Najeia Mention, HBHE and MSW Student

Leaving Mississippi was bittersweet. I did not anticipate meeting so many amazing community members, falling in love with local restaurants—shout out to the wings at Pete’s Grill in Clarksdale!!!—and considering Blues music as an addition to my Spotify playlist. The Delta is a special place and I’m grateful that the Public Health in Action: Mississippi course facilitated this revelation.

Upon arriving to Quitman County, we met our partners from the University of Mississippi and the Marks Project, and were oriented to our tasks for the week. We quickly began developing and delivering community presentations explaining the Lead in Drinking Water Project, surveying the community about their water use and other demographic information, and engaging residents to become involved in the water quality project.

Although I have conducted key informant interviews and focus groups, I had never recruited participants for a research study. I was surprised by the level of interest by community members and community leaders in the project. Not only did we hold workshops so that residents could participate but we also canvassed households in Lambert, Marks, and Darling.

Mayor of Lambert
Pictured Left to Right: Najeia Mention, The Mayor of Lambert Shirley Smith Taylor, and Laura McGrath, School of Public Health Undergraduate Student

I was glad that the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Public Health students were paired with University of Mississippi students for canvassing. I was able to witness how adhering to different Southern norms such as using, ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’, or other common greetings helped with recruitment.

Left to Right: Najeia Mention and Jane Cypert Walsh, University of Mississippi Undergraduate Student

I learned pretty quickly that research-particularly community-engaged research--is “messy”, as Dana Thomas, Director of Public Health Practice at the U-M School of Public Health, often reminded us. Sometimes, we recruited fewer participants to our study than we expected and other times were unable to attract large showings of residents to our workshops. However, all of these occurrences were valuable learning experiences.

I had different expectations about what would characterize my experience in the Delta. Some of which were true—such as its history of resistance and Southern Hospitality. Although structural racism is very much part of Mississippi’s narrative, it is countered with persistent community organizing and advocacy. I am incredibly grateful for my time in the Delta and wonder what will cause me to return.

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