Although I recently graduated and have a lot of great memories from my time at the School of Public Health, the “cherry on top” of my graduate school education is the trip I am embarking on to the Delta Region of Mississippi with several other University of Michigan students. I see this experience as a bridge between my life as a student and my life as a soon-to-be public health professional, allowing me to put some of my new skills and knowledge to practice, but recognizing there is always more to learn, as well.
Our weeklong project involves working with three distinct communities in the Mississippi Delta: Clarksdale, Cleveland, and Oxford. Communities that I do not know much about other than the brief research our team conducted in preparation for this work. My team member, Scott, and I will be primarily in Cleveland, MS, which is located within Bolivar County. In terms of health, Bolivar County ranks 78th out of Mississippi’s 82 counties in terms of health outcomes. For comparison, Washtenaw County (where Ann Arbor resides) ranks 7th out of Michigan’s 83 counties. Our goal is to engage community members in conversations to generate recommendations on how they can use data from the American Communities Survey (ACS) to improve their health.
As an outsider, I am somewhat hesitant to be leading these discussions and giving my input. Part of me wonders, “Who am I to be talking to these people about their community or giving them recommendations?” Though it is somewhat comforting to know that we’ll be working with students from the University of Mississippi who may have more insight about the community, it is still difficult to not have a clear idea of how this will all play out. It is my hope that if I approach this work with humility and a desire to listen, some of these apprehensions will diminish.
Therefore, as I prepare for this trip, I am filled with mixed emotions. I am nervous as to how the community members will perceive us and uncertain if we will be able to accomplish everything planned. But I am also eager to experience a different culture and immerse myself in a new community. I look forward to having rich conversations, building relationships, listening to some Blues and enjoying authentic southern food (and if we’re lucky, maybe even saying hi to Morgan Freeman!)