Anna Lee Dillon, 25, knows that perseverance is key to making a change. When her father, Sherman Lee Dillon, founded Jackson's Earth Day festival 15 years ago, it was a decidedly intimate affair.
"In the early years, it was just my dad and some friends. He would play five hours straight," the Jackson State graduate says, shaking her head in amazement. "Now we have bands calling us, wanting to be part of it. This year there will be at least twice the exhibitors we've had any other year."
Dillon took the lead role in organizing this year's festival, which comes April 22 to Jamie Fowler Boyll Park. Although she has two jobs and plays guitar with the Dillionaires, the rest of the family—she has six siblings age 15 to 34—are even busier. The busiest of all may be her father, who baby sits eight of his 10 grandchildren each day and has been working out arrangements for a new album of original music at night. Anna, who has been singing with the band since she attended Forest Hill High School when she was 15, says she is eager to spend time in the studio this May.
First comes Earth Day, however, which Dillon sees as a chance to have fun and send a message at the same time. "It's always been an outlet for the frustration we feel as a family living in such a red state. It helps to get like-minded people together to see that you're not alone, that your numbers are growing," she says. "When Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, he wanted it to be political. He wanted people to realize that you have to fight to protect the Earth."
She takes inspiration in fighting for change from her father, who ran for governor as a Green in 2003. She says helping him crash a gubernatorial debate at Delta State was one of the highlights of her adult life.
"We did all the paperwork," she says, "and they still excluded us from the debate. But we weren't going to let them ignore us."
They got passes to the event from a friend, and just after the major-party candidates made their introductions, Sherman hopped up on stage to announce his candidacy and ask for a chance to debate. They dragged him from the stage. A few minutes later, as Haley Barbour spoke on education, Anna sprung up from her seat in the middle of a long row, demanding that the candidates address "real issues" and let her father debate. "(Barbour) tried to talk over me," she says, "but I'm loud—that's one benefit of growing up in a large family."
She met her father at the edge of school property, amazed that they hadn't been arrested and thrilled that they had forced the powers that be to take notice, if only for a minute.
"It was a shining moment," she says.
Brian, Great story. This family sounds very exciting to me. Anna should be an inspiration to everyone out there interested in making changes in the world. Stand up and fight for what you believe and don't be afraid to put some hard work into it.
Thanks and again, great story.