It was raining outside, actually pouring, but as I looked out the window, my eyes looked through the weather and became fixated on the poverty that surrounded my hotel. “Be sure to use the gated parking lot”, the front desk staff told me with a slight smile, “we have it for a reason.” My brief exposure to Memphis airport area would become the starting point of my immersion into the ever-present poverty that has enveloped the Mississippi Delta region.
Prior to my departure, I had completed my research. I had read that the Mississippi Delta was one of the poorest regions in the US, articles I would read called it a “third world region”, highlighted the fact that it has “double the national average crime levels”, and “poor school systems”. I had come to region to complete a photojournalism documentary on the Chinese Grocer’s of the Delta region. Just over a month prior to my arrival one of my possible leads was shot and killed, only weeks later, another was shot in his store, he was lucky – he survived and surprisingly was very excited to reopen, stating, “these people know me, I’ll be okay.”
My first day would take me from Memphis down the “Blues Highway” – highway 61 where I would veer off and drive highway 1 to Rosedale – supposedly the true “Crossroads”, then back to Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birth place of the blues. The day was dreary, overcast, and it rained for much of my drive; however, that did not impact my enthusiasm, I was there to explore.
As the blues music played and I entered into the rural region of the Delta, my enthusiasm was suddenly overshadowed by the poverty that surrounded me and tears started to form in my eyes. I suddenly entered a culture shock that I had not prepared myself for. How could such a rich nation, the super power of the world, a nation which is usually the first to respond to natural and civil disasters ignore what is happening in it’s own backyard? The polarization between the wealthy and the poor presented itself in full force and my heart bled for those suffering.
I made a promise to myself when I arrived in the south, I promised myself that I would fully immerse myself into their culture, I wanted to learn from them. What I discovered, they have incredible heart and soul. I may have had tears when I arrived, but I shed more tears when I had to leave. Over the next few blog entries, I will share my incredible journey of the Mississippi Delta…