One of the joys of my career as a community college history instructor is the opportunity to join in the work of the Mississippi Humanities Council (MHC). The primary funding source for the MHC is currently threatened with the proposed elimination of the National Endowment of the Humanities. While absorbing only 1/21,000th of the federal budget, money funneled from the National Endowment of the Humanities through the state councils directly impacts our local communities and citizens.
Over the past twenty years, I have been involved in numerous humanities programs, but none impacted lives more than one this fall at Northeast Mississippi Community College. I serve as an advisor for the Iota Zeta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international community college honors society. As part of an Honors in Action project, the students chose to research the impact of war on the individual. One major theme that emerged was the importance of listening to veterans both to honor them and to validate their experiences.
From their research, the students developed a project called, “Just by Listening: Honoring Veterans through Their Stories.” They successfully applied for an oral history grant with the Mississippi Humanities Council. That grant enabled them to receive professional training from University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History and conduct 22 interviews with veterans using high quality equipment. Each veteran received a copy of the interview, which also became a part of the state’s archives. Using MHC funds, the students commissioned Oxford writer George Kehoe to create a readers theater based on the interviews, which the students presented to the public after a dinner honoring the veterans and then to the student body.
The students and I certainly hope the project had a positive impact on the veterans. We know it did on us. Sophomore Samantha Talley told the veterans, “Thank you for giving us a new perspective, and really, a better understanding of what you have been through, and what some of you still deal with today. We hope from here we can use this new knowledge to make a difference in an impactful way. But most of all, we want to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made for our nation.”
Inspired by the interviews, especially the testimony of Northeast Assistant Football Coach Dustin Jones, who served as a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the students donated $7,000 to Project Odyssey, a Wounded Warriors program. Project Odyssey focuses on helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder through outdoor, rehabilitative retreats.
The individual impact of “Just by Listening” was particularly evident on our chapter president, Andrew Marshall. He guided his fellow students through the project, setting an example by doing the first interview with US Congressman Trent Kelly. In the process, Marshall grew from a rather timid young man into a self-confident leader who was just named one of twenty community college students to make the 2017 All-USA Academic Team, selected for demonstrating academic excellence and servant leadership in a way to benefit society.
The Mississippi Humanities Council’s motto is, “The humanities are for everyone.” With this project “everyone” included 18-year-old community college students, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, and US Congressman Trent Kelly. Join me in urging Mississippi’s Congressional delegation to maintain funding for the National Endowment of the Humanities. Through this small investment the MHC will continue creating opportunities for Mississippians to better understand themselves and the larger world through conversations about our history and culture.
Carla Falkner is the head of the division of social, behavioral and applied sciences at Northeast Mississippi Community College and has served on the Mississippi Humanities Council for eight years.