Documentary and Discussion Kick off Racial Reconciliation Week

by Jalisa Giles

On Monday night, Sept. 22, the Winter Institute kicked off Racial Reconciliation Week at the Overby Center Auditorium by showing the documentary Come Hell or High Water: The Battle of Turkey Creek, which follows Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moved home to the Mississippi Coast to protect and save his hometown from being taking over by the city. 

Evans originally went home to help bring awareness to the public about the city’s leaders, who, trying to build hotels and roads through wetlands, had no understanding of why the land was so important. A sixth generation descendant of a slave who helped build the Turkey Creek community, Evans fought alongside many other residents to preserve a living history on the Gulf Coast. 

Soon after the victory of persuading the city not to build on the wetlands came Hurricane Katrina. Evans moved back to the coast and got buried in $20,000 of debt trying to make sure that the people of Turkey Creek had bleach and other necessities. He also continued to grow awareness about the effects of the hurricane and how people on the coast were being mistreated in its aftermath. After Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the BP oil spill made bad problems worse. Evans is still trying to bring awareness to the coast with help from environmentalists.

This was a great film to kick off Racial Reconciliation Week because it explored an important scenario: an African American community that wasn’t acknowledged by white public officials. The moderator of the post-film discussion, Reilly Morse, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, fittingly emphasized how it is important to “recognize that you are sharing a space with others.” 

This was an important point, considering that, here at the University, some have observed “voluntary” segregation. This can be seen every day on campus in places such as the student union or even the Grove on game days. It can also be seen in certain rituals and traditions, such as rush, that only include people of a certain race. Morse said that the four most important factors that lead to racial reconciliation are “visibility, communication, confronting, and respect.” 

The University’s Athletics Department co-sponsored the event. After the film, the senior associate athletic director for academics, Derek Cowherd, a Kentucky native who has been in Mississippi for two years, said that he thinks that all 200 of his students should be aware of racial problems on campus, but he added that the information is too heavy for his 20 staff members to handle. He was also very disappointed that only 12 students showed up, as was Winter Institute executive director, Dr. Susan M Glisson. She expressed her disappointment as well as her dreams of what the University could be. 

Although only 12 people showed up, I thought that this event was very successful. From the two weeks that I have interned with the Institute, I have learned that all it takes is one person to put down their wall and embrace the differences around them. Once one person does it, it is a very easy thing to spread. You stop looking at the differences and start looking at others as people. This was a great way to kick start Racial Reconciliation Week. 

Jalisa Giles is a senior Institute intern from Vicksburg.

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