In public health, we often talk about Mississippi – Mississippi’s obesity rate, Mississippi’s STD rates. Mississippi consistently ranks among the lowest for many health indicators. And, many Mississippians are aware of these poor health indicators. As one resident told me, “I don’t have to study the numbers, I see the people.”
However, there are many things that Mississippi Delta residents are proud of:
1. Playwright Tennessee Williams’ early childhood was spent in Clarksdale, MS which provided inspiration for characters and settings in his plays.
2. The birthplace of blues music, and a claim to the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.
3. Hot Tamales Trail
4. Sunflower River Blues and Juke Joint Festivals
5. Scenes from “The Help” were filmed in Downtown Clarksdale.
Our project with the University of Mississippi seeks to add one more thing to this growing list: Coahoma County Higher Education Center (CCHEC). We will be interviewing and conducting focus groups of Delta residents to inform the strategic plan of the CCHEC and gain a greater understanding of education in the context of healthcare reform. Thus far, these interviews have allowed me to gain an in-depth understanding of the value of field work in community development and the value of community development in public health. The disparities we see are often the result of socioeconomic factors that are difficult or impossible to “measure,” and the qualitative methods we are using allow us to gain insight into the community and more importantly, the community’s needs.