norman Lecture

October 7 at 6 p.m. at the Jackson Planetarium, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., will present the Cora Norman Lecture. Author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the 2016 National Book Award, Dr. Kendi's lecture will explore the history of racism in Mississippi and the United States. This lecture is in conjunction with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra's performance of Treemonisha, an operetta written by Scott Joplin examining the experience of freed slaves and their hunger for education. The lecture will precede the symphony's concert.

The Cora Norman Lecture was established by the Mississippi Humanities Council to honor its founding executive director, who led the organization from 1972 until her retirement in 1996. According to MHC's current executive director, Dr. Stuart Rockoff, "Dr. Kendi is a perfect fit for the Cora Norman lecture because Dr. Norman 'stamped' the MHC from the beginning as an organization that would address our state's difficult racial history and serve all of its citizens. This was no small feat in 1970s Mississippi. Thus, bringing in one of our country's most celebrated historians on the subject of racism is a most appropriate way to honor Dr. Norman and her continuing influence on the life of our state."

Dr. Kendi's lecture is free and open to the public. It will be followed by the symphony's performance of Treemonisha next door at Thalia Mara Hall. Tickets for Treemonisha, which will feature the choirs of Jackson State University, Tougaloo College, and Mississippi College, can be purchased at msorchestra.com. This lecture is presented by the Mississippi Humanities Council in partnership with the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.
Mississippi Celebrates its Outstanding Humanities Educators

Every October the Mississippi Humanities Council, in conjunction with National Arts and Humanities Month, honors outstanding humanities instructors at our state institutions for higher learning. Humanities faculty at Mississippi's colleges and universities are engaged in significant work in their classrooms, nurturing students' capacity to think critically and creatively, to evaluate points of view, synthesize information and weigh evidence. They cultivate imagination in their students and help them develop the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills they will need to succeed in their personal lives and as participants in a democratic society. These instructors may only be selected by their college president or academic dean, based on the excellence of their humanities work in the classroom. Each nominee receives a cash award from the Mississippi Humanities Council and is asked to prepare and deliver a public lecture on a humanities subject during the months of October or November. All programs are free and open to the public. A full listing of programs, titles and dates will be available on the  MHC website soon. For more information, contact Molly Conway at mconway@mhc.state.ms.us.
Field Notes
Racial Equity Grant Fund

By Timothy Lampkin, Outreach Coordinator
Health disparities in Mississippi continue to be one of our biggest obstacles. We know M ississippi ranks last, or close to last, in almost every leading health outcome. Several of the health issues are directly tied to socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, geographic location, and other characteristics. It is also important to note the historic pattern of healthcare discrimination or exclusion. The lingering impacts of racism definitely show up in how people receive essential services to improve their quality of life. 
 
In 2015, the Mississippi Department of Health released a report highlighting the health care inequities across the state. We have noticed the concept of health equity being deployed as a way to address the disparities. The Healthy People 2020 initiative describes health equity as the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. 
 
We have been working to support public humanities based projects to explore honest dialogue about race in our state. Delta State University will host a public program about health equity and the significant role of the Delta Health Center based in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. We are excited to support this event on the campus of Delta State next Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. Four panelists, Dr. Thomas J. Ward Jr., John Fairman, Robin Cohn Boyles, and a Dr. Elanie Baker, will discuss the past, present, and future of the Delta Health Center as it celebrates 50 years since it first opened its doors. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to implement a racial equity project in your community. Please contact me via email  tlampkin@mhc.state.ms.us  to discuss our grant program. Our racial equity fund is supported the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
MHC Reading Program Receives Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi Funding

The Mississippi Humanities Council has received a grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi to support an MHC Luciérnagas reading program at the M.R. Public Library in Horn Lake. The grant funds will be used to purchase new books for the program and to engage a discussion leader and childcare attendant.

"We are thrilled to receive these grant funds from CFNM. This program has become
so popular in Horn Lake that the library has to turn away families. The funds to purchase new books will ensure that we can serve more families each week," said Caroline Gillespie, MHC program officer.

For the past eight years, the MHC has partnered with the M.R. Dye Public Library to bring its bilingual Luciérnagas program to families in the Horn Lake area. It has grown to become one of the MHC's largest and most successful reading programs and routinely serves 25 to 35 families.

For more information on the MHC's Family Reading Program, contact Caroline Gillespie at cgillespie@mhc.state.ms.us.

Join the Mississippi Humanities Council at Hal & Mal's in Jackson next Tuesday, September 26, for Ideas on Tap discussing "Should Mississippi Gamble on the Lottery?" Panelists will include Rep. Alyce Clarke, Rep. Mark Baker and Dr. Jameson Taylor from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. Jake McGraw of Rethink Mississippi will moderate.

The number of Chinese merchants and grocers steadily grew throughout the Mississippi Delta in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Marion Post Wolcott/Library of Congress
Grocery Stor(i)es
Life in Chinese Grocery Stores in the MS Delta

Grocery stores have played an integral role in the establishment and development of the Chinese presence in the Mississippi Delta. While issues of segregation and "equality" swirled in the communities right outside grocery store doors, the Chinese families were blending their heritage with their new environment. Using photographs and oral histories from the Delta State University Archives/Chinese holdings, DSU is developing a traveling exhibit focusing on the lives lived within grocery stores, concentrating primarily on the subjects of foodways and education. The project is supported by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council. The exhibit will be unveiled during the annual Mississippi Delta Chinese Reunion October 27-28 at Delta State University in Cleveland. While the majority of the Delta's grocery stores no longer stand, this resource will demonstrate how the Delta's Chinese influenced political and social change all from behind the doors and counters of their grocery stores.

This project will use images of interior and exterior grocery stores from the past with current images taken by Randy Kwan, combined with oral histories held in the University archives, as well as new material collected specifically for this project. In their own words and with their own images, the Mississippi Delta Chinese will tell their stories of existing "between black and white." Arranging these images in categories such as "foodways," "special events," "school days," etc., the images and text will provide a platform for today's learners to discuss the unique history as it relates to the Mississippi Delta Chinese.
 
Following the exhibit's debut during the Mississippi Delta Chinese Reunion, it will remain onsite at DSU for five weeks. It will then be available to travel to sites around the state, free of charge. The exhibit has been booked for the 1882 Symposium in Washington, D.C., for 2018 which usually occurs in early May. That event is hosted by the Alexandria Black History Museum this year. For information about bringing the exhibit to your community, please contact Emily Jones at the DSU Department of Archives and Museums at 662-846-4781 or ejones@deltastate.edu.
MHC-Sponsored Bicentennial Events Continue into Fall

With the state's bicentennial in full swing, the Mississippi Humanities Council continues to sponsor events celebrating Mississippi's 200 years of statehood. The GRAMMY Museum Mississippi will host an event titled "Take A Journey Through the Soul of American Music" September 26, which will include a live performance on the front lawn, education programs, and more based on the award-winning film and album, Take Me To The River. These events will celebrate Mississippi's music history and how this region laid the foundation for American music. Also on September 26, Mississippi Cultural Crossroads in Port Gibson will present Comfort My Soul: A Celebration of Gospel Music in Southwest Mississippi and Beyond. This event is a two-day gospel music conference and festival celebrating Mississippi's bicentennial during the National Gospel Music Heritage Month in Port Gibson.

Events in October include the Carrollton Pilgrimage and Pioneer Day Festival in Carrollton October 6 and 7, the Healthworks! Family Fun Bicentennial Festival in Tupelo October 7, and the Mississippi Craft Heritage Event at the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi in Ridgeland October 14.

For a full list of bicentennial events and program details, visit our website for an online calendar of events http://mshumanities.org/events/

Learn More
MHC Begins Fall Reading Programs Across the State

With school back in session, the fall season of MHC family reading programs is beginning to gear up around the state. Programs include Prime Time, a partnership with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and the MHC's bilingual Luciérnagas program. All of the programs are free for communities to host and provide 6-10-year-olds and their families with six to seven weeks of storytelling and humanities-based discussion around favorite children's books.

Luciérnagas began in Horn Lake at the M.R. Dye Public Library September 13 with a packed house of excited families. Later this month, Prime Time programs will begin at Parables Church in Meridian and Commonwealth Village in Jackson.

Support for these programs come from the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.

For more information on the MHC's Family Reading Program or to learn how to host a program in your community, visit our website or contact Caroline Gillespie at cgillespie@mhc.state.ms.us.
STAY CONNECTED: