DEESON TO ROSEDALE
Another hot day in the Mississippi Delta. This 90-degree heat feels especially hot when it’s October 1st and we’re thinking about cool autumn mornings in Minnesota and the approaching cold winter. We should be wearing long-sleeve shirts by now . . .
I launched out of Deeson, Mississippi toward Rosedale, Mississippi down Mississippi Highway 1. Andrew Long stopped to meet the Relay van along the roadside. We missed our opportunity to stay with Andrew here in Deeson, which is right along the river, but we took the opportunity to catch up on work in nearby Cleveland—taking advantage of WiFi and modern amenities . . .
Mississippi Highway 1 is narrow and not friendly to people running or bicycling. It’s our only option as we follow the river south. Most vehicles give us room, but some are intent on showing us that we don’t belong on the highway. This was our first full bail-out into the ditch.
I stopped for gas and ice at the Double Quick as Tom completed the final miles into Rosedale. Double Quick is the busiest place in town here on a Tuesday morning. We pulled up to City Hall right at noon, but we’re on Delta time and this is the lunch hour—we’d need to circle back at 1:00 to meet with Mayor Cary Estes.
In the meantime, we took a walk through the 97 degree heat to the White Front Cafe Tamale shop. It was closed, so we took some time to explore Rosedale. We also rummaged through the cooler for some snacks to munch on the way . . . Back to city hall . . . Mayor Estes greeted us at the door and mentioned that he saw the Relay team a day earlier up around Deeson.
Mayor Estes is 65 years old and has lived in the Mississippi River Delta for all 65 years. He was actually born in Weir, Mississippi but grew up in a farm on the edge of Rosedale. Over time, he’s lived on “different sides of the #8 highway”. From 2000 to 2006, he owned a furniture store (now home to the Changing Your World Ministries church). He was elected mayor in 2004 and has one more year in his current term. He’s self-employed doing HVAC, gas and electrical work. He’s also a plumber, but doesn’t tell anyone that. Actually, his mom is probably the best plumber in the family, since his Dad would go fishin’ and leave a plumbing project behind for her to clean up. He’s got two sisters and four brothers.
Beside the school, boat repair and the port are the big industry around here. The mayor’s daughter just got married to a big farmer in the area, but his approach seems very human-centered. “I don’t care if you’re a wino or crackhead—you deserve to be treated as a human being.”
The housing and infrastructure are bad here in Rosedale. The Mayor’s obtained grants for police vehicles and street work. He’s brought in a 12,000 foot Dollar General store along Highway #8. He says it’s the 3rd largest in the state. Regrettably the nearby drug store is closing in a week—another loss for the community. The dentist is also gone, but a new health clinic has recently opened up. The mayor is hoping to attract a young dentist who might see an opportunity here. “They may not stay forever, but it could be start,” he says.
Mayor Estes says that it would take time to tell all the stories around here. White flight was part of the decline. There are some positives, one being the transportation available for work or medical appointments—transportation to Cleveland, Jackson, and Yazoo City is available for folks who can’t otherwise get there. “The good outweighs the bad in local race relations”.
Jack Coleman, a local businessman who recently returned to town, is buying buildings and has a lot of ideas about development. “He’s workin’ on it,” but the Mayor wishes he’d actually see some progress, though . . .
There are 10 port employers, and the Mayor tried to annex the port industries, but found that you can’t do it just to gain tax base. There has to be a need for the land. He’s currently working on developing some properties to close the gap between town and the port.
He says that he won’t run for Mayor again, but he has said that very thing in the past and yet here he is in office . . . Instead he wants to spend his time doing things with his “grands”. He’s been through some medical stuff as well, and needs to slow down with his health.
Some of the most meaningful achievements during his time as mayor are that he he started his mayorship in the red and brought it back to solvency. He tried to bring a prison for illegal immigrants here, but political pressures were be a barrier and the prison didn’t materialize. Despite that, he hopes to “fill up #8”.
The Friends of Rosedale are working on a visitor center and genealogy museum at the old city hall. He’d like to build a new city hall and buy a fire truck before he leaves office. The mayor says home is here because he didn’t have a choice! He’s satisfied here, its home, everyone know him and he knows everyone, but he’d like people to be more involved with school, family, and community. If everyone gave just one hour of their time a month, real change could occur. Litter pickup seems a particularly sore issue—if he and his city officials came to your yard and threw their beer cans on your lawn, you would expect them to clean it up. The same is true for public spaces. Everybody wants somebody else to do it. It’s not my job, they say. Those in the community who do step up and help get tired and worn down. People get tired of carrying the whole load.
The Mayor was ready and willing to help connect us any way he could, and we were forever thankful. A short distance away was the building housing the Rosedale Freedom Project. We pulled up a few minutes early and watched as a van pulled up and students poured out. They seemed very excited and energetic—especially to a couple of weary Mississippi River travelers. But their enthusiasm was contagious . . .
We were greeted as we approached by some big smiles. Three students (Tashiana, Kamron, and Mariano) introduced themselves and welcomed us to their unique place in the Rosedale community. The building columns were brightly painted with the four pillars of Freedom School proudly displayed—Love, Education, Action, Discipline: LEAD. We proceeded inside and what we found was absolutely amazing.
We walked in to meet Jeremiah Smith—young, white, a little out of place in the Delta, but owning it. His enthusiasm for life AND these kids leeched out at you as you entered his presence. We learned a brief bit about his journey here through Teach for America, then seeing the opportunity to start a Freedom Project house in Rosedale. He quickly introduced us to Adriana Fuentes and another outspoken young woman who gave us a tour of the house and the work they do there. As our tour finished up, it was time for “circle up” on the second floor, where snaps are aplenty and Tom and I had the opportunity to share our story along with a chorus of voices singing a freedom hymn and a review of the day’s activities.
Following the circle, during study time, several kids came to meet with us in the A/V “magic making” room in order to share their stories. We heard from Ereouna, Kenyah, Vertis, Kamron, and Mariano. They each had very different perspectives about Rosedale—some wouldn’t change a thing, others felt the environment needed cleaning up or even the youth needed straightening out. All of them aspired to go to college and get a degree, and they felt that their time at the Freedom Project was challenging them more than anything they experienced at regular school.
As we journeyed back downstairs, the room was full of kids but also full of quiet. Everyone was focused on their studies, working diligently and creatively toward an aspirational end. We learned one thing about Rosedale. It is full of incredible people. We look forward to telling you Jeremiah Smith’s whole story and you’ll understand, not to mention the story of Mayor Estes… He tells folks that when his time in Rosedale is done, he’ll be moving on. That is, he’s got property in another community where he’ll retire. His property is in Beulah, about 5 minutes south. It’s a burial plot.