Hot and humid, endlessly flat, the red earth stained with the history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and racial prejudice, the Mississippi Delta is like no other place in the United States. Its history – the center for white supremacy in the deep South, a hotbed of resistance during the Civil Rights Movement – runs deep, carving painful lines that impact the communities that still exist today. Mississippi is plagued by high rates of poverty and unemployment, with the worst health and education statistics in the country. These gaps in achievement are inextricably tied to racial systems of oppression – political, economic, educational, and social – that continue to negatively impact communities of color, and the youth that live there.
Each of the communities that compose the Mississippi Delta and Lauderdale county report between 40-80% of their population as African-American; each of these counties has staggering childhood poverty rates of 50-70%; each of these counties has disproportionately lower education achievement rates than Mississippi and the rest of the country. The average ACT score in these counties is a 15, compared to the state average of 18, and the national average of 21. Students consistently underperform on state required exams, and the average graduation rate is less than 67%. These grim statistics cannot be explained by pointing to the work of students. Instead, institutional issues that affect teacher quality, school resources & infrastructure, and community engagement, as well as generational poverty and trauma need to be explored to understand the dynamics at play.