The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) was created to address generational inequity and underdevelopment within the Mississippi Delta region. The region’s history of enslavement, persistent poverty and marginalization has resulted in a present need for intentional strategies to correct centuries of neglect and inaction. The Southern region, with the Mississippi Delta within, also includes a cluster of Black Belt counties that are in significant need of federally-focused economic development action. This report, by SEAP Fellow Dr. Veronica Womack, highlights the importance of regional development strategies that are reflective of the unique challenges facing the Black Belt region and that are flexible enough to address the distinct differences of participating communities. General or one-size-fits all approaches have traditionally served Black Belt counties poorly.
Too often, while these communities may qualify for programs or services, they do not have financial or technical capacity to participate. Typically, many place-based development programs and services require technical and financial resources that are often barriers to the neediest communities. In addition, there is little focus on the historical inequities in hierarchical leadership structures and decision making that have plagued these communities. Little effort has been made to move away from exclusionary approaches to regional, state and local economic development that often give limited voice to marginalized populations and communities beyond performative listening sessions with little accountability measures. In summary, it is essential that rural economic development practices are accountable to those they serve and are tailored to the unusual circumstances of the Black Belt region.
The recommendations in this report will support those Black Belt counties within the DRA that have significant barriers to participation in DRA programs and services. Focused on some of the nation’s most underdeveloped communities, the DRA was established to foster regional approaches to advancement. Therefore, the authority must be organizationally and programmatically accessible to these unique communities.