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Down on the Delta, Part 1

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by JayFarrar, Aug 9, 2007.

  1. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    This is part 1 of a two-parter on the Delta, the second part is on specifics things they are doing to improve the area. Truthfully, it is hopeless there. It would take a CCC style event to even get people the jobs they need, and a fair chunk of them couldn't do the work since diabetes has made them either blind or crippled.
    The Delta is America at its worst. Truly sad and, for the most part, no one cares.
    The story was originally supposed to be a 5,000 word takeout, then it became, "tell the story in under 1,000 words," when I said no, then it became a two-parter and this is the first part.
    So, to save space, I left out some of the local stuff like when I got lost, I stopped and asked for directions. A kindly old grandmother told me how to get there, then she asked, "you do know that's down in color town?"

    HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — The Delta region doesn’t get many visitors.
    Among the poorest regions in the country, the Delta, as defined by the federal government, stretches from the Gulf of Mexico and goes north along the Mississippi River, ending in southern Illinois.
    Along the way it takes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. The Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a federal agency, also includes portions of Alabama, so 240 counties and parishes are considered to be in the Delta
    So it was with some fanfare that John Edwards, a Democratic candidate for president, kicked off a poverty tour in New Orleans and then went north along the Mississippi River for a day, before he headed east to Ohio.
    One of the stops was Helena-West Helena in the Arkansas Delta. Once prosperous farming communities, the two towns were combined in a 2005 election, and it was at the New Zion Community Center, in what had been West Helena, where Edwards stopped to talk and listen.
    The topic of the day was nominally healthcare, but in reality Edwards heard complaints about poor benefits and low wages from a group of home healthcare aides.
    While Edwards has an elaborate plan for healthcare — it is one of the centerpieces of his campaign — it was not discussed; instead the topic was raising the minimum wage — “$9.50 is the goal” — and the briefest mention of universal coverage.
    “You just want to earn a decent, respectable wage, you want to be treated right, you want to be treated fair,” Edwards told the crowd. “We’re going to try to get this thing changed. I can’t promise, but I can promise you I’ll fight.”
    It wasn’t a lengthy stop for Edwards, who was in town for maybe 30 minutes before he headed to Memphis, and there was no real discussion of what Edwards would do if elected president.
    That lack of detail left some in the crowd frustrated.
    “He didn’t say enough,” said Hazel Coleman, who has lived in Helena since 1953 and is a member of the AARP. “He talked a little about universal healthcare, but I needed an explanation, how he was going to go about doing that … the specifics were not there.”
    Others were more blunt.
    “We were used,” said Emma Petty, another AARP member. “He wasn’t here long enough, he didn’t go around and see the way things are here. It was just a, just a … ” — Photo opportunity? — “That’s it, a photo opportunity.”
    Edwards’ visit may not be remembered fondly, but that isn’t true for others who have come to the Delta.
    “Oh, people still talk about when President Clinton came,” said Pete Johnson, one of the federal co-chairs of the DRA. “He came, he stayed, he went around. That’s what people remember. And people who live here have long memories.”
    Johnson should know; the Mississippi native has lived in Clarksdale since 1973, and he was the one who pushed for the DRA to be based there.
    “We are in the cross-hairs of the Delta,” Johnson said. “And that’s important, not just because the community sees us here, but when people come to visit, they get to see the way that things are.”
    Healthcare is an important issue for Johnson and the DRA.
    “When you look at our 240 counties and parishes, the bulk of our citizenry is the poorest and sickest in the nation,” he said. “The economic equation must start with health as an economic engine. … That’s why we think that health is the single most important issue to face. … A healthy workforce is the foundation for a competitive workforce.”
    The Delta wasn’t always poor; before the Civil War the region was the richest in the country. But the Delta, more so than the rest of the South, has been hit by “several calamites, one right after the other,” Johnson said as he rattled them off.
    “The Delta lost a generation from those who died in the Civil War,” he said. “Then the Great Flood of ’27, then the depression of the ’30s. With civil rights, those people who could leave did.”
    Mortality rates are also higher in the Delta and as a result, Johnson explained that in year, “We have 10,784 deaths more than we should be having if we were in line with the national average.”
    The DRA has taken some steps to counter the problems, including the high infant mortality rate.
    “Access to healthcare is important,” Johnson said. “We are doing things like the Delta doctors program. We had some 80 physicians in the last three years coming into the region.”
    The DRA has had outreach programs to the more than 1,700 black churches in the region.
    “We are doing that to make the pastors more aware,” Johnson said. “Diabetes is one of the biggest problems that we’ve got. It just makes good sense to get involved in preventative care.”
    Health fairs are also being sponsored in the eight states that comprise the DRA, and other ideas have been discussed.
    “We even talked about sending a nurse on Sundays to the churches,” Johnson said, stressing the importance of making people aware of their illnesses, helping them develop and maintain healthy habits, and giving them access to preventive care.
  2. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Farrar,

    My gut tells me that your second sentence in this draft should be your nut graph, somewhat expanded with specifics, four, five or six sentences down. I'd lead with Edwards picking it out as a place to launch a tour (unspecified). Maybe riff on being a long way from lobbyists, money, something that suggests the disenfranchised. Sentences two and maybe three hit the issues that face the Delta. Then bring it home, where it is and how poor it is.

    But I'm just guessin'.

    YHS, etc
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