Delta Forum Brings Local Partners Together to Discuss Opportunities

Participants listen to a presentation at the Delta Regional Forum, held June 23 at the at the Coahoma County Higher Educational Center in Clarksdale. Submitted photo

Strategies to boost public health, local agriculture and community partnerships were among the issues discussed at the Delta Regional Forum, sponsored recently by the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies and the Delta Directions Consortium.

Some 100 participants gathered June 23 at the Coahoma County Higher Educational Center in Clarksdale for the Delta Regional Forum. Participants and panelists included Mississippi Delta nonprofits, community partners and local government officials.

The forum is an annual event that has been on hiatus due to COVID. However, this year is the first that a “Community Day,” focused on highlighting the work of local partners around identified topics and needs, has been included as part of the overall programming.

“The Delta Regional Forum has been a much-needed convening bringing together academics, practitioners and young people dedicated to solving some of the Delta’s most challenging problems,” said Tyler Yarbrough, an attendee and panelist. “Just three to four years ago, I was a Delta Scholar presenting on opportunities to add green spaces, sidewalks and parks in Clarksdale.

“This year I was back, presenting on my work with Partnership for a Healthier America to make fruits and vegetables more accessible, affordable and visible through community interventions focused on enjoying young people.”

The partnership plans to focus on Clarksdale and Coahoma County over the next year and then expand into neighboring Bolivar, Sunflower, Quitman, Tunica and Tallahatchie counties, he said.

“I’m glad the ‘Local Agriculture’ session I participated in helped to bring the nexus of public health and agriculture to the forefront of dialogues in this year’s forum,” Yarbrough said. “There is such a huge opportunity for Mississippi producers to supply the fruits and vegetables we consume from our retail stores.

“I also deeply value the networking opportunities that will ultimately help supercharge progress in the region.” 

Delta legal fellow Jillian Morrison worked with the Maddox Volunteer Center Hub, of Hernando, and other nonprofit partners to develop the “Community Day” program, which highlighted the work of community partners across the Mississippi Delta. Besides the local agriculture panel, other topics included “Art and Placemaking,” “Early Childhood Development,” “Cultural Storytelling” and “Family Supports and Mental Health.”

Besides highlighting the work of local partners, Community Day was also meant to show academic partners the importance of creating sustainable cooperative partners when working with community members.

“Local partners on the ground are already doing the work,” Morrison said. “The job of academic institutions is to support them and help connect them with the resources and expertise they want and/or need.

“When we are able to support each other in this way, we create the possibility of creating sustainable and meaningful change.”

The focus of this year’s event made it particularly meaningful, said Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center and Cutrer Mansion.

“Every year we look forward to hosting this event, but this year was particularly special thanks to the focus on community,” Waller said. “The range and breadth of topics and members included meant there was something available for everyone.”