Changemakers | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS


Malcolm White: Executive Director, Mississippi Arts Commission

Malcolm White, who oversees statewide arts-based initiatives at the Mississippi Arts Commission, says creativity is crucial on a local level. "The arts bring joy to the citizenry," he says. "The arts give people a positive reinforcement and civic pride. The arts, we like to say, bring fabric to life. They help a community tell their story and express themselves.

White, 58, says he is "excited about the state of creativity in Jackson," but that the arts community needs to make a more concerted effort to reach common goals. "New Stage needs to talk to Smith Robertson more. The Alamo people need to talk to the Children's Museum more. The Arts Commission needs to talk to Jackson State (University) school of music more," he says. "It's give-and-take, and it's a lot of compromise and collaboration.

"I'm as guilty as anybody else," he says. "I can say it, and I believe it, but Â… do I get up every day and work toward this? And I think that's what needs to happen."

The good news is that it can happen, White says. "I think all the parts and pieces are there. It's just the coming together that we lack."

Wade Overstreet: Development Director, Operation Shoestring

Wade Overstreet spends most of his time raising money and awareness for Operation Shoestring, which provides after-school tutoring, job training, summer programs, and foreign language and arts classes for Jackson families and children.

Overstreet, 36, says every child in Jackson needs to be healthy and well educated, with opportunities to enjoy the arts. He says the goal of the Operation Shoestring programs, which serve midtown Jackson, is to benefit the whole city. But an expansion requires money.

"If we're going to be able to grow and serve more and more families and children, then quite frankly we're going to have to raise more funding," Overstreet says. "We need to secure funding from organizations of all types and backgrounds, all across Jackson—whether they're financial institutions, churches or real estate development companies."

Overstreet says the average Jacksonian can help by donating or volunteering, but the first step is a broader perspective: "If we extend our empathy and our desires for our own children to all the children of Jackson, then all of Jackson will rise."

Elizabeth Hocker: Attorney, Founder and Executive Director of Children's Justice Center

After moving to Jackson in 2000, attorney Elizabeth Hocker noticed a lack of organizations that assisted abused and neglected children. So in 2005 she started the Children's Justice Center, funded by the state Legislature.

Hocker, 48, says the CJC's mission is twofold: Initial benefits include medical and psychological help for abused children, and long-term benefits include training and educating law enforcement, social workers and medical professionals in recognizing signs of abuse.

"The main goal is to have a healthy, happy child versus a child dealing with abuse," Hocker says.

To bring the leaders of tomorrow together to address this important issue, Hocker has created an interdisciplinary graduate-level course about child maltreatment. The class is available for students at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Jackson State University Graduate School of Social Work, Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Nursing. Students will collaborate with the office of the governor on a public-policy project, Hocker says. They will also have the opportunity to hear "phenomenal speakers" from the Centers for Disease Control, Boston University School of Medicine and other universities, Hocker says. The class starts next semester.

Beneta Burt: Principal Investigator, Jackson Road Map to Health Equity Project
(Jackson Medical Mall)

Beneta Burt's goal is to improve the health of Jackson residents, starting with children. She is a member of the Health Equity project, which opened a farmer's market in Jackson Medical Mall and hopes to change the way students eat at Jackson public schools.

Burt, 59, says schools should be more proactive about students' health and wellness. "I would hope they could figure out how to purchase food from farmers directly," she says. "It can be done. There are so many examples across the country where they have done it."

She says the health of schools' food service employees is also crucial. "The school system has to ensure that those workers are healthy, so they can say to students, 'Have a salad,' and the student sees them looking healthy." The Health Equity project has placed a certified trainer from the local YMCA at Lanier High School to facilitate stretching and aerobics exercises for the cafeteria workers, many of whom don't have the time or money to exercise after work.

Claude McInnis: Resource Officer, Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center

Claude McInnis, 64, is responsible for finding and organizing resources for the counseling staff at Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center. He also trains 20 to 25 parents every month in a class set up through the youth court system.

McInnis calls parenting "the final frontier in prevention" and says the community must take action. "We can do it at all levels," he says. "I just think it ought to be a major effort by churches, by the city and all institutions that affect children. We need to start really thinking about how important parenting is and when parenting begins."

In addition to training parents, churches can act as safe havens for school-age children, McInnis says. "We know that most kids who walk home from school, the vast majority of them walk by churches. The vast majority of those churches are locked." But if churches and libraries would offer after-school programs, they could keep kids from being "idle in the streets," he says.

McInnis also trains mentors at the youth court to work with children who come through the system. "We know that mentoring works for children," he says. "There's an increase in all the positives and a decrease in all the negatives when we have positive adults involved in children's lives. I would love for more adults to step up and mentor."

Wendy Shenefelt: Regional Youth Organizer, Southern Regional Office of the
Children's Defense Fund

Wendy Shenefelt, 38, organizes leadership training for young people on a local, regional and national level through the Southern Regional Office of the Children's Defense Fund, located here in Jackson. She says she wants young people to be able to change the course of their own lives for the better.

"High-school age people need to have a real voice in choosing ... what types of classes they take, what kinds of activities they're involved in," she says, "so they can be a part of the change."

She says Jackson needs a representative group of high-schoolers and community members that "gets together to speak on behalf of young people to those who actually have power to affect that change."

High-school dropouts could be a vital resource for such a group, she says. "We've got some really bright young people who may have dropped out of high school just because they got bored."

Jason Thompson (aka PyInfamous): Emcee; Founding partner, The Block Marketing & Consulting LLC; Youth Programs Coordinator at The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

Jason Thompson, known in the hip-hop world as PyInfamous, wants to do more than rap about social problems. "In all my songs there's a commentary piece," Thompson says, "but I try to emphasize the urgency of action." He performs at events where people are "already starting to become galvanized," such as Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba's People's Assemblies. He will also perform at an HIV/AIDS fundraiser at Ross Barnett Reservoir in March. "It's always the greatest thing when people say they were inspired (by my lyrics) to do something," he says.

Thompson, 27, doesn't just make music. He co-founded The Block in 2006 to provide affordable marketing and consulting services for small businesses and non-profits. The Block also hosts events such as the quarterly Ice Cream Sunday at Koinonia Coffee House, where Jackson youth learn about social and political issues.

Thompson says all Jacksonians, regardless of income level, need to develop stronger connections with their neighbors.

"And it may take moving in those neighborhoods ourselves," he says. "I think it's a false commitment to say, 'I can fight for you once a month, or once a quarter.' Then the change, if it's even evident, is very slow. But if we're willing to come and struggle right alongside you, we understand more deeply the changes that need to take place, and we can magnify the voices of the community.

Previous Comments


Wendy Shenefelt is definetely a Changemaker and certainly deserves to be the JFP Person of the Day! She's a pleasure to work with and her passion for children in all capacities (even her neices and nephews) shine like the sun! She's a treasure to Jackson and one of my dearest friends/chicas. YAYYYYY SHENEFELT!!!!!! I'm so proud.


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