Get Social

Delta Video. Guitar Image

In the Delta, People Make the Community

March 12, 2024
From education to housing to financial literacy, Delta residents are invested in the future

What makes a community special?

For some, “special” could mean a unique history, a high quality of life or great arts and culture. All worthy attributes. But above all, what I believe makes a community special are its people.

For me, there is no more special place than the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. It’s a community that greets you with a smile, and makes you feel like family.

Meet the People Unlocking the Delta's Potential
The Arkansas-Mississippi Delta is a region ripe with talent. But like so many rural parts of America, its potential is often overlooked. The Walton Family Foundation is committed to supporting the exceptional people building lasting impact here. We’re proud to share the stories of the incredible people changing their communities for the better.

It’s a rural community that can be hard to find if you aren’t looking for it. It’s not on the cover of every newspaper.

But the folks residing in the Delta are committed to changing their communities for the better through access to a great education and economic mobility. This includes a new generation of young leaders bringing fresh energy and innovative solutions to the table.

They are committed because the Delta is their pride. Their joy. Their home.

The Walton Family Foundation has actively supported the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta since our founding more than 30 years ago. Today, we too remain committed to the exceptional people building lasting impact here.

Providing a great education is one key to unlocking opportunity for today's young people in the Delta. That includes supporting graduating students with multiple pathways to success, and creating a quality pipeline of educators that have the tools they need to succeed.

Teach Plus. Sanford Johnson 1
Sanford Johnson is executive director of Teach Plus in Mississippi. The organization empowers teachers to take the lead on education practices so they can better serve their students.

Local advocates like Sanford Johnson are leading the charge. The Mississippi executive director of Teach Plus, Sanford empowers teachers to take the lead on education practices so they can better serve their students. Through an annual fellowship, Teach Plus selects 20 new teachers to learn how decisions are made at the local, state and federal level. “If we give great teachers the knowledge and skills needed … they can be incredible advocates for education.”

Sanford says their advocacy is driven by listening to the educators in his community. Recently, teachers have been telling him that they need better pay to stay and raise a family here, and more mental health support for both their colleagues and students. They are also especially concerned about improving literacy and expanding future options for students after they graduate.

Reading Road Map. Tauren Morton 1
Taurean Morton is the Mississippi state director for Reading Roadmap.

Another changemaker is Reading Roadmap, an after-school program designed to improve early reading proficiency among the Delta’s youngest learners. The program operates in four Clarksdale public schools, targeting students who fall in the bottom 25% of Mississippi’s standardized assessment.

Reading RoadMap student
Reading Roadmap is an after-school program operating in four Clarksdale, Mississippi schools. It aims to improve early reading proficiency among students with low standardized test scores.

“I think about our kids here like folks mining for gold out West,” says Taurean Morton, the program’s state director. “There’s something buried beyond the human eye, and it’s going to take the right tools and sweat equity to dig it up. But if you’re able to retrieve it, the reward is going to change your life forever.”

Pam Chatman struck gold for her community in another way – connecting people directly with well-paying jobs in nearby towns and cities.

“A lot of people here don't drive. They don’t have cars. So that’s a barrier for us,” she says.

Boss Lady Transportation 1
Boss Lady Transportation is a nonprofit service providing workforce transportation for rural Delta residents to their jobs at FedEx facilities in the region.

First, Pam worked with nearby FedEx hubs in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, to recruit and hire Delta workers. Next, she created Boss Lady Transportation, a nonprofit workforce transportation service that brings workers from several small, Delta communities to and from work at FedEx each day.

“If you want a sustainable job with great benefits, then you need a reliable way to get there. Boss Lady takes them to the jobs, and they can still live right here in Clarksdale, Mississippi.”

Along with a well-paying job, home ownership and financial literacy are vital components of helping lift up families in the Delta. Pine Bluff resident Matt Mosler is doing just that for his community, a place he calls “the heartbeat of the Delta.”

Home Again Pine Bluff. Matt Mosler
Matt Mosler (right) speaks with Sara Johnson. Matt founded Home Again Pine Bluff in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to provide affordable housing options in the city. Matt's organization rents renovated homes to residents with a path to home ownership.

“Historically, Pine Bluff was the gateway. All roads led here. If we can revive that richness, that culture, people all over the Delta will notice.”

Matt started Home Again Pine Bluff several years ago to begin revitalizing the city block by block, and setting his low-income neighbors on the path to home ownership. Utilizing a local workforce, Matt renovates homes and rents them at below market value. He also engages tenants in financial literacy, homeownership and personal growth classes. After three to five years, tenants can purchase the property for half the appraised value.

“Once you own a house, you own your future. You own your city. You own your neighborhood. You can go from poverty to equity in just two years if you're willing to put forth the effort,” says Matt.

Local resident Deandra ‘Dee Dee’ Goal is participating in Home Again programming. “To have the opportunity to own a home is the most exciting thing I've ever felt,” she says. “With all the classes offered, I'll have the tools to keep the home up and build my finances. It's heartwarming to know that somebody out there cares about this community enough to give us this opportunity.”

Delta Circles is another local organization working to break the cycles that have historically held families back.

Delta Circles. Patricia Ashanti 1
Patricia Ashanti is the founder of Delta Circles, an organization focused on addressing issues of economic equity for Black women.

Women-led and founded by Patricia Ashanti, Delta Circles organizes classes centered on economic equity for Black women. Topics range from understanding the historic barriers to building financial security, to starting a business and creating stability through savings.

“It's all about creating an environment where people feel like whatever they're going through, they're not going through it alone,” says Patricia.

“These are women who oftentimes hold down two jobs. They are committed to creating change for their families. The group setting lets them know there are people here that support you, and it’s been such a blessing to watch people grow their lives through finances.”

The Walton Family Foundation recognizes that building a vibrant, equitable Delta for the long haul won't happen if we go at it alone. It will take a coalition of local, regional and national partners to find lasting solutions.

Local partners like Drew Smith are helping identify the good work already underway. “We know there are people doing good things every day here who are never in the spotlight,” he says. “Highlighting their work brings other people to the table that want to engage, but don't know how.”

Delta Magic
Drew Smith is president of Delta Magic, a community-building nonprofit based in Helena, Arkansas.

Drew is the co-founder of Delta Magic. The Helena, Arkansas-based nonprofit specializes in coalition building. It acts like a sounding board for community events and change.

“Essentially,” says Drew, “we want to make sure that people who need resources can find them and people that have resources can find their audience.”

The organization hosts everything from workshops and youth leadership classes, to reinvigorating neighborhood trick-or-treating.

Drew says he never wants anyone to feel excluded from all the exciting things happening in Helena. ‘We all have our social circles, but when information is only spread by word of mouth, it’s inherently inequitable. Whether it's an event, a scholarship, a new job or housing, we want to make sure that information is spread equitably.”

I invite you to get to know the Delta – and the people who make it special – a little better. I guarantee you this -- once you do, you will forever be changed.

Recent Stories