Visiting Clarksdale for about five whole days was an experience I will never forget. Going to Clarksdale and the Delta with the purpose of helping with a project that hopes to improve quality of life for individuals living there, and thus already under the mindset that the community needed us to get this project completed, it was easy to focus on all the differences there are between the Clarksdale community and the communities I have lived in.
In Clarksdale, nothing is open on Sundays. There are multiple shops boarded up and abandoned downtown, and many of the buildings seem to be deteriorating. There are only sidewalks in the downtown area, and there is barely a shoulder on the roads that head out of town (when I went on a run I found I was mostly running on the grass by the road to make sure I didn’t get hit). There is obvious segregation in the town between poorer folks and the wealthy, and there are more trucks than cars. There are fewer health services, and folks have to travel much further for fresh fruits and vegetables in this community than the ones I’ve been a part of.
Experiencing such a difference in community, it would be easy to expect a difference in the people living in Clarksdale and those in cities I’ve called home. But after conducting interviews with adults from Clarksdale and the surrounding community, it was stunning how truly similar these people were to the people I know “back home”. Most people we interviewed had fulltime jobs, cars, owned their house, visited the doctor regularly, had a college degree, and other check list items. However, it wasn’t the facts and figures that we gathered from the interviews that made me realize the similarities in the people of the communities; it was an interaction I had with a son of one of the women I interviewed.
The son was quiet. He sat in a chair across from me, waiting for his mom to finish answering my questions, clearly wanting to leave the moment they sat down. Typical teenager. Towards the end of the interview, I asked the woman how old she was. She thought for a bit and then told me the number, exclaiming that it had been her birthday on Mother’s Day, just a few days prior to the interview. I wished her a Happy Birthday and then asked the son if he had got his mom anything special for her birthday. He said “yes”, but gave no further information. Again, typical teenager. I decided to pry a bit, asking what it was he had given her. “A hug”, he said. I couldn’t help but laugh. Isn’t that the gift we all gave our mother’s when we were in high school? No matter where we are from, everyone knows that at that age, when a teenager starts to get distant and more independent, the best gift to give mom is a hug.