Friday, May 13, 2011

Cultural Heritage in Belzoni

Highway 49 is one of my favorite routes out of the Capitol City. Growing up in Greenwood, we always too Highway 55 south to Jackson. We hardly ever traveled 49 to the "City with Soul." Once I moved to Jackson and found myself living in the heart of the city, I started using 49 as my main thoroughfare to the Delta for work trips, and for pleasure.

I've been obsessed with the Flood of 2011, and rightfully so. My friends and brethren in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, as well as Memphis and eastern Lousiana, are having a tough time watching the waters rise as they pack everything they own into trailers and haul it all to higher ground. Facebook, particularly this page, has been very helpful in keeping up with the developments surrounding the flood. I've also enjoyed following the photograghs posted by blogger Kallie Dreher on her site, Hello Delta.

I got to see some high water for myself yesterday, as I once again took 49 out of Jackson and headed northeast to Belzoni, Catfish Capitol of the World. My destination was the Hooper Community Center on Silver City Road, where I'd be meeting with Helen Sims, a lady who wears many hats. Today she was convening a meeting of the Culture-Heritage Consortium, a grassroots organization that works to promote heritage tourism in Belzoni and Humphreys County. Sims has started an entrepreneural training program for unemployed, underemployed and part-time workers. The program brings in guest speakers to share information about various avenues to economic development. I was a guest speaker for Thursday's meeting, and shared some ideas about heritage tourism in Mississippi, and the great potential to build a creative economy in Humphrey's County. I presented alongside Marvin Haire, director of the Delta Research and Cultural Institute at Mississippi Valley State University.

It was inspiring to see so many young faces in the crowd. While I realize these individuals were present because they are unemployed, underemployed or part-time, the ideas circulating through the room and the greater sense of pride in place was remarkable. One girl shared her love for designing and tayloring clothes, as well as a special barbeque marinade that she hopes to bottle and mass market to tourists. After the meeting we all gathered in the cafe at Hooper Community Center and shared an amazing meal of southern soul food. Truly, I tell you, the BEST butterbeans I've ever had. Hands down. Next time you are traveling 49, make sure to stop in the Hooper Community Center Cafe and get a good meal. They are open Monday-Friday for lunch. You'll thank me later!

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