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Delta State receives prestigious National Park Service award

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently received 2016 National Park Service Centennial Awards for creating the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership.

The cultural heritage interpretation project has honored the lives of unsung Mississippi Delta church mothers featured in Alysia Burton Steele’s book, “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” Delta State was the only higher education institution and MDNHA was the only National Heritage Area to receive a NPS Centennial Award this year.

For 18 months in 2015 and 2016, the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership’s community gatherings engaged over 1,000 Mississippi Delta residents, visitors and supporters. The gatherings took place in diverse, welcoming venues throughout the state including universities, churches and tourism and cultural centers.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Delta Center demonstrated exceptional leadership and creativity in organizing 15 community gatherings with Alysia Burton Steele and several of the Delta Jewels featured in the book,” said Chris Abbett, associate regional director of partnerships, interpretation and education at the National Park Service Southeast Regional Office. “The programs throughout Mississippi, as well as the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C., connected with and helped to create the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates for the National Park Service.”

“We are honored to receive this esteemed recognition from the National Park Service for this important cultural heritage development project,” said Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center and executive director of the MDNHA. “The fact that Delta State and the MDNHA are acknowledged together truly demonstrates the power of partnerships and collaboration when telling the Delta’s story.”

The Delta Center has continued to give presentations with Steele in 2017. These presentations have focused on community impacts documented in the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership 2015-2016 Report.

Recent presentations include the National Heritage Areas Southeast Region workshop in Atlanta, Georgia; the Smithsonian African American Interpretation Workshop in Charleston, South Carolina; the NPS Collaboration Clinic in Biloxi, Mississippi; and the Association for African American Museums conference in Washington, D.C. In addition, Herts and Steele have been invited to present at the upcoming Oral History Association conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“We have used the report as an interpretive and educational resource, which enhances the storytelling experience,” said Steele, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism professor at the University of Mississippi. “In addition to photos from the community events, the report includes survey results from participants. An overall program rating of 4.9 out of 5 clearly indicates that sharing the Delta Jewels’ oral histories have had positive impacts in the communities we engaged.”

Delta State President William N. LaForge said he was thrilled with the NPS recognition.

“I am very pleased that Delta State’s Delta Center for Culture and Learning, along with our partner the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, are recipients of the United States National Park Service Centennial Award. This recognition helps validate the good work the center and the MDNHA are doing here at Delta State and througought the Mississippi Delta.”


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