By Josh Troy
The City of Clarksdale recognized 16 “Modern Day Champions” from the community for their accomplishments in conjunction with Black History Month in February at the Board of Mayor and Commissioners meeting on Monday. Clarksdale’s Modern Day Champions ceremony was instituted in 2019, but no honors were given in the past three years due to the COVID pandemic. Mayor Chuck Espy talked about being proud of his heritage, mentioning his father, Henry Espy, who was the city’s first black mayor, his mother, Vickie Espy, and Civil Rights activist, the late Aaron E. Henry.
Espy followed in Henry’s footsteps serving as a State Rep. for District 26. “I’m proud of the African American community,” Espy said. “I am proud of standing on the shoulders of many who have gotten us here today.” Espy said, as the mayor, he has turned to his father for council.
“I am proud that my mother stood at the forefront of helping Dr. Aaron E. Henry. My mother crafted and molded my image and thoughts of what I believe today and made me a strong black man.” Give her applause. “I’m very thankful, Mother, for what you have done for me, and I know it was tough with that chisel, but you made me who I am today, and I am very thankful.”
Espy said he was proud of the Modern Day Champions. “These people have demonstrated the ability to stand and to lead just like Aaron E. Henry, right here in the City of Clarksdale,” he said. “I am so proud of you, and I am proud that we are honoring you today. God bless you.”
Before the honorees were recognized, the Clarksdale High School concert choir, under the direction of Andre Nawls, sang for everyone.
Lorraine Cancer has overseen the Ministry to Christ’s Kitchen, which has provided meals for the needy for 13 years. “We are so grateful to be able to serve the community, and I feel that I will continue to do this until the Lord takes the breast of the strength from me because I really enjoy it,” she said. “With all the people that help, it’s amazing of what God can do.”
Christopher Coleman is a board member of the Carnegie Public Library and champion and bridge builder through work with businesses and faith-based organizations. Coleman said it was an honor to be recognized and dedicated the award to former Ward 2 Commissioner, the late Grady Palmer, who gave him his first opportunity to serve in a civic capacity. Coleman said he heard accolades for his work from people in other areas. “When I go home, I still feel like I’m not doing enough, and I have to realize, sometimes, doing anything is enough because a lot of people choose to sit on the sidelines,” he said.
Lisa Dixon is a community health worker at Urgent and Primary Care of Clarksdale. She has done community outreach in healthcare, volunteered at Mississippi food banks, and shown a willingness to serve. “This is truly an honor,” she said. “I am appreciative that you even thought of me. I believe in Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s quote, ‘Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.’ I also believe that we make a living by what we get and make a life by what we give.”
Dr. Foluso Fakorede
Dr. Foluso Fakorede is the Chief Executive Officer at Cardiovascular Solutions of Central Mississippi and Fusion Vascular Center. He has helped make quality cardiological healthcare accessible to citizens and surrounding areas. Fakorede quoted King, who, in 1966, said that of all forms of inequality and injustice, healthcare was the most shocking. Fakorede said his goal is to bridge the gap in ensuring everyone has healthcare. “I promise to be your voice and that megaphone for you to be heard,” he said.
Milton Gardner moved back to Clarksdale in 2012 and has made an effort to be a voice for the homeless and keep the city clean and attractive. Gardner said Fire Chief Rocky Nabors, Family and Youth Opportunities Division founder and Coahoma Opportunities Inc. RSVP director Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, Family and Youth Opportunities Division CEO/President Amanda Dear-Jones, City Attorney Melvin Miller and Crossroads Economic Partnership Executive Director Jon Levingston have all helped him in his efforts. “I don’t want to overlook anyone, but I’m actively involved in the community and with the homeless,” Gardner said. “Believe you me, it’s a job, and I graciously accept what’s been bestowed upon me.”
Leonette Henderson has been instrumental in architectural and community building revitalization projects. She is a community partner with the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship for the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta. “I think with all the recognition, this I would hold close to my heart, and this would be the most memorable because it’s from a place that I love,” she said. “It’s from home, so I thank you.”
Dr. Abe Hudson
Through work with the Walton Family Foundation program, Dr. Abe Hudson has been an instrument in ensuring resources are advocated and profitable in the Mississippi Delta region. “It is always humbling to be honored, especially when you get a chance to be honored for something you would hold up without any honoring or anyone saying anything about it,” he said.
The Rev. James Jackson Sr.
The Rev. James Jackson Sr. has volunteered his time teaching tennis to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. He is currently the Clarksdale High School tennis coach. “I am very shocked, but I am so thankful that you all looked at my bio,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy it to the utmost. We’ve got so much talent here in Clarksdale.”
Dear-Jones has empowered young men and women through facilitation, social programs, job readiness, and rehabilitation. Dear-Jones credited her mother, Dear-Moton, and her grandmother, Civil Rights activist Rachel Dear, with paving the way for her. “I’m here because of my grandmother, my mother, and all the people,” Dear-Jones said. “I always say my grandmother marched so my mother could run. My mother ran so I could fly, and I fly so my kids can soar.”
Brenda Luckett is a retired educator after 33 years, and through her work with the North Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Mound Bayou Historic Preservation Commission, is making sure history is preserved. Luckett continues to promote Clarksdale and quoted a commercial she heard on WROX as a child early in the morning. She sang the song from the commercial that went, “‘We’re proud of our town, Clarksdale, Miss. We’re proud of our town and all the people here. We’re proud of Clarksdale and everything we do. We’re proud of our town, and we know you’re proud, too.’”
Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton
Dear-Moton was active during the Civil Rights movement and has been instrumental in social programs and the betterment of her community. She recalled, at age 8, marching with her mother, Dear. “I didn’t understand, but I knew what I was doing was right along with Dr. Aaron E. Henry,” Dear-Moton said. Henry was Dear’s cousin.
Josephine Pradia Rhymes
Josephine Pradia Rhymes has been an agent of community involvement for decades and, most recently, brought unity with a month-long festival, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Rhymes is from Lake Charles, La., but Clarksdale became her home. “I am so grateful that the people of Clarksdale embraced me and taught me what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and I enjoy every moment I spend working for the people of Clarksdale,” she said.
Chandra Williams, executive Director of Crossroads Cultural Arts, has influenced women and the African-American culture in the Mississippi Delta region. “I’m very surprised, honored, and humbled to be here. I want to thank you, Mayor Espy. I want to thank the commissioners,” Williams said. “I’ve always been proud of being a black person, and I’ve been proud of our heritage.”
Milton Williams is the founder of Men United, which offers opportunities and resources in Delta for young men to develop leadership skills. “Clarksdale, thank you,” he said. “We would not be what we are without you guys. Men United is a mentoring organization for young men ages 10 to 18, and we try to get them the leadership skills they need to be successful.”
The Coahoma County High School basketball coach Derrick Moore could not be present because his team was traveling to Jackson for the Class 2A MHSAA boys’ basketball state tournament. Moore, also a math teacher, has led the Red Panthers to four state championships in six seasons.
Raquel Williams was also not present, but she is the Clarksdale High School college and career readiness teacher focusing on employability and life skills, personal finance, and ACT prep.