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Small Area, Major Impact
Dr. Cora Jackson, contributing faculty member in the Barbara Solomon School of Social Work, embodies what it means to be an advocate for your community. Expert in many practices, from mental health and medical social work to child welfare and academia, she is committed to pouring her expertise into her hometown of Shaw, Mississippi.
“Shaw has a population of maybe 2,200 people and within that population, there’s a lot of poverty. Me having come from a family of 15 with a father who was a sharecropper and a mom who cleaned houses—although they did their very best, I always knew the disparity I saw around me wasn’t what I wanted for my life,” says Dr. Jackson. “Much of the mindset in impoverished communities is ‘We grew up like this and there’s nothing that can change our situation.’ That learned helplessness is something they teach us about in social work. I always sought to resolve this in my own community.”
Aiming to break this generational cycle of thinking, Dr. Jackson partnered with a former native of Shaw. Like Dr. Jackson, he had left Shaw and returned with the same calling. After many insightful conversations and asset-based community mapping meetings, they established the nonprofit Delta Hands for Hope. They designed the organization to help children from kindergarten through 12th grade “have the education, leadership skills, and abilities to succeed.”
“As I began to delve into that work in the community, I found myself becoming more of a mentor to the young people. I found joy in helping them to dream bigger than what they saw,” Dr. Jackson says. “I remember as early as 8th grade that I wanted to be a social worker. Part of that was because of what I had seen in my own environment and the services that people had received. I saw firsthand how social work helped to improve their livelihoods.”
Delta Hands for Hope was especially impactful during COVID, as many children were out of school and thus lost their only access to hot meals. The organization began to serve those meals and provide food boxes or weekend bags consisting of breakfast, lunch, and snacks to families and elderly community members.
“The work at Delta Hands for Hope is really a work of heart. Seeing the impact that it makes fuels my passion,” says Dr. Jackson. “I always carry the servant attitude in all my work because I know that it could have easily been me on the other side.”
Delta Hands for Hope continues to expand its mission with the roll-out of a program called GOODS. Shaw’s nearest grocery store is a Walmart that is outside of town and inaccessible for many community members. GOODS is a platform that allows people to place their grocery orders online and pick them up from a local community center.
Dr. Jackson takes just as much pride in uplifting her family members to promote social change. Her husband is a prime example. As a pastor and prominent figure in Shaw as well, he was recently given an opportunity through a rural clergy fellowship to write a grant that inspires change in the community.
Together, they designed the “Read Me My Writes” grant program. “We’re promoting male members of the community to have better engagement with their families,” says Dr. Jackson. “We want to help them be more comfortable reading with their children so that we can positively impact the literacy rates in our community.”
Dr. Jackson is also looking forward to the release of a documentary called “Civil Hope” that will give the public a closer view of Shaw. Dr. Jackson and her husband are among the people featured for how they overcame an environment riddled with oppression and are “now turning the tables on the degrading narrative of rural poverty.”
Dr. Jackson concludes, “It captures the true essence of my life and the important pieces of how we strive to maintain goodness when there’s not a lot of goodness around.”
Dr. Cora Jackson (second from right) receives Walden’s Presidential Faculty Excellence Award from (left to right) Dr. Anita McDonald, board of directors member; Dr. Sue Subocz, associate president and provost; and Toni Freeman, board of directors chair.
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