Entering and Exiting

One week. That’s it. That’s all the time that we’re spending in the Mississippi Delta. I spent more time getting adjusted to my new bed in Ann Arbor than I had here in Clarksdale. Thus, it seems rather incredible that, as a bunch of outsiders, we could so casually walk in to this community and say, “We’re going to help.” (Of course it was not so casual nor that presumptuous.)

We took time to observe and experience life in Clarksdale and visit various local community and health centers. These steps, along with a brief history lesson on the first day, were critical to our being able to enter the community knowledgeably and respectfully. After all, we’re not Deltan experts and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could certainly delegitimize our work. Yet, I recognize that what helped us gain the most access to the community was not necessarily our knowledge, but our relationships to “bridgers” like Dr. John Green and Jen Waller, who helped introduce us to the community we sought to serve and give us more credibility.

Being so focused on how I could enter and engage with a community in such a short time, so quickly, I nearly forgot to think about how we would leave. An interviewee asked me what would happen when our project was over, would I come back? It stopped me short– it would be so easy for me to never look back at Clarksdale, to never walk along Sunflower or Delta Avenue, or see Ground Zero or the Cutrer Mansion again. To never shake hands with Clarksdalian again. Yet, the people I interacted with would remember the good and the bad of our interaction; the impact of my visit would remain long after me. For the sake of our relationships with those bridgers, for the sake of future outsiders who want to help, for the sake of the people of Clarksdale, we had to leave on a good note. A meaningful one.

On our last full day, we made presentations to staff at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center and the Coahoma County Higher Education Center of our findings, what community members had told us about health, education, employment, and more. It was a powerful way to exit, knowing that we had collected data and put it into the hands of people who could make a positive difference in the community that had hosted us for a week.  We didn’t just collect the data for our own selfish purposes and put it on a shelf to get covered with dust. Our work could do good. I just wish I could find and say goodbye to all the people I interviewed on the street, and thank them for helping me do that before I left.

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