We are enough!
When asked to speak in public, I often turn to my family for inspiration and colorful anecdotes to share. I turn to these stories because they helped to inform my earliest comprehension of some really big ideas, like safety, abundance, community, and love. Reflecting on my experience growing up in rural Mississippi allows me to relate an amorphous word, like education, and place it a tangible context. So, when asked to write about economic development, by the wonderful folks at ArtPlace, I began thinking about a story to make it real for me so that I can translate it into the real word.
I grew up in the town of Utica, Mississippi, which has a population of 840 in the town jurisdiction and about 4000 in the zip code, or county part of the town. My mother and father had six children and we lived about five minutes from my grandparents, which had ten grown children, all except for one lived within thirty minutes of their home. All of them had children, so I have a lot of first cousins.
My grandparents taught me a great deal about economic development. On just a few acres of land they were able to create an ecosystem of abundance. They raised chickens, turkeys, and ducks for meat and eggs, cows for milk, and hogs for meat. They grew fields of edible food – corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, black eyed peas, snap beans, butterbeans, peanuts, squash, sweet potatoes, sugar cane – you get the picture. My grandfather had his own smokehouse and would cure and smoke hams, bacon, and sausage. In addition to that he was a skilled outdoorsman and when in season he would procure enough rabbits, deer, and wild turkeys to keep stovetop pots full in many houses.
As a young person, I felt the constant love of a full belly and the safety of being immersed in an environment of people that authentically cared about my well-being. I saw my grandparent’s household operate with a community open-door policy, they had no mortgage on their modest home, and they only spent a minimal amount of money on food from grocery stores.
My grandparents lived at a scale and pace that has recently become desirable and made hip by folks wanting to live “sustainable” and “environmentally conscious” lifestyles in both rural and urban settings. However, this desire to “live off of the land” was not always considered savvy.
I grew up in a community of abundance. A community wealthy in food and natural resources, but more importantly, they were rich in relationships. There was very little money circulating our community, so when assessed from an exterior view my grandfather and the majority of our community were considered poor people, with many living in poverty. This framing ran contradictory to the way we lived and how we saw ourselves. But when success is determined by your annual income and the amount of money in your checking and savings account the legacy of racial inequity begins to shape a disparaging narrative that is out of sync with our reality.
Houston, we have a measurement problem!
The central mission of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (MCCP) is to work to recalibrate the measurements by which economic prosperity are calculated, and in the process, redefine wealth for our rural community. We are taking an intergenerational approach to community cultural and economic development through the lens of cultural and agricultural production; shifting the community from consumer to producer.
We are engaging the youth in media-making (film, photography, audio) to become content producers and to take ownership of their own and their community narrative. In the development of that narrative, they will learn about the community, its history and their family’s connection to it. At the same time the youth will also practice agricultural production and learn the art of nurturing community relationships through food.
We seek to develop an approach to community development that proclaims that we are enough. We have all that we need to achieve success as a community and shift the most important perspective of who we are, our own. Everything else will flow from that center.