Deborah Bryant | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Deborah Bryant

First lady of Mississippi Deborah Bryant

First lady of Mississippi Deborah Bryant

The first lady of Mississippi, Deborah Bryant, gave high praise to local students on Jan. 14.

Bryant, a Jackson native, spoke before a crowd of students from Spann Elementary School, Murrah High School and Jackson Academy assembled in the Spann library Thursday, all of whom participate as mentors and mentees in the Teen Trendsetters program of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

The program began in the state last fall with combined efforts of Spann administrators, Murrah, and Jackson Academy with some help from author Jill Conner Browne. The goal is to build community relationships among students and to improve childhood literacy for elementary-school students reading more than six months behind their grades' reading levels. The Jan. 14 event, which Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray and other local educators attended, honored the efforts of one of 11 Teen Trendsetters programs in the state.

"Childhood literacy has been an important initiative since Phil took office four years ago," Bryant said, after sharing that her husband, Gov. Phil Bryant, experienced his own literacy struggles as a child with dyslexia. "We're all different. We just learn a little differently."

But Bryant said these differences don't have to hinder success.

"Please do the best that you can and know that we love each and every one of you," she told the mentees. "We expect great things. You're going to be so awesome as you grow up, and I want to be a part of that."

With early childhood education a focal point of her platform as first lady, Bryant has traveled the state as part of her "Read Across Mississippi" program, which promotes literacy and helps bring attention to reading disorders. She has also worked to help prevent teen pregnancy and to preserve the Mississippi Governor's Mansion, built in 1842. She is an honorary chairwoman of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services and the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research; a board member for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi and the USA International Ballet Competition; and serves on the Governor's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force. In 2014, she received the Chrysalis Award from the Mississippi Children's Home Services and a "Women of Excellence" award from the Diabetes Foundation.

Bryant also has an associate's degree in medical records from Hinds Community College. She is currently the director of community development at Community Bank.

She has been married to Gov. Bryant for 38 years with two children, Katie and Patrick, and one grandson, Stephen. They are active at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Brandon.

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