Students, residents and city workers spent Monday morning beautifying Percy V. Simpson Drive in Jackson, Miss., while also commemorating the anniversary of last year’s water crisis. The street, which runs beside Dawson Elementary School, was once one of the city’s worst illegal dumping sites. Litter and debris made the street impassible before Monday’s Citywide Day of Action.
“Unfortunately, we had individuals come out here and dump large items such as furniture (and) debris like appliances,” Solid Waste Supervisor Lakesha Weathers said in a press conference on Aug. 28. “This field behind us was filled with tires. JPS students had to be bused all the way back around to Sunset Drive to be dropped off.”
The City of Jackson’s Solid Waste Division and the Fahrenheit Creative Group collaborated to remove trash and add art to the area. Keep Jackson Beautiful, Significant Developments and the Kellogg Foundation also contributed resources or financial support. Twenty-nine high-school students and 15 teachers from Capital City Alternative School, along with more than 20 students from Dawson, participated in the clean-up effort.
“Everybody is pitching in and doing their part so that’s the great part,” Alicia Crudup, executive director of Keep Jackson Beautiful told the Mississippi Free Press. “It is not just one group doing one thing. It’s a collective of everybody doing everything.”
Students also worked with volunteers to repurpose some of the litter into art projects. They painted wood pallets with encouraging messages and fashioned them with discarded household items, car parts and other abandoned objects. The installation now lines the street in hopes of deterring dumping in the future. Crudup also mentioned plans to turn discarded tires into flower beds.
“We’re really committed to the belief that large-scale collaboration is how we move forward in practical ways,” Daniel Johnson of Significant Developments said during the press conference. “It was really exciting for us to work with Ms. Mason and the scholars at Capitol City Alternative to really feel out from them how they use creativity in their lives and let them bring those messages and that palette of color that’s inside them out here onto the street so that when the teachers are coming in for Dawson Elementary, they’ll be greeted on their way in.”
The group will later plant a time capsule filled with letters from Dawson’s fifth-grade students, a T-shirt that all student volunteers signed and a tablet with videos commemorating the day’s significance. The capsule will be unearthed and opened in 2030.
“We really want these young people to know today but also in their future, that they have the power to be able to transform their communities and transform their lives,” Jason Thompson, principal of Fahrenheit Creative Group, said at the press conference. “We think that reflection point will help them do that.”
Project organizers stated its importance not only for the community but also for the students. Students attending Capital City Alternative School have been deemed at-risk and need a more structured alternative educational environment. Their educational program includes work in self-exploration and behavior modification.
“It is part of our restorative practices too,” Tanya Mason, principal of Capital City Alternative School, told the Mississippi Free Press. “So we try to get them to understand the behavior and expectations, then what (they can) do to change. Change only happens if you change. These students are contributing to their communities. ”
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba reiterated that the project was not simply a clean-up effort but an act of students reclaiming their community and showing their strength.
“First and foremost, let’s say this: JPS students are a part of this community,” the mayor said at the press conference. “They are residents. We often just refer to them as students. But they experienced this city just like the rest of us. They experienced the trouble of dumping. They experienced, as we have mentioned, the trouble of water insecurity.”
“At the same time, they have something to offer right now,” he continued. “Not only can they be the helping hands to clean up our city, they (also) have their own collective genius that we can experience and take advantage of. And so we’re so grateful for their support. We’re so grateful that we can be a part of this moment with them.”
Lumumba said that the efforts of residents and community leaders to eliminate the blight near Dawson Elementary mirror the city’s ability to pull together during the Jackson water crisis a year ago.
“This is the act of taking what has literally been deemed as trash and making it beautiful again,” Lumumba told those gathered. “This speaks to the very purpose of this week as we’re commemorating the one-year anniversary of the water crisis. As our city has been through the worst of circumstances, we have demonstrated resilience as a city. We have demonstrated that in the worst of circumstances, we can repurpose it into something beautiful, and that is what Jackson is all about.”