Miyoko in Mississippi 2010 (Teach For America Corps)
Miyoko, before her graduation from Whitman, was accepted into the Teach For America program, a division of Ameri-corps. The TFA program places highly selected and crash-trained people, mostly recent graduates (less than 1 in 10 applicants is selected) into areas where there is a teacher shortage due to recruitment or retention problems. These are all the most difficult, stressed school systems in America. TFA is a 2 year program and the corps members are actually hired and paid by the school districts as a normal teacher. She chose to work in the Mississippi "delta" region which encompasses the most rural and poorest communities in America. It was also ground zero for the worst of racial segregation and violence through the civil rights era. The current reality there would be, by the most generous interpretation, a legacy of those "past" realities.
Miyoko flew down to Cleveland, MS to start her orientation and 6 week "boot camp for teachers" in the first week in June. Becki and I were to follow 3 weeks later driving her car down to her packed with all her belongings. None of us had ever before been immersed, fully, in the deep south. That it would be summer with it's legendary heat and humidity added to the "ambience". The first (GOOD) move was to have air-conditioning installed on her car.
The 4 day drive down through OR, ID, UT, WY, KS, OK, ARK, and into MS was interesting and uneventful. We arrived in Cleveland in mid-afternoon on the 4th day, after 2401 miles, in 95 degree heat. We pulled into....well....tried to pull into the parking lot of the Days Inn where we had reserved and pre-paid for our room 2 months earlier. DO NOT CROSS tape blocked all entrance. (See picture #1). The facility had closed, was declaring bankruptcy. No one had bothered to tell us. "Good luck", was the best on-the-street advice. "This is July 4th weekend and there is a B.B. King Concert in Indianola. Everything in town is booked up!"
Quick scrambling did result in a room in the Holiday Inn. Whew!!!
We then began four wonderful days of touring and exploring the surrounds of Cleveland, soaking up every aspect of Mississippi culture we could. It was, for Miyoko, the first time in 3 demanding weeks she had had a breather and been able to get out at all.
It was fascinating, even though we were limited by the July 4th weekend closures of nearly everything in every town. If it had not been for the legendary and VERY real "southern hospitality", it would have been a very sterile experience. As it was, REPEATEDLY, people saw us walking and looking into stores and suddenly doors opened and we were invited inside for a 1 on 1 tour and "where y'all from? What ch'y'all doing down here?" discussion. We were directed down many rural roads to see the secret, locally known relics of the Delta Blues culture, southern history, seminal civil rights events, and so on. Tearing away from these fine people was difficult. In MS, catching someone's eye and nodding is most likely to evolve into a 2 hour conversation.
One woman who opened her art gallery for us summed up her thoughts. "The history of MS is a history of pain. There's nothing to do but look at it, admit it, and go on."
We left knowing at least two local people who know Miyoko and are more than willing to act as "parents en locum" for anything she needs. Wow!