By Emily Sewell
Two LOU community members have been selected to represent Mississippi as fellows for the WKKF Community Leadership Network by building relationships with other community leaders across the country.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation serves to support children and communities to create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as contributors to society, according to its website.
Sunny Baker, an Oxford resident, and Patrick Weems, an Ole Miss alumnus, will travel with 15 other Mississippians to Michigan to join forces with other leaders from March 2019 to August 2020 to connect and learn ways to help grow their respective communities.
The fellowship is an 18-month long program that includes five trips for classes and cohort meetings, eight professional coaching sessions and a community leadership project.
“This was an opportunity to be with like-minded folks who are grappling with how we deal with systemic racism and how we improve our communities. It seemed like a really good opportunity,” Weems said.
Weems graduated from Ole Miss with a masters from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He has more than 10 years of experience in racial-reconciliation and youth-focused work.
Weems helped co-found the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi as a way to bring attention back to Emmett Till’s story and the role that he and his mother played in the Civil Rights movement. He believes bringing attention to Till’s story will help people avoid discrimination in the future.
“If you don’t know your history, you’re not going to be able to move forward in an adequate way,” Weems said. “So, the better we understand the systems that allowed that racism to happen, the better we’ll be able to deal with the modern-day problems.”
Weems looks forward to what he can learn from the fellowship and is excited to share his learning with his community and all of Mississippi to help further his mission of racial healing, he said.
Accompanying Weems, Baker said she is excited to share her knowledge on food reform with her Mississippi cohort.
Baker has worked in food reform for the past 10 years and is currently the co-director of the Mississippi Farm to School Network, which is a program that helps schools provide local, fresh produce to their students and teaches their students about healthy choices.
“Past fellows of other Kellogg Fellowships have gone on to do some really incredible work and start some projects that I really admire,” Baker said. “I’m most excited about meeting the other people to learn and work on new stuff together.”
Baker’s involvement in Oxford’s Farm to School Network led to the launch of its first institute this summer. The institute will bring together three school districts to learn and make plans for their Farm to School Programs. This is the inaugural meeting with a prospect for it to continue in the future. Baker hopes that it will grow large enough to include school districts from other states.
Not only does the Farm to School Network help students receive well-rounded meals, it also helps the community, Baker said. The network connects schools with local farmers and since agriculture is one of Mississippi’s largest exports, it helps boost the economy.
“The more we divert that money that they are already spending on farms in California and Florida back to our own growers, the more money we are bringing into our state,” she said.
Baker is excited to not only to share her knowledge and experience but to learn from the other fellows and collaborate on a community project that can help Mississippi grow from its past.
“I’m really excited to branch out and learn about these other groups (the fellows) are coming from. There is a huge focus on justice work and equity work with the fellowship,” Baker said. “It will be good to branch out of my comfort zone, and I fully expect to be challenged in that area and do a lot of learning.”
For more information on the other fellows and the WKKF Community Leadership Network, visit the organization’s website here.