Announcement from the Rural Leadership Development Network:
"RDLN Mississippi Food & Health Fellows Complete Degrees
Dorothy Grady-Scarbrough of Shelby, Mississippi, and Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald of Madison have completed requirements for master’s degrees in rural community development from Antioch University Midwest through the Rural Development Leadership Network (RDLN). They have participated as Mississippi Food & Health Fellows with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which is based in Battle Creek, Michigan. As part of the program, the two Fellows led field projects to create healthier communities in the Mississippi Delta by increasing the availability of locally grown fruits and vegetables and fostering healthier eating. The projects were intended to help prevent the obesity and diabetes that are prevalent in the state, especially among people of color in low-income rural areas.
A graduation ceremony will be held at the Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center, Kuss Auditorium in Springfield, Ohio (near the Antioch campus in Yellow Springs) on Sunday, May 1, 2016 from 2 -4 pm. Ms. Grady-Scarbrough will make brief comments to the audience about the RDLN program and her experience in the RDLN – Antioch Individualized Master of Arts (IMA) degree program.
During the Fellowship, Ms. Grady-Scarbrough, Executive Director of Mississippians Engaged in a Greener Agriculture (MEGA), worked on nutrition education with youth and parents while training young people in farming. A graduate of Mississippi College in Clinton, MS, she is a registered nurse in addition to being a farmer and nonprofit administrator. Working with small farmers, schools, youth and parents, MEGA has increased local families’ acceptance of and use of healthy foods in their diets, made fitness equipment and bicycles available for increased exercise opportunities, offered cooking and nutrition classes, and documented a decrease in certain health risk factors, such as body mass index, in a small sample of participants. Through this RDLN Field Project work, MEGA arranged mentoring of youth by experienced farmers, offered help with the development of community gardens, encouraged the use of farmers markets in the area, offered food baskets to the needy on a cost share basis, and assisted with marketing local produce. Ms. Grady-Scarbrough is the Mississippi co-lead for the National Farm to School Network.
Oleta Fitzgerald, Director of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Southern Regional Office and Regional Administrator for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), worked towards forming a food hub in the Delta region as her Field Project in the RDLN program. A graduate of Tougaloo College, she previously served as White House Liaison and Executive Assistant to Secretary Mike Espy at the Department of Agriculture as well as the Department’s Chair of Intergovernmental Affairs, working with local, state and tribal governments. Earlier she was Field Director for Congressman Benny Thompson and before that was involved with the civil rights movement and worked with the American Friends Service Committee in Atlanta, Georgia. Partners in the food hub project have included the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Worker Opportunities in Clarksdale, which owns the building where the food hub will be located, and Women in Agriculture AAL, a women farmers cooperative which will be a key producer for the hub. This project has been informed by the work of RDLN graduate and Board member Shirley Sherrod at the Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, Georgia, which has acquired a Winn Dixie store for a food hub there. She is the Georgia lead for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), whose Mississippi office has been the umbrella for Ms. Fitzgerald’s RDLN Field Project work. SRBWI released a report in the fall, previewed at RDLN’s Assembly, on the status of rural black women in the south, called Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South.
In October, RDLN Network members gathered at Piney Woods School for a three-day Assembly and made a site visit to Mississippi Food & Health Field Projects. Participants included RDLN Leader Mississippi State Senator Robert Jackson, Executive Director of the Quitman County Development Organization in Marks; RDLN graduate Meredith McGee, entrepreneur, author and publisher; RDLN graduate C.J. Jones of Mendenhall, previously Executive Director of Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE); former RDLN Board Chair Billie Jean Young, a past Mississippi Artist of the Year, and Taurean Morton, Pastor of Lincoln Gardens Church of Christ in Cleveland, a former VISTA member with MEGA through RDLN. The Mississippi representatives at the Assembly had the opportunity to share their work with community-based rural leaders from thirteen other states, Mexico, and Belize, Central America. Yumeka Rushing, Mississippi Program Officer at the Kellogg Foundation, visited the Assembly and met with participants. Trina George, Mississippi State Director for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was the speaker for an RDLN graduation ceremony celebrated at the Piney Woods school.
In 2014, Ms. Fitzgerald and Ms. Grady-Scarbrough successfully completed RDLN’s month-long Rural Development Institute at the University of California at Davis, as did two additional Mississippi Food & Health Fellows, Darnella Winston and Maya Crooks of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and Mapy Alvarez of Virginia, former Executive Director of the National Immigrant Farming Initiative (NIFI). The Institute was hosted by the Community Studies Program and the Center for Regional Change in the Department of Human Ecology.
Among those who have served as advisors for the Mississippi Food & Health Fellows and the project are Ben Burkett of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Nicole Bell of Auburn State University; Alice Paris, the Tuskegee Institute; Marty Wiseman, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Mississippi State University; John Green, Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi; Deborah Moore-Green, Vice President of the Delta Health Alliance in Indianola; and Abe Hudson of the DEBTS program (Debt Education for Business Transformation and Sustainability) at Delta State University.
At RDLN Assembly in Mississippi Front Row (l to r)First Row (l to r): Billie Jean Young, creator of one-woman show “Fannie Lou Hamer: ‘This Little Light…,’” Oleta Fitzgerald, Starry Krueger, RDLN president; Yumeka Rushing, Mississippi program officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Dorothy Grady-Scarbrough; Meredith McGee, author and publisher, RDLN graduate; Hazel Hall, author; C.J. Jones, Mendenhall Ministries, RDLN graduate. Back Row, RDLN graduate and Board member, Mily Treviño-Sauceda, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas; John Zippert, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, RDLN Board Member; Taurean Morton, Pastor, Lincoln Gardens Church of Christ and MEGA volunteer; and G. David Singleton, Native Entrepreneur Opportunity Fund, RDLN Board member.
The Rural Development Leadership Network (RDLN), founded in 1983, is a national, multicultural nonprofit organization based in New York. RDLN supports community-based development in poor rural areas through hands-on projects, education, leadership development and networking. RDLN seeks learner-centered, community-based educational opportunities that enable participants to strengthen their knowledge, skills, perspective and credentials while remaining physically, intellectually, and morally commited to their community work."