Creating a more Equitable Future in the Mississippi Delta through Art & Education: Rebekah’s Story

Rebekah Pleasant-Patterson, Executive Director of Griot Arts
Rebekah Pleasant-Patterson began her career as a dancer performing on stage with renowned dance companies and touring in multiple countries. After experiencing a lack of funding for the arts, she became determined to get more funding for choreographers and dancers and began a career in nonprofit administration.

Rebekah worked at various organizations including Refuge Coffee where she welcomed refugees to the Atlanta community, Solutions for Interrupted Education where she spearheaded pilot programs for students whose education has been interrupted by war and forced migration, and Atlanta Guardian where she provided escape assistance for sex-trafficked women and children ​​and support for those facing or experiencing homelessness.

But it was Rebekah’s latest experience in nonprofit work as Executive Director for Griot Arts that led her back to her roots in Clarksdale, Mississippi. “I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia but would spend every summer in Clarksdale to spend time with my mom’s family,” said Rebekah. “I felt the need and a drawing to come back to where my roots are and to help people who didn’t have the same opportunities I did.”

At Griot Arts, Rebekah is doing just that by building, growing, and scaling programs that empower young people in Clarksdale to create positive change in their lives and community by providing access to opportunities in the arts, education, and workforce development.

One of the things that Rebekah is most proud of is how Griot Arts is committed to building equity by connecting those in the community with resources that would otherwise not be available to them and ensuring everyone thrives. Not just one group of people.

As Rebekah looks to the future at Griot Arts she is excited to explore how to make workforce development a lifelong experience rather than a short-term experience through Griot Arts’ coffee roasting company — Meraki. She is also excited to improve the organization’s after-school programs, which include dance, art, music, and cooking. Additionally, she is working on creating space for the adults in the community who are taking care of the young people to practice movement, creativity, and stress relief through hip-hop, yoga, and bare fitness classes.

“It’s been fun to see the amount of talent and opportunity coming out of the Mississippi Delta,” said Rebekah. “I think people have it all wrong. We think that others need our help more than they actually do. They actually need our help removing the boundaries that are keeping them from growing. As soon as you remove those boundaries and barriers that are keeping them from being successful, people thrive.”

Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is working with stakeholders like Rebekah and organizations like Griot Arts in the Mississippi Delta to increase the affordability, accessibility, and visibility of fruit and vegetables through community-centered change.

Rebekah’s story is part of an ongoing series about all of the great work that’s happening in the Mississippi Delta to build health equity.

This work is made possible by our partner Novo Nordisk.

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