Report of my Internship with Partners in Development, Inc.: Community Development in the Mississippi Delta

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NON312: Vocation: Discernment, Decision Making, and the Call of God

Professor Greg Carmer, Ph.D.


Who I worked with, my objectives, and my goals

I worked with Partners in Development, Inc. (PID) for ten weeks. Patrick Magennis, the field director, served as my supervisor ([email, phone]). His boss’s name is Julie Dillard, the US Program Director, who through the summer I phone called about some decision-making ([email, phone]). She also prepared me for and debriefed my trip. Concerning townspeople, I assisted a local coordinate the kids summer program; her name is Shirley Hodges ([email, phone]). In addition to interning with PID I volunteered at the Greenwood Leflore Hospital, based in a city 26 miles from what became my hometown in MS. My primary contact at the hospital is Gwen Neal, the volunteer coordinator ([email, phone]).

Following are 5 general objectives I made for the summer, as well as assessments of my success at completing each. 1: Learn about southern culture, underserved areas in the US, and explore conversation on illiteracy and healthcare in the MS delta. The culture I learned the most about is impoverished, rural, African American southern culture. I did not search through journals to explore conversation on illiteracy or healthcare, but I did learn about it via other means (conversation with and observation of locals, including medical professionals, volunteers, all manners of residents from the town I lived in, as well as a teacher from a nearby school. I also learned from Patrick). 2: Perform duties PID gives me with rationality and responsibility. Overall I met this objective well, but I made mistakes. One of them was giving pay to someone to hand off to another person. 3: Have fun with townspeople the way they have fun. A few basketball games with teens of the town, playing with kids, hanging out in the clubs, a house party, and dominos met this objective. 4: Focus my career path by determining where and in what field I want to work. I am now open to living in more places than I was before, so in a sense I failed this objective, because I am now open to living in more places. I want to go into sociology research with potential to guide decision making. 5: Discover what parts of the summer work I liked most and least. I especially liked dealing face to face with interpersonal problems. Imagine an upset 23 year old woman, “That bitch better know what’s coming to her!” tears stream down her face.  “It’s alright, Jackie. What happened?” This was a situation I didn’t mind being in. I disliked fixing problems which resulted from poor filing of sponsorship forms.

Following are 8 measurable goals and corresponding evaluations. 1: Type an articulate, 10 page research paper on public health in Glendora. Check, asides for the articulate bit. 2: Read one book biweekly related to factors that contribute to health problems in the MS Delta. I read a book or article almost every week, and although each reading was connected to health, not each reading was connected to medical health, which is what I intended by this goal. 3: Work with PID to develop useful questions, then interview at least 74 town members (50%) I inteviewed only two people, and made the questions without PID’s help. 4: Find and train at least one person to take over my position as a volunteer leading fitness training. By the end of the summer Patrick and I found people in a town 10 miles north who began to lead exercises. 5: Gather a group of at least 10 individuals to go to the health conference, then have at least 3 of those individuals keep up to date on what they were taught at the conference. Success. 6: Eat dinner weekly with someone or a family from the town. This I did not do well on. I found ways to eat with people, but they were not sit down dinners like I had anticipated. 7: Visit four government offices who govern this town. I visited two government offices. 8: Volunteer at Tallahatchie General Hospital at least 1 day per week. I spent at least six hours at the hospital nearly weekly either volunteering or shadowing.

What I did for PID in the MS Delta: Who I was with, responsibilities, and activities

I was with people in the MS Delta. I lived in an apartment with the field director. Our apartment was public housing in the “roughest” part of the little 150 person town. My neighbors became a daily part of my life. Who were they? People shocking to middle class propriety: people who love to drink, their lingua franca is expletives, sleeping around is healthy, they’re defensive to fight on facebook, habitual to attend church, make recreation out of sitting on their front porch, laughing through everybody’s blinded windows, make nourishment out of frozen meat and lasagna, give their kids snack bags of chips, and make high priority out of family reunions.

My responsibilities morphed throughout the summer. The reason for this is partly because this is a program that PID is just starting up. Some of the thought behind our work was, “try lots of things, many things will fail, but eventually we’ll find something that works.” I began with responsibilities that included transporting people to get help with their health. A county wide challenge was started by a doctor in public health who lived in a town 30 minutes drive away. PID expected me to come into helping get people involved in that. I was to take people and tell them about this, persuade them to come to the registration day, and then urge them to continue coming to the workshops that happened weekly. I transported people to these workshops. I also held some responsibility to communicate with people about when workouts and exercises were happening. Patrick would daily during the workweek set up times in the afternoon to lead exercises from people in this town, so we would walk along the broken up, dry, whitewashed gray jeans pavement from our apartments the 100 feet it took to reach what used to be the town clinic where we usually held aerobic and strength oriented exercises. In the beginning of the summer I simply did the workout as Patrick led, and in the middle I was leading it with him, then at the end I was leading exercises independently.

Another large responsibility was managing the kids summer program. The kids summer program involved a person from town who coordinated the work of a few others from town. She got them scheduled and working various hours that were needed. I discussed the formation of this with Patrick and this woman, Shirley, and then began the program 3 weeks into my being there. Early in the program I made sure Shirley had the supplies she needed, and then I tracked the hours people worked, and did their pay roll. When Shirley had problems with her employees, such as one not coming in when she said she would, usually she talked with me about it.

For PID I was involved in a range of activities: running in the mornings, which is tied to PID work because it demonstrated a lifestyle we hoped townspeople aspired to. Yoga practice became regular in the second half of the summer. I constructed playground equipment. I lead teams of people who came to visit on mission trips or service trips. Patrick and I did this regularly in order to try and develop some sort of program which could have been used with people in the town. I drove people to their license tests and permit tests. I taught people to drive, which meant letting them drive my car and telling them what to do. I quizzed people on driving rules and regulations. I instructed people to take tests in the computer lab. I transported people: this manifested itself in taking town teens to basketball practices or teen nights at the community center in the next town over. I went to two town hall meetings, and at each PID was on the agenda, although neither featured me as the mouthpiece. I discussed nutritious eating as well as sexuality with the townspeople. Debates about fidelity vs. promiscuity were common. I walked with townsmembers as exercise. I interviewed two people about their situation, thoughts, desires, and beliefs.

Worldview, drugs good of order, and creational norms encountered in MS Delta community development

The overarching worldview in Glendora and the surrounding towns seemed to worshipping status. I dub this statusism, or, as HanByul Chang phrased it, a “respect-centric” worldview. Although there is materialism mixed into this life as well, I am going to focus on this obsession with others’ opinion of one’s self. Statusism places its hope into having respect as being the key to a satisfactory life, saying implicitly, “If only I achieve the respect of everybody, then there will be nothing greater I can achieve.” It views others who are working to destroy one’s own built up status as a threat. It celebrates those who come in and help it achieve greater status (such as my coming in and nearly giving people the ability to legally drive). Respectocentricity cannot tolerate looking silly or undignified.

What did I do in contrast to this worldview? I made myself look silly. In late June it rained so heavily that the grass in front of the apartments’ parking lot flooded. Patrick and I were in our house aware of what happened, but then we joked about going out and splashing around in it. Our eyes caught fire, spread wide open, jaws opened a bit, and soon we were both running back to our rooms and changing. We ran out into it, and were the only ones splashing around. The picture on the cover of this paper is of this day. Our neighbor snapped the photo of us using her phone. No other adults or even teenagers joined us. The oldest was a perhaps 12 year old boy. People came out of their houses and children ran into the water to join us. Adults looked, the women smiled and laughed, so did the teens, but the older men looked on in seriousness, yet some made lighthearted jokes about us.

What does statusism sound like? It is a dull tone of voice in teens who don’t smile much, except when their guard is let down. When I looked across town and waved at someone, the response did not involve smiling or waving, rather a flat stare and a few fingers popping up in acknowledgment. I’m guessing they would not want to appear silly by being overenthusiastic.

As a result of their holding personal respect in such high value I ended up witnessing two town fights. Statusizers hold their self-perception to the town in such high standards that if someone from the outside comes in and critiques their status, even if it is on Facebook they will come derisively back at the people who issued that derogatory remark. One woman, 28, who seems younger because of her immaturity to initiate fights on Facebook (by wiring them with comments others bitches for the way they dress and who they slept around with. I saw her run after another woman with a white pipe in her hands. Before she could swing at the woman her partner ran out and withheld her. On the other side of the parking lot was another drama breaking out. This was between a butch girl, her female lover (highly looked down upon in this town, behind homosexuals’ backs they are called fags) who were holding hands. They needed to demonstrate their resolute strength in order to gain respect. Her 60 year old grandmother was running out with a bat; I’m not sure who this anger was directed at. Likewise she needed to put action to her smack talk to gain the respect of others, so then perhaps they could be scared of her even. Luckily an gold toothed ex-prisoner of the town came and withheld her. He eventually brought her into her house, but finally she came quickly stumbling out, and he followed with a torn wife beater. He appeared to be the hero in this situation, although the cops initially brought him over for questioning, not her.

I experienced a woman crying tears of anger in front of me after I told her that she couldn’t work anymore. The decision had filtered down from her supervisor, Shirley, and she kept going on and on about how she was going to slash Shirley’s tires, and that “she doesn’t know who she’s messing with”. She was explicitly upset about not knowing why Shirley didn’t tell her herself. I wonder if part of her fear was a result of being scared of other people finding out that Shirley didn’t want her to work for her (because of bipolar disorder and yelling at kids unnecessarily), and as a result of this knowledge spreading they would lose respect for her.

What particular goods are provided by the town? Plenty of drugs are present. One of my neighbors named Pound, nearly every time I walked by he mysteriously, magically pulled a bottle of vodka out of his pocket, pressed it into my chest, and with a sly smile, “Jacob, for you.” Every time I’d laugh a bit, “Pound, I’m sorry, I don’t need that right now. My contract… I’m going to do yoga. I need all the coordination I can get.” On another occasion he made a joke about a psychedelic, I disclosed my too experienced past, and he said, again with a Cheshire smile, “I’ve got everything you can imagine in there… acid, shrooms, e—you know what that is?” “Haha, yes Pound, and I don’t want anything. Thank you though. You’re a generous man.” Perhaps telling him that was a bit too generous. There is plenty of financial motivation in the town.

How did these particular goods recur? I never uncovered the sources of these drugs, although I’d imagine some of the moving happens within the clubs. There is a man in town named Leon, who is on the board of aldermen, and owns and runs the biggest club in town. Patrick suspects that he must be a large mover of drugs, he is also one of the town’s greatest sources of income. He hosts yearly a stripper-dominant freaknik in the town park.

What coordination of human operations enables the cycling of weed? Pound is one of the players, moving drugs on the ground to consumers. Leon provides the venue for the transactions between dealers closer to the growers themselves and dealers who spread the product to consumers. The consumers smoking it is an essential part of the process.

Where are the habits: volitional, cognitive, and skill-based? Some people need to be willing to take the risk of getting caught by cops. They need the cognitive ability to deal with money and numbers, well enough to make some profit: this is not required. Skills required are rolling blunts and keeping things secret as they’re being passed along.

An institution present is the morning bowl of weed. This smoke is more common than a bowl of cereal. Many people smoke regularly. Hot boxing is a common way of passing time.

The personal status of Leon matches up with his power. He has the habits required to coordinate the flow of drugs into a town, so for his skills, he is in a good position. He is on the forefront of town politics as an alderman, which gives him some of the knowledge he might need to make good decisions. Pound is in an appropriate position as a ground level distributor, because he is friendly and persuasive, yet he is baked too much to have a good handle on the bigger picture situation type business thoughts one might need to overview a drug syndicate.

The good of order surrounding drug flow affect the families who live in the town. There is evidence of creational norms in that there are family units in the town. The norm is a man and a woman as the mother and father of the family, which seems based in Genesis 2, God’s creating a “helper” who was suitable for man. This norm is broken by the majority of families with children who live together lacking a father—evidence of the Fall. God seems to have intended for children to be raised with a mother and father (extrapolating from Genesis 2), so when there is only one parent, something goes wrong. Some evidence of the pain of this results in the children being attention starved. Patrick and I would walk around town and frequently end up with a swarm of children accompanying us to wherever we go. Whatever work we did on the playground amassed children. The norm is for a family to be together, and for the parents to be loving and supportive of their children.

   There is evidence for the fall in community development in that it is addressing problems of the fall. It also seizes opportunities, but it also deals with problems, such as division between groups of people. When there is racism, community development could meet that need by creating a program which brings people together, or creates a program in which they gradually work more and more together. When workers who are working together in community development have divisions marked by vice, that is evidence of the fall.

What I learned about myself: I enjoy exploring problems of social science while immersed in an impoverished context

First I will discuss what made the context I was living in enjoyable, and second, I will go over what sort of problems I felt the greatest magnetic attraction towards. The discussion of what made living there enjoyable will be short, and sprinkled through the section on what problems I was interested in will be sprinkled things that repulsed me.

Community development involves working with people in many economic strata, and the target population I focused on was poor. As a result many live in dilapidated housing. By sleeping all summer on an air mattress in a bug-infested room, I realized I have the ability to live contentedly in an impoverished area. I even enjoyed living in similar shelter because it led to greater understanding of the population I was working with. When people complained of $300 per month electricity bills, I could explain how we achieved a light bill of $50. When we put in a work order and it took a month for the service man to come fix it, we could empathize with our neighbors, and know that this was not a problem they were stretching the truth for.

Trusting relationships must be built with a community before beneficial interactions between stranger and local can begin. I am talented at developing trusting relationships with people, even if they were raised in drastically different situations than mine. I found this through the ease at which I could approach and chat with people. I saw this trust developing ability in myself not only through looking at my own actions, but also through looking at the responses of others. After a month, my neighbors trusted me to drive them around the county, and they comfortably invited me into their homes.

I enjoyed the challenge of coming to see lacks in the MS governing code. Many people in Glendora are behind on child support. One of these men I talked with and learned that his driver’s license was suspended as a result. I called the DMV and read the codes online to find out that in MS, there is no driver’s license exception for people who are behind on child support. That is, there is no way for someone who is behind to get a license. In NY there is an exception: those who have a job can acquire a limited license, which allows them travel to and fro work. Why this difference? I don’t know, but seeing a problem like this fascinated and excited me; it seemed like something I could pursue, and eventually make tangible progress, perhaps even resulting in a change in the law.

I became frustrated when people did not show up to scheduled plans. This aggravated me more than anything else because of the disappointment I felt in reaction to it happening over and over again. For example, I scheduled appointments with an old man; he wanted to learn how to read the alphabet. On the first occasion he arrived on time, but for subsequent appointments he did not show up. By the end of the summer I learned to discern whether people’s yeses were sincere or not.

I found myself more interested in content than the processes. Working to understand the populations and problems excited me more than doing the activities set to alleviate the population’s problems. I wanted to gain insight into why people lived the way they did. Why did so many apartments look like their decorations were from the 80’s? Why were there so many family portraits? Why were there so many fabric wall decorations? The conversations in the car with people who I transported were more interesting to me than the transporting itself. Although I was more interested in their beliefs than in the material provision of their circumstance, however, Paul Farmer’s study on voodoo belief’s correspondence with improving from TB sickness concludes that there is almost zero correlation (Kidder 34). What they believed seemed to have very little influence on whether their physical health improved from TB or not. However, perhaps cultural beliefs are less relevant when it comes to recovering from sickness.

I was surprised to be called “one fine mother fuckin’ nigger”. Learning how language worked fascinated and caught me off guard. I was uncomfortable about using swear words at first, but then became comfortable with it for the sake of speaking the same language as the people. My motivation to curse with them was to connect more deeply. I wanted to develop close relationships so that others felt comfortable asking me for favors that would result in self-betterment, such as getting a trip to the DMV.

A new interest of mine is in law. A new care is about the motivation of people to better themselves. A new concern is city governments, or more specifically, mayors pocketing money they receive from grants. A new question is how do I get people to care about new things? (This question was given to me last semester in class, and it had specific variants through the summer, such as getting people to care about having a license, or giving them the motivation to help work on a project that would better the whole town, such as a playground.

I can imagine continuing work in that area—geographically and the type of work I was doing, although raising kids in that environment would be very difficult, because they wouldn’t have the friends in town I would want them to have. They would likely smoke weed at some point out of peer pressure. Ideally my wife would be interested in the same population, and be concerned about the good of the town as well. I would want to do better research and writing—more consistent, daily even. Mine was sporadic, and I never revised it, had it edited, or shared it. I was scared to because it did not meet my standards for excellence. I found it poorly organized and worded.

To better match one of my extroverted gifts, woo as Strengths Quest describes it, one of my responsibilities could have involved going around the next town over and explaining what PID could do for those who were interested. If I had been assigned the task of interviewing I could have done that well, although a weakness of mine would make this challenging: my inconsistency in starting actions early, and my lack of persistent follow through on a project. Having this be an assigned task though would have put greater pressure onto me for doing it, and early on I could have set a timeline of required milestones.

A rewarding element of my work that could be transferred easily to another setting is the program development that I had to do for the kids program. I felt like more of a liaison though, and I did not come up with any of the core philosophies or even details of how things would be run, I shared ideas between people: Patrick suggested a morning/evening twice a day structure, Julie directed us to create this program because she suspected that kids might not be getting enough food to eat. I stepped into this project with some of it already formed though. I had to respond to what bits of the project had already been set. I received the imperative to continue the project that had been started. Shirley, once I shared with her Patrick’s suggested structure, revised it to include all ages morning and evening, rather than youngin’s in the morning and oldin’s in the afternoon. I said sounds great, as much of my strategy in talking with her was to ask what she wanted to do. I wanted her to have more ownership of this program than I did; I just wanted to facilitate her thinking through everything, and help provide her with the resources she needed to put flesh to her ideas. I really enjoyed this, and although I could have very easily come up with the ideas for how to do things, and in response Shirley likely would have taken my ideas, I provoked her to come up with the ideas on her own.

I would like to continue to explore community development because it seems like a niche type of work that I can do well that is important. It is niche in that it is not entirely common amongst towns to have people working solely on community development. Even if it is not a full time job of mine I still want to somehow be working on the projects that are happening in my town. It is important because there are changes happening as a result of this work like the stemming of educational programs that previously did not exist, or the cooperation of people into community effort groups that are working on volunteer projects.

The challenge that excites me most about this field is developing people to care about things that are greater than themselves and their town concerns. If someone would eat healthy, so their grandchild could have a healthy grandparent, I would be astonished and in great admiration. An opportunity that I see in the field is to get people to trust others more. This caused a number of problems, from lower quality of overall town service of maintenance to individuals not trusting others with their children.

In conclusion, I learned what life is like in a poor area of the MS Delta. The problems that fascinated me most were those that related to “human social groups, their products, and the dynamic relationship between the two” (Johnson). There is much that I can learn from looking back at this experience. It changed me, but I have still not entirely come to understand how. There are some things I will only realize if I take time to think through various questions like I have done in this paper. I hope to continue to milk this experience for self understanding as well as enlightenment of others; I will do this through further reflection, conversation, and connections between my course work and summer spent trying a slightly different life.

Works Cited

Johnson, Dan. "SOC106 Sociologies of Death." 2014.

Kidder, Tracy. Mountains Beyond Mountains. New York: Random House, 2009.