| Program: || Oktibbeha County Race Relations Team, Starkville, MS |
| Contact(s): || William "Brother" Rogers, Assistant Director: (601) 325-8409 |
| Purpose: || To improve social and economic development by promoting racial equality |
The Race Relations Team was created in 1993 as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Quality Community Initiative, an initiative to apply the principles of total quality management to community development. The group of 15 to 20 black and white citizens of Oktibbeha County supports the idea that attracting economic development, improving educational opportunities, reducing crime and reforming government depends directly on good race relations.
Operated under the auspices of the Starkville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Race Relations Team meets monthly. Prior to joining the team, all participants undergo diversity training. The teams then studied local race relations from 1993 to 1994, and used their findings to develop a mission statement and a problem statement. The Race Relations Team identifies and develops strategies and initiates a process for people to understand and value cultural, ethnic and racial differences and the roles they play in developing a total quality community. Participants also submit newspaper guest columns to improve people's understanding of perspectives about race relations. The Race Relations Team is also committed to helping to mediate local racial conflicts. Their first opportunity to do this came in the fall of 1994 during the racially divisive murder trial of Willie Jerome Manning, a young black man who was convicted of killing two white college students. The Race Relations Team wrote a letter to the editor of The Starkville Daily News in an attempt to promote understanding between the races. The Race Relations Team also joined with the local NAACP to make the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday a community-wide celebration. One of the manifestations of this effort was an interracial, interdenominational memorial service held in honor of Dr. King, held in a predominantly white church. The team also sponsors an essay contest on Dr. King for area youth.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
The Race Relations Team's joint efforts with the local NAACP chapter in sponsoring the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday celebration has helped the size of the celebration to increase each year. The program has logged other successes, such as training local school administrators, mediating an annexation dispute between the city of Starkville and the NAACP, and submitting educational newspaper columns on race relations. Other Mississippi communities such as Grenada County and Choctaw County have called on the Race Relations Team to share its experiences and successes. The program has been featured in newspapers such as The Starkville Daily News, The Commercial Dispatch and The Clarion-Ledger.