Dear Friend of the William Winter Institute–
In January 2020, your Winter Institute hosted a National Day of Racial Healing event in Jackson for the state of Mississippi. After a wonderful day of panel discussions and dramatic performances, a crowd of 200 community members and students at the Two Mississippi Museums heard the inspiring local artist Pam Confer sing her original song “Mississippi Beautiful.” The lyrics that moved us that evening foretold the unexpected challenges that soon began to unfold. The song urges us to lift others up,
for we know no one can love quite like we can. Mississippi, who are we?
In a year that has exposed so starkly the needs of our communities—a year that shone a very bright light on why the Winter Institute’s work is vital—”Who are we?” became a critical question. During a pandemic and a focus on systemic racism around the world, where are we focusing our efforts, and how can we—all of us—most impactfully create a better future, free of discrimination?
In July, as COVID-19 was spreading, I sent you a letter that described the various ways that we were reimagining the delivery of the Winter Institute’s work. Most of these changes involved shifting into virtual settings the methods that the Institute has employed in person for more than 20 years. I am happy to report that these approaches have been effective, even exceeding our hopes.
Indeed, as we have seen our children’s education disrupted, our community and family members’ health compromised, our everyday normal changed in so many ways, I hope that it provides you a bit of cheer to know that there is more demand, in 2020, for the William Winter Institute’s work for a better future than there has ever been. Below are a few activities and achievements, amid truly extraordinary circumstances, made possible by your support:
- Prompted by demonstrations protesting racism near and far and the isolation caused by a pandemic, we organized virtual dialogue sessions for people seeking community, and hosted participants from all over the world. Many participants have expressed their gratitude and some have requested deeper engagement with their organizations and communities.
- Our fee-for-service program is growing monthly. This initiative, launched by our Community & Capacity Building team after years of planning, is a win-win: we help a variety of communities—museums, government entities, K-12 institutions, universities, businesses—improve their culture via diversity and inclusion initiatives; these organizations in turn contribute funds to the Winter Institute that help us continue to work at no cost to many of our partners. We are closing in on ten such arrangements for this year. These new opportunities complement our longstanding work in a beautiful way.
- We welcomed six talented, passionate emerging leaders in our inaugural class of Rethink Mississippi fellows. Building upon Rethink Mississippi’s thought leadership about issues facing the state’s rising generation, the fellowship invests directly in Millennial Mississippians who aspire to be catalysts for long-term change. Each fellow will receive $10,000 to design and implement projects that address pressing needs as they learn from Institute staff and partners about Mississippi history, public policy, and equitable community development.
- We held the 11th annual Summer Youth Institute entirely virtually. Generous support from Entergy and C-Spire allowed us to furnish hotspots and computers wherever they were Students from all over Mississippi logged on to participate in eye-opening discussions about community and history, and to begin to establish collaborative networks.
- With a number of higher education institutions close to us in Jackson, it is important to take advantage of partnership opportunities. This year, we established an internship program with Ph.D. students from Jackson State University.
- We hired three new staff members:
- Jeran Herbert joined our Policy & Civic Engagement team.
- Jennifer Heath joined our Community & Capacity Building team.
- Qutishia Brown will be our new administrative assistant.
- We moved into new office space. I again want to thank Ivye Allen and her team, our hosts for nearly two years at the Foundation for the Mid South, for their generosity. Under Board Chair Bill Bynum’s oversight, we also are expanding the board. Our five board members have gone above and beyond in helping us transition to an independent nonprofit headquartered in Jackson; a larger board will help us better meet the future.
During 2020, our work has touched thousands of students, citizens, and communities in ways that we could not have imagined even in January, while we heard the words of “Mississippi Beautiful.” The Winter Institute staff has remained committed, working from home or in careful convenings with stakeholders. I couldn’t be more proud of Von Gordon, April Grayson, Jennifer Heath, Jeran Herbert, Jackie Martin, and Jake McGraw for the countless ways that they are improving our world every day.
I also want to thank you for your continued support of the William Winter Institute. Who are we? Like you, we are committed to ending difference-based discrimination everywhere we work. To borrow another lyric from “Mississippi Beautiful,” we also understand, like you, that “our legacy is now.”
Please support the Winter Institute today, and please consider a recurring contribution!
With my fondest thanks,
Portia Ballard Espy
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