AKA SORORITY’S MISSISSIPPI HEALTH PROJECT I I: WALKING IN THE HISTORIC FOOTSTEPS OF MY GREAT-AUNT
What an honor to be appointed by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s (AKA) International President, Dr. Glenda Glover, to join the Mississippi Health Project (MHP) Part II Steering Committee — walking in the footsteps of my great-aunt, Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, the 1st Medical Director for the original historic Mississippi Health Project | 1935–42, touted by then Public Health Service Administrator, Dr. Thomas Parran as, “the first mobile health unit in the US, and the finest I’ve ever seen,” serving over 15,000 underserved children and families in the Mississippi Delta. I had the privilege of serving with an amazing group of AKA sisters, all with specific roles, including Dr. Ala Stanford, pediatric surgeon in Jenkintown, PA, the first African American female pediatric surgeon trained entirely in the United States | Medical Director MHP II. As a descendant of the original Health. Team, my assignment was to research and locate other descendants of the original Health Team and/or living participants or descendants of individuals who received services during MHP I or assisted the sorority in some way (i.e.: provided housing for the AKA Health Team). I could not have done it without the gracious AKA sisters and community members put in my path.
This precious research was one of the highlights of this project. I got to catch up with my cousins, the grandchildren Dorothy B. Ferebee, Todd and Dorothy Ferebee. I also had the exceptional opportunity to engage with Grace Holloman Davis, a member of AKA, about her sister, also an AKA, Marjorie Holloman Parker, a Clinical Assistant for the original MHP I Health Team. Another AKA sister, DeVoyce Morris, a MHP II Steering Committee member helped me contact current and former residents of Mound Bayou, the oldest and largest Black Town in the U.S., founded by former enslaved individuals in 1887, who were a wealth of historic knowledge. I spoke with and met former Mayors, Eulah Peterson and Darryl Johnson, both warm and passionate about their hometown. And Sylvia Crowe Scott (age 86), who now lives in Las Vegas, made a heartfelt impression with her stories of pride and joy growing up in Mound Bayou and recollecting that, as children, both she and her brother, Milburn (deceased), received services from the MHP I (hygiene clinic and dental services). I made new BFFs (Best Friends Forever!). Here is the quote Sylvia Crowe Scott gave me for the occasion:
“I was born and raised in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. I am proud of this historic, all-Black town (oldest and largest Black town founded by former enslaved people in 1887) that protected, shielded, and nurtured me. I was raised by a village and afforded opportunities and privileges not typical of a Black child growing up in Mississippi in the late thirties and forties. It was a safe haven. Our lives were enriched by outside influences such as renown orators who spoke at our celebrations. I remember as a small child attending a clinic on hygiene and health. We were given a demonstration on bathing and grooming using a rubber doll and provided with toothbrushes and toothpaste. I am certain I have applied some of these techniques to myself, my children, and my grandchildren, as these are essential life skills. I have come to learn that the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Mississippi Health Project provided this service. My brother, Milburn (deceased), also received dental care. I cannot attest to the services my other siblings may have received. I consider this a blessing and I remain grateful. Thank you to AKA MHP I.”
Putting plans into action — I could not have asked for a more spirit-filled, memorable experience, retracing the steps of the courageous AKA sisters who visited Lexington, Greenville, Indianola, Greenwood, Mound Bayou, and Cleveland, MS, during the public health crisis of the 1930s and 40s amidst traveling obstacles, racism, discrimination, and uncertainty. This time, we were able to serve the underserved during our 21st century health crisis — providing free mammograms for underinsured and uninsured women during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, along with health education materials. We are indebted to our partners, Delta Health Center, Mallory Community Health Center, and Walgreens who provided other screenings and health serviced including COVID-19 testing and vaccines, flu shots, vaccines for school-aged children, HIV testing, vital sign screening and eye examinations. I was grateful for the chance to lift my aunt during the “Occasion,” for the Greenville program on October 5, 2021.
Led by International President, Dr. Glenda Glover, I have never been prouder to be a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. — providing service TO ALL MANKIND!
“Our connection to Black residents of the Mississippi Delta goes back to the 1930s and 1940s. Back then, the sorority launched its first Summer School for Rural Teachers, a program created in Lexington to improve the educational skills among Black teachers,” explains Dr. Glenda Glover, international president and chief executive officer of AKA. “Quickly, the leadership of the sorority recognized the lack of access to quality healthcare for Black families in that region of the country needed to take priority. This set us on a trajectory to open community health clinics that offered vaccinations and medical care for children and families. The Mississippi Health Project (MHP) was born out of necessity and a call to serve.”
Our archives committee has a time capsule for the collection of items from the MHP II (including Dr. Ala Stanford’s medical coat), for our descendants to open in the future. I hope that someone from my family will be around to witness that occasion and will walk in my footsteps, as I have in my great-aunt’s — Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee.