Community Resource Development Conference – An Inside Look

Community Resource Development Conference – An Inside Look  

“Building strong communities from the inside out, doing it together, and doing it right,” was the underlining theme for the Alcorn State University Extension Program (ASUEP) 2012 Community Resource Development (CRD) Conference held Friday, October 26, in Jackson, Mississippi.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Beverly Divers-White, president of BSW Consulting and Technology and BSW Development of Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Divers-White, also, held the position of director of Communities of Opportunity in Jackson, Mississippi.

She addressed the leaders stating, “Leaders count the cause, leaders do their homework, leaders identify with communities, and leaders do not work for the people, they work with the people.” Dr. Divers-White emphasized that leadership inspires the spirit of cooperation, simultaneously refusing to have the enemies distract the 3P’s: “Policy, Practice and People.” She encouraged everyone to come together in order for their community to have a shared vision to develop short-term and long-term plans.

William M. Buster served as the luncheon speaker. Mr. Buster is the program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in charge of the place-based grant making in New Orleans, Louisiana. In this role, he is responsible for leadership and vision in program conceptualization, design, planning, management, coordination, communication, evaluation, and policy and learning of all grant making in New Orleans. Buster also works on the Racial Equity and Food, Health and Well-Being teams in partnership with others, serving as a convener, collaborator and catalyst. He contributes to the overall strategic direction for the Foundation, supports grant making in Mississippi and also serves on the Mission Driven Investment Committee.

The ASUEP, also, honored the legacy and life of two outstanding community advocates during the luncheon, Mr. Hollis Watkins and Mrs. Brenda Turner-Buck. Mr. Watkins received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Ms. Turner-Buck, the Up-and-Coming Pioneer Award.

Watkins is the co-founder and president of Southern Echo, Inc., a leadership development, education, training, and technical assistance organization dedicated to empowering local residents throughout Mississippi and the Southern region to make political, economic, educational, and environmental systems accountable to the needs and interests of the African-American community.

Turner-Buck received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in 1989 and 1992, respectively, from Alcorn State University. She worked at Alcorn State in different capacities, beginning as a recruiter and ending as director of the Center for Rural Life and Economic Development in 2006. She is one of the founders of AG-HOPE (Agriculture – Helps Our People Earn).

Dr. Lionel J. “Bo” Beaulieu, served as moderator of the general session, “Future Trends in Rural Communities”. The panel consisted of area constituents of Jackson, Mississippi: Dr. Isiac Jackson Jr., president, General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi, Inc.; Leroy Johnson, executive director, Southern Echo; Oleta Fitzgerald, director, Children Defense Fund, Southern Regional Office; Trina George, state director, Mississippi USDA Rural Development; Phil Hardwick, coordinator of Capacity Development, John C. Stennis Institute of Government, Mississippi State University; and Warren Yoder, executive director, Public Policy Center of Mississippi.

The panel addressed racial and ethnic diversity, discussed how to attract skilled workforce; spoke on economic vitality, broadband issues; and E-commerce.

Ms. Trina George, state director, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, discussed federal funding and how some local officials “just don’t know where to go get it in order to get their community into prosperity”. She stated that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and sometimes you have to look at different ways, invest from within, and some political leaders and school leaders need to be re-tooled.

During breakout sessions, the participants received valuable information on grant writing, estate planning, and funding sources for county government. The facilitators discussed objectives such as a smart approach, strategic planning, marketing plan, mission statements, and meeting the crucial deadlines for grant applications. Establishing trusts, wills, lands and preserving heir property was discussed.

Dr. Divers-White discussed the significance of community building and the process in how rebuilding a community begins and flourishes.

“Communities come in all sizes and are often described in terms like urban, rural, suburban, regional, or just city,” said Divers-White. “People live in communities. They maybe high rise, low rise, dangerous, safe, attractive and littered. People still live there regardless of the term used. Communities are where individuals live, connect and are responsible or should be responsible for one another.”

She continued, “Many communities – such as many of our communities in the Deep South –are deeply troubled places. At the root of the problems are the massive economic shifts that have occurred over the past two decades. Hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs have either disappeared or moved away from our country. Jobs that are now being created are highly professionalized and require elaborate education and credentials for entry. Others are routine, low paying service jobs without much of a future. New approaches to rebuilding people lives and communities and new openings for opportunity are a vital necessity. The solution for rebuilding the community begins with a clear commitment to discovering a community’s capacity, assets, and developing policy and procedures based on the lower income people and their neighborhoods. All too often when we think about people in our communities and think about community rebuilding, we look at it from a deficit point of view. Significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort.

Dr. Divers-White added, “This explains why communities are never built from the top down or from the outside in. Clearly valuable assistance can come from the outside but don’t ever fool yourselves that a federal grant or a foundation’s grant is going to transform a community. The prospect for large amounts of help from the outside really is pretty bleak right now. It is feudal to wait for significant help to arrive from outside the community. The hard truth is that development must start from within the community and in some instances there is no other choice.”

Dr. Divers-White stated that the idea that effective community development efforts evolve from the capacity and abilities of its citizens. “Even in the poorest neighborhoods, individuals and organizations represent resources upon which to build. Sometimes we discount many people who live and work and move about in our communities. The key in neighborhoods for generations is to locate all the available local assets and begin connecting them to one another in ways that multiply their power and effectiveness. This can begin the harvesting of the local institutions that are not yet available for local development purposes.”

“Community Development must be internally focused,” stressed Divers-White. “Community Development is also relationship driven. One of the central challenges for asset based development is to constantly build and rebuild the relationships between and among local residents, local associations, and local institutions. Nonprofits, businesses local government and citizens must be invested in the community or the community can’t progress. People must be willing to work
together. How people see themselves and one another has everything to do with their wellbeing and that of their community. Community building is not just about building buildings and businesses.”

It is about developing the talents and the skills of those in the community, she said.

“Community and Economic Development are about connecting the dots between people, land, and money,” said Divers-White. “It is about building on local assets to improve the local economy. The goals of community building are multifaceted and should include job creation, job retention, tax based creation and increase in property value, retention of wealth, reduction of poverty, economic stability, and economic self-sufficiency. Community building begins when there is a shared vision in the community. Where there is no vision the people perish.”

That vision must be developed into a strategic plan, which should include education and workforce development.

“Government cannot work independently of the schools and schools cannot be independently of government and the total community. Educational institutions develop the knowledge the skills and talents of the community present and future. Many of us in rural communities are educating our children to get out and leave the community. When are young and brightness leave the community we are developing a dead community.”

She furthered discussed what kinds of items are included in a well-prepared strategic plan for building a vital community.

“Infrastructure includes facilities and equipment for transportation, telecommunications, water and energy. These things improve the quality of life of the community,” she said. “Let me say if you are from a community that does not have ordinances that will require vacant buildings to be torn down, streets to be cleaned up, and vacant lots to be cleaned up where criminals often nest, then there is something wrong with the way your local government operates. These infrastructure kinds of things do not require any additional money. It requires a commitment on the part of the people who run your communities. If you want change, you are the change.”

When we start recruiting businesses and industries, we have to say to those businesses and industries we expect you to give back,” Divers-White concluded. “We expect you to hire the people that live in our community.”

During the luncheon, William M. Buster said, “We will have to stay focused on our challenges facing our communities. As an African proverb says, even the most distasteful thing can be eaten when you apply patience and fortitude. Anything can be accomplished. Our philosophy to whole community development will be with patience and fortitude on behalf of Mississippi’s vulnerable children.”

Buster talked about the importance of healthy and happy children and families. He emphasized how the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provides avenues to contribute to this endeavor.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families, and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society

“The Foundation believes and supports the notion that our children are the world’s future, and they depend on families, communities and society at large to nurture and protect them, and to give them a platform for independence and success,” Buster said. “All children should have an equal opportunity to thrive.

“I believe if we invest in the early success of our children and families, we can change the future of families in Mississippi overall,” he said. “We must combat poverty together. We need collaborative thinking and we need to work collaborative.
“We have so many problems all across the country,” Buster continued. “It is time for families and communities to unite together to solve our problems. It is rooted in prophecy that the community knows best.”

Greetings were provided by Mr. Thelman Boyd, assistant chief administrative officer, Mayor’s Office, Jackson, Mississippi, followed by Dr. Barry Bequette, dean and director of land-grant 1890 programs School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Sciences (AREAS) at Alcorn State.

“Alcorn’s involvement in Community Development is directly in line with the mission of the School of AREAS, to empower citizens educationally and socio-economically to enrich the quality of life for themselves and their respective Mississippi communities,” Dr. Bequette said. “The School of AREAS has a long history of promoting community and economic development, and the Community Resource Development Conference is a great avenue for us to reach a large number of citizens from across the state of Mississippi all at one time.”

Anthony Reed, interim assistant extension administrator and conference co-chairperson said, “This year’s 2012 Community Resources and Development Conference provided Mississippians and the surrounding states an opportunity to learn, share, establish and develop numerous partnerships with new and existing businesses. It, also, provided a forum where community leaders could talk one-on-one with funding agencies (federal, state and non-profits), faith-based organizations, and many others that could help address many of the community needs including health and wellness.”

Approximately 250 participants attended the conference.

“I want to express my appreciation to all the speakers, panelists, and attendees for making this conference an enormous success. It is my sincere hope that this marks the beginning of lasting relationships that will contribute to the progression of our communities,” said Ms. Katrina McLin, extension educator and conference chair.

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Photo 1: A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Hollis Watkins at the CRD Conference by alumna Melissa Faith Payne, WJTV anchor, and Anthony Reed, interim assistant extension administrator.

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Photo 2: Dr. Dalton McAfee, extension administrator, presents Up-and-Coming Pioneer Award to Brenda-Turner-Buck at the CRD Conference.