Stick Up For Our Woman And Girls

Women have loved others, cared for others and in general, fought for other when no one else was watching their backs. Still, in 2017, full equality for women is yet to be realized. Woman and girls are struggling to gain equal footing in work forces while in many cases, are the sole support for their families. For example, women doctors are paid 8% less than their male counter parts who are similarly trained and experienced. At academic hospitals, male physicians receive more research funding and are more than twice as likely as female physicians to rise to the rank of full professor. Yet,(according to research reported in Journal of the American Medical association (JAMA) female physicians actually tend to provide higher-quality medical care than males. JAMA further announced “If male physicians were as adept as females, some 32,000 fewer Americans would die every year—among Medicare patients alone.”

In other research, girls as young as 6 years old begin to think of themselves as less smart

than their male classmates. Psychologist noted that expectations for girls and boys are different. In much of our parenting, we protect our daughters and  permit our sons to soar. The reality is this type of parenting that stunts girls’ growth, self-confidence and drives them to believe that they are not equal to men. Even young boys recognize the unfairness of it. Imagine the implied messages that is processed by the growing brain of dolls and cars or airplanes as gifts. And while both girls and boys need to learn to nurture, everyone also need to learn to soar.

A concept worth considering is-When women and girls succeed, America Succeeds.

Women have helped us all to live better lives.  And it’s time to salute them for their efforts and to move their efforts forward.

March is Women’s History Month which has been celebrated since 1987. It’s an annual series of events that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Still, we must acknowledge, there much to be done.

In the words of President Barack Obama

“Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy. They have served our country with valor, from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan. During Women’s History Month, we recognize the victories, struggles, and stories of the women who have made our country what it is today. 

Will this be the time when women and girls in America can gain full equality?

Is this the decade when girls are no longer discouraged from having passion and dreams for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? That’s where the money is and the men too, to that matter.

Again according to President Barack Obama,

“We are reminded that even in America, freedom and justice have never come easily. As part of a centuries-old and ever-evolving movement, countless women have put their shoulder to the wheel of progress–“

Does it make sense to you that as much as they have contributed and sacrificed, women and girls continue to face workplace discrimination, a higher risk of sexual assault, and face earnings gap that will cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of her working lifetime? I believe most of you would say no to this question.

Because each person has personal power, each of us can be an agent of change.

With a common purpose of working for a better world, each of us can contribute to the process.

 What’s A Person To Do?

  • Be the change you want to see. Allow children live in a world where love is unconditional and gender neutral.
  • If you are an employer, give equal pay for equal work to all employees.
  • In family life, establish a set of values that all family members must follow.
  • At home, model equal family responsibilities between moms and dads.
  • At home, assign chores equally. All hands can do dishes, make beds and nurture others.
  • Strive to treat your male and female children equally.
  • Refrain from telling or listening to gender specific dirty jokes even if you’re at a bar.
  • Toys need not be gender specific. Girls may strive to fly planes and drive cars and boys may enjoy playing with Barbie.


© Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, February 17, 2017


Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers’ Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at for more articles and books.


Feature image – “Women Friends Sit Hug Together Blue Sea Sky” image courtesy of Galzpaka at Free Digital Photos

Teacher Man

Fred Brown remembers gathering eggs on his father’s farm,

milking cows, and drinking warm milk, cream and all, after milking those cows. He remembers when you could buy a great big Pepsi Cola for two nickels and when top pay for working a day job was two dollars a day. When he was fourteen years old his father died, and since he was the oldest in his family, Fred had to quit school and go to work. He did not complete his education until he enlisted in the Army and earned his GED.

Today, Fred is 87 years old

and spends his days working with second graders at Crestwood Elementary School. He began as a reading tutor and worked only one hour a week, but that was not enough for Mr. Fred– he wanted more time with the children. Now he volunteers three days a week and stays with the children all day, teaching them to read and properly pronounce words. He loves reading Dr. Seuss books with the students, and he also helps with writing, punctuation, and math problems. However, he believes that those children need much more than that. “Children, on their journey through this life,” says Mr. Fred, “need encouragement and praise and lots of one on one conversation with people who care about them.”

Some years ago, Mr. Fred had a stroke

that left him with partial impairment on one side of his body and now he uses a walker. There are no elevators at Crestwood School, so when it’s time to climb the stairs the children become very protective of their friend; while some children scramble for the privilege of carrying his walker up the stairs, others trail along watchfully as Mr. Fred grips the handrail to climb the steps.

Author Frank McCourt wrote a book called Teacher Man.

In it he describes his poverty stricken childhood in Ireland: “It Deprived me of self-esteem, triggered spasms of self-pity, paralyzed my emotions, made me cranky, envious, and disrespectful of authority, retarded my development, kept me from rising in the world and made me unfit, almost, for human society.”

Nevertheless, Frank McCourt had teachers who inspired him to learn;

they were guides and mentors. He remembers Mr. O’Halloran, the headmaster in a school in Limerick, Ireland, who said, “Your mind is a treasure house that you should stock well and it’s the one part of you the world can’t interfere with.” After coming to America, he was able to attend college, to become a teacher who inspired others to learn, to author best-selling books, and to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

In Teacher Man, I read these words:

“Kids have stuff in their heads so dark and deep it’s beyond our comprehension.”

In today’s society, there is a lot of darkness hovering around our children, and each child needs someone to open a door of hope and let in rays of light. Good teachers help shape lives, and sometimes, in the midst of a crowded classroom, those teachers need a little help with the shaping. This is where faithful volunteers like Mr. Fred fit in.

Mr. Fred believes that God created each child with gifts and abilities

to be used in this world, but he knows that some may never reach their potential without lots of help. They need someone to say, over and over again, “You can do it, try again,” and “Yes, you’ve done a good job–I knew you could!” Some days they need a shoulder to lean on, and sometimes they just need a great big hug or a treat from Mr. Fred’s candy bag.

By Virginia Dawkins


Image courtesy of Phaitoon at


Teaching The Truth With Compassion

People Lie. We all know that. Right?

Although most of us will not admit to being one of them. Whether it’s to save ourselves or to lessen the harm to others, one out of every five of our interactions with others contain a lie. For the better part of every day, we are interacting with others. Trust and betrayal are the most important issues to arise between people and the majority of communication most we hear in our culture is criticisms, judgments and lies. Not many of us have learned truthfulness and sincerity, as ways to express ourselves and honor others without alienating them.

As shocking as it sounds, kids lie too.

Researchers found that children begin to lie as young as age 2, usually to conceal transgressions. Because they are not well developed cognitively, their lies are thin and they get caught. Evidence shows that most  parents actually favor punishing deception rather than rewarding truthfulness. Kids become increasingly more sophisticated at  lying as they get older. By late childhood it is almost impossible for adults to tell if a kid is lying or telling the truth.

Meanwhile, most of us agree that trust is an essential foundation to a life of civility.

Lying erodes trust. We espouse beliefs such as “Honesty is the best policy”, “The truth will set you free”, “Above all, to thine own self be true, then you can’t be false to any man.” But, we aren’t very good at doing what we believe to be the right thing.

In a civilized world, honesty and compassion must go hand in hand.

Honesty is the complement to caring and compassion. Because of how powerful compassion is at creating connection sometimes compassion is given priority over honesty. That’s one of the reasons some people use to justify using what they call Little White Lies. Honesty is important regardless. Without the honesty noone can really be understood.

To help parents teach useful skills, B.F. Skinner developed the concept and child developmental professional have advised parents to try to ignore children’s bad behavior and reward their good behavior. Positive reinforcement amounted to catching kids doing good and paying attention to that. Negative reinforcement is more like intimidation, threats and punishment. In other words, positive actions are more effective than negative ones and better results. For most parents, that seems counter-productive. Many think ignoring is the same as tolerating and it seems like they are failing to do their duty as parents. Most ignore the advise and punish anyway.

To test the effectiveness of this idea, a team of psychological scientists from Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies worked with groups of kids ages 3-7 to see if just a brief, but engaging exposure to moral instruction tempered kids’ natural deceptiveness. They designed an elaborate experiment in which 3- to 7-year-olds were given a fairly irresistible opportunity to cheat in a game, and then were asked whether or not they had cheated. In the experimental group one of three stories; Pinocchio, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and George Washington and the Cherry Tree were read to the kids. Kids in the control group heard The Hare and the Tortoise (which does not deal with honesty or lying) and if any of the three stories was more effective than the others with an honesty test. But before the honesty test, each of the kids heard a reading of one of the three stories. Then they used three morality tales to instruct them about morality in an abstract way and also to shape their moral behavior. As reported both approaches can activate and sustain performance

The scientists predicted that all three of these stories would be effective in promoting honesty in kids.

The results were intriguing—and unexpected. As reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, both Pinocchio and The Boy Who Cried Wolf failed to moderate the kids’ tendency to lie about their own transgressions.  Only George Washington and the Cherry Tree significantly increased the likelihood that the cheating kids would tell on themselves—and this effect was found regardless of age.

So why would these classic tales of lying and consequences not do their job?

Well, the scientists suspected that it might be the nature of the consequences. Both Pinocchio and the shepherd boy experience very negative consequences as a result of their dishonesty—public humiliation in one case, a violent death in the other. Young George’s story, by contrast, emphasizes the virtue of honesty and sends the message that truth telling leads to positive consequences. These results taken together suggest the opposite—that emphasizing the positive value of honesty is more effective than accentuating the negative.


Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a private Clinical in Springfield, Illinois for more than 40 years. She now lives in Tunica, Mississippi and wrires with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild. Check out her website at for more articles and books she has written.


Photo courtesy of “Smiling Son Hugging His Mother And Father” by stockimages and Free Digital Photos

The Mighty Men of Lauderdale County, Mississippi (Part 3)

Born a Virginian in 1791, Jubal B. Hancock spent his early years in Tennessee.

He fought in the War of 1812, married a Choctaw woman and together they had three children: William M. Hancock, Mary M. Hancock and Caroline D. Hancock. When they relocated to Mississippi to live among his wife’s people, the Dancing Rabbit Treaty had already been signed and William and Mary were over ten years of age, Caroline, just under ten. Because Hancock was a white citizen of the United States and his wife was not head of the house, neither he nor his wife were entitled to receive any of the lands being made available to the Choctaws through the Article 14 of the Treaty, which read:

“Each Choctaw head of a family, being desirous to remain, and become a citizen of the States, shall be permitted to do so, by signifying his intention to the agent within six months from the ratification of this treaty, and he or she shall thereupon be entitled to a reservation of one section of six hundred and forty acres of land, to be bounded by sectional lines of survey; in like manner, shall be entitled to one half that quantity, for each unmarried child which is living with him, over ten years of age, and a quarter section to such child as may be under ten years of age to adjoin the location of the parent.”

According to Frank Durr, a former slave who wrote about Lauderdale County’s early history, Jubal Hancock submitted his claim for 640 acres of land on behalf of his wife, 320 acres each for William and Mary and 160 acres for Caroline. Thus began a 12-year-long legal battle

Though Jubal’s claim had been rejected by Indian Agent William Ward, on August 11, 1842 the United States Congress ratified and published the following resolution:

An Act for the Relief of Jubal B. Hancock:

“Be it enacted &c. [sic], That Jubal B. Hancock be, and he is hereby, authorized, on or before [1 January 1844], to enter at the proper land office, in legal sub-divisions, fourteen hundred and forty acres of any of the public lands of the United States, within the state of Mississippi, in lieu of a like quantity of land to which he and his three children… became entitled under the fourteenth article of the treaty of Dancing-rabbit creek…”

According to Lauderdale County historian, Fred W. Edmiston, Jubal Hancock, who in 1846 served as the Mayor and Town Marshall of Marion, owned a large vineyard from which he made large amounts of wine. Jubal’s neighbors were “delighted [that Hancock] allowed everyone to help himself [sic] free of charge.” wrote Frank Durr, a former slave.

Hancock would prove himself to be a man of many skills and gifts,

managing the Marion Drug Store in the 1850’s and serving as Marion’s postmaster from 1854 to 1860. He was elected as vice president of the Southern Democrats in Lauderdale county, was an attorney and probate judge for the county, and opened a law office in Marion in 1864 with Sylvanus Evans.

By Richelle Putnam



Edmiston, Fred W., “Lauderdale, Mississippi’s Empire County: Volume 1: The Early Years, 1830-1865.” Meridian: Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc., 2005.

“Once Upon a Time”

R.W.B. Lewis, a major literary critic of [the 20th] century, once gave this evaluation of Southern literature: “It is impossible to name another region in this country with so massive and virtually unbroken a display of literary genius.” (source: Living By Words; Why Are There So Many Great Southern Writers by David Todd)

Rocking chairs and front porches. Sweet tea and cornbread. Old men playing checkers and whittling wood. Women cooking in the heat of the kitchen and chit-chatting. Some things just go together. Stories and the South go hand in hand.

William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Harper Lee, John Grisham, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston …the list could go on and on.

The American South is a place of storytelling-that is for sure.

Today’s authors and writers stand on the shoulders of the great writers of yesterday. I have often found it ironic to realize that the American South, particularly the Deep South, is a place filled with people who write. They gather in coffee shops, join local writing groups, and attend a menagerie of Book Festivals and symposiums to learn all about how to write. Their books are filled with ideas, both staunchly conservative and openly reflecting on the dark days of the South and examining Southern culture with new eyes. In this sense, it is a place of straddling fences. How can it be such a place…one where countless people have a desire to create with words and art, yet also stubbornly cling to the past and refuse to join the 21st Century?

We need only consider the history of the Deep South to see that storytelling has always been a part of the culture. The American South is a place that once belonged to many Native American cultures, most notably the Cherokee and Choctaw, who have a strong tradition of oral history and storytelling. It’s also a place to where many immigrants and pioneers journeyed in the early days of the founding of Alabama and Mississippi. Long story short- no pun intended- throughout the history of the South, we have always gathered on the front porch or around the kitchen table to tell tall tales, gossiped about everybody’s business, or soaked up Paw Paw’s stories of his childhood and the good ol’ days (Paw Paw=Grandpa for those unaware). It’s just who we are, and what we have always done- in both word and song. And so the tradition continues.

One MS Gulf Coast author, Fran McNabb, explains it like this:

“The South is more than a regional destination; it’s a state of mind, a feeling, an emotional attachment, and a connection to the past and family…The slow rhythmic cycle of seasons gives a person the time to appreciate the little things in life….Living the slower paced life gives [us] time to allow ideas to develop.”

Perhaps it is also this very emotional attachment which is the reason why we Southerners stubbornly hold onto old ideas, yet are also straddling that fence of old vs. new? On any account, that will have to be a different story on another day, as it is one that is long and complicated.

Today the Gulf Coast is dotted with indie book shops and local writing groups.

The Gulf Coast Writers Association of Mississippi (GCWA) is one such group. Founded in 1986, their purpose is to “encourage and inspire local writers…[whether they] dream of writing their very first story or poem…[or if they are] experienced published authors.” They host monthly general meetings with speakers on a variety of topics related to the art of the written word, an annual “Let’s Write” Literary contest, and publish a quarterly magazine. Philip Levin, a local author and the President of the GCWA, says that they have 176 members, half of which actually live on the MS Coast and 80% of which live within the state. The other folks live as far away as Pennsylvania, Delaware or Colorado but have roots in Mississippi. It seems that the rule applies: ‘once a Southerner, always a Southerner’- those roots stretch deep.

However, another local author named Connie Rainey (who writes as G.G. Houston) adds this:

“You don’t have to be born in the South to understand how to be a Southerner. All one needs to know is that the South is a quilt of heritage and time. It is snug with remembrances, and stitched together by the diversity of its people. I live in this wonderful place because I ‘feel’ the past in its plantation homes and know its future in its modern steel structures. Art and stories blend together to make the South a home for anyone with a story to tell.”

Regarding writing, Philip Levin states,

“Mississippi has a long, proud heritage of inspiring authors. The fetching vistas of our Gulf Coast, with her gentle breezes and proud history, provide inspiration for heartfelt stories. Our generous and friendly citizens offer lovable and quirky characters to populate those tales. Here on the Mississippi Coast, we have a tradition of neighborly visits, relaxing on the front porch sharing a pitcher of sweet tea under the fragrant magnolias. This is why so many Coastians become writers – it’s just a matter of writing down those stories.”

Almost every town and community has a local writing group: Mobile and Fairhope are two that are nearby the Gulf Coast area with large and vibrant writing groups. Oxford, MS, although in the northern part of the state yet home to William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, holds its own in the world of Southern literature, and is another area that has a large following, mostly in part because of its rootedness with the University of MS. Square Books, famous in that neck of the woods, has a long history of supporting and featuring local and up-and-coming authors, as well as Thacker Mountain Radio which also shines a spotlight on local stars of literature. Along the MS Gulf Coast, Southern Bound Book Shop, a younger indie book shop that has two locations in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, also features local writers on its shelves and at Book Signing events. The MS Writers Guild is still relatively new, as it was only established in 2005. But they have local chapters in Hattiesburg Jackson, Newton, Natchez, Tunica, and Yazoo. Columbus (MS), known as the birthplace of Elvis, isn’t far behind with their Writers and Storytellers Guild.

Despite the long tradition of writing and storytelling, it was only this past summer that the very first Mississippi Book Festival was held. Hopefully, this event will grow each year, and shine a bright light upon the many talented writers in our area. My favorite aspect of editing is working with local authors; most are unknown yet extremely gifted with words. Publishing a book isn’t easy these days, but I’m not sure if it ever really was a simple feat. If you think about it, William Faulkner, John Grisham and Fannie Flagg all got their start somewhere. Stop by your local indie book shop today and peruse the Local Author section. You may discover a hidden treasure tucked between the pages of a book. Or perhaps you have a story to write?

  • - Book Signing event for writers who contributed to the "Katrina Memories" book. (photo credit- GCWA)

(Click on Name to go to site)

For More Info: Gulf Coast Writers Association (MS)

Featured Local Authors from this story: Fran McNabb

Connie Rainey (G.G. Houston)

Philip Levin, President Gulf Coast Writers Association (MS)

By Kristina Mullenix Juniper Creek Editing & Literary Services

Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell

Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell might arguably be one of the hardest working musicians in the Hub City. There is hardly a weekend where he’s not playing either solo or with his band, The Cowboy Blues Band.

What bands do you perform with?

I am currently the lead singer of The Cowboy Blues Band, as well as, I perform a popular solo show.

When and why did you start playing?

I have been singing since I was three. I started out with my family’s gospel music group. I then switched to drums in the sixth grade and learned the basics and such. In my senior year of High School, I needed one more credit to graduate so I started taking guitar class with a borrowed guitar from my sister Becky. I liked the class. Since then I have worked to learn the Piano, Bass Guitar, and Cowbell.

Which instruments do you play?

My first love will always be the drums and guitar. I do play several other instruments.
What was the first tune(s) you learned? On drums the first tune I learned was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris. On guitar the first tune I learned was “ As Tears Go By “ by The Rolling Stones.

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

So many musicians to choose from. I love music from a holistic standpoint. It depends on what particular mood I’m in. I love Buddy Rich, BB King, Albert King, Joe Bonnamassa, Jeff Healey, Glenn Miller, John Williams, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Drifters, Joss Stone, Nora Jones, the Neville Brothers, and on and on. During my younger years, I was all about Elvis.

Which famous musicians have you learned from?

I have had the fortune of working with some famous musicians in my life. I have been really good friends with Jeff Healy and had gotten to play drums with him a few times. We remained friends until he passed away. He gave me advice all the time. I have been fortunate to work with Al “Fish” Herring who is a three time Grammy award winner and he provides great support and great advice. I have also learned from some negative musicians on the proper way NOT to do things. I have had conversations with John Popper from Blues Traveler, Alanis Morissette, Chris Young, Charlie Daniels, and Joe Nichols. I also love having “Shop Talk” with local musicians on songwriters nights and performances. The Hattiesburg Community is a great support system.

Describe your first instrument.

Many people will be surprised to know that my first instrument was a trombone. I didn’t play it very well and moved to drums quickly. Most times our neighbors thought a cow was dying at our house.

What are your fondest musical memories?

In 1993 I had a farm accident and turned a John Deer tractor over on myself. Lots of things broken, horrific scene, and I almost died. I had a broken back, I had a punctured lung, and my arm was in a sling and needed physical therapy. I became really depressed. I thought that I would never play drums again. I was angry. I had been saving up to buy a used drum set from my friend and I had saved half of it. I thought for sure that My music days were done. My sister Lenae went and bought that drum set. She told me that I was going to play it and that I didn’t have a choice. I sat down behind it and started to play with one arm. As my arms and body got better so did my playing. She may never know how significant that one act of kindness was to my future as a musician, but I’ll always be grateful and love her for buying me that old and worn-out drum set. About a year later, I would start my first band and name it after one of my other sisters, Audrey and the rest is history.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Buddy Guy, BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Jeff Healey, The Commitments, Johnny Cash, Ricky Van Shelton, George Jones, Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, Les Paul, Brad Miller, Johnny Glover, Al Herring, B.C. Dueitt, Joe Dueitt, Johnny Dickens, Lori Dickens, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, George Harrison, John Lennon, John Legend, Bruno Mars, and WAY too many others …

Do you get nervous before a performance?

I get very nervous at new venues. Every time I play a new place I get nervous. Older venues seem like family, so I don’t get quite as nervous. If I’m playing guitar and an awesome musician walks in to my show, like someone I really look up to, then I will get nervous, as well. I don’t want to mess up in front of someone I really admire. I’ve been playing a long time, but I still respect people who can really bring it.

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Take a breath, learn the song, play the song, and know that you are going to mess up from time to time. I had a music teacher tell me one time that it’s not about how bad you mess up, but how well you recover. That has proven to be so true.

How often and for how long do you practice?

I try to practice guitar at least daily. I will also take two to three days a week to try to learn new material and words to a song. My goal is for you never to see the same show twice.

What do you practice – exercises, new tunes, hard tunes, etc.?

I practice all of those things. I work on easy tunes first, then work on a hard tune. I try to learn a new chord every week and then learn a song with that chord in it so that it forces me to use it.

How do you balance your music with other obligations?

It’s very hard to do that. Music is a cruel mistress. There are some things that get neglected, however, I take at least one to two days a week to spend doing whatever the family wants to do. I also try to take them to as many shows as I can.

If someone wanted to book you or your band how could they get in contact with you?

They can check out the website, find me on Facebook, find the Cowboy Blues Band on Facebook, or email us at cowboybluesband@hotmail.

Do you have a website? Our website is

  • Downtown Music Media

Interview by Downtown Music Media


Topher Payne and The Perfect Arrangement

Topher Payne is the author of more than a dozen plays,

including Perfect ArrangementSwell PartyThe Only Light in Reno, and Tokens of Affection. The American Theatre Critics Association awarded him the 2014 Osborn Prize, which recognizes their choice for top emerging playwright in the country. He has been named Atlanta’s Best Playwright by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, The GA Voice, and The Sunday Paper. David Magazine named him Atlanta’s Artist of the Year. He has also won the Metro Atlanta Theatre Award for Best Original Work and Best Play of the Year, the Essential Theatre Playwriting Prize, the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award, and the National Newspaper Association Award for his column, Domestically Disturbed. He has been commissioned twice for original productions at The State Theatre of Georgia, The Springer Opera House, and in 2013 made his New York debut with a production of his play The Medicine Showdown in Manhattan.

A native of Kosciusko, Mississippi, Topher wrote his first play,

Beached Wails, while working as a scene shop intern at Jackson’s New Stage Theatre. His career as a playwright was launched, although he can still build a sturdy platform when called upon to do so. As an actor, Topher has appeared in the national tour of Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas, played David Frost in The Springer Opera House’s production of Frost/Nixon, and gave Melissa McCarthy a makeover in Universal Pictures’ blockbuster hit Identity Thief.

Were you active in drama as a child?

I was active in drama; all I was missing was a stage. Kosciusko didn’t include performing arts as part of their curriculum- I did have some opportunities through the Methodist church, but I didn’t have much of an outlet for those energies. Fortunately, my family had a video camera, and we had a back yard, so I’d write screenplays and force all of my cousins and friends to act them out. Last Christmas, my parents had all the VHS tapes transferred to DVD, so I got to experience those again for the first time in over twenty years. It was a humbling experience.

Do you think drama is important in schools?

Look, we were all teenagers once. That’s when you’re figuring yourself out, you don’t recognize your own body, the world is simultaneously too big and too small- it’s a very self-centered time. The beauty of having drama as an outlet is that it forces a young person to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. It reinforces empathy and compassion, helps them consider perspectives outside their own experience. And they learn to have confidence in their own voices and opinions before we send them out into the world, which I believe is particularly crucial for young women.

How does Topher Payne the actor differ from Topher Payne the playwright?

As a playwright, my job is to craft a road map for others to interpret and follow. As an actor, I’m part of the gang doing the interpretation. But both rise from the same impulse- I’m a storyteller. I believe the right words, said to the right people, at the right time, can change the world.

Has the 2014 Osborn New Play Award affected your life as a playwright?

There are so many undiscovered playwrights doing great work all over the country. It’s an uphill battle just getting your work noticed. So it’s an incredible gift when someone shines a spotlight on you for a little while, and people pay attention. That’s been the big change, I suppose. Right now, I’ve got people’s attention, and I’m just trying to make the most of it.

“I’m a Mississippian. My need to communicate with the world through stories is dug out of the same red dirt which inspired Tennessee Williams, Ida Bell Wells, Eudora Welty, Beth Henley, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Oprah Winfrey…people whose words shaped our culture and our country. The MAEC is so essential, because the people of Mississippi deserve to have a place where that heritage can be celebrated, and where the next generation of voices can go to be inspired.”  This was first published as a Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center interview. Visit the MAEC HERE



(in association with MARS Theatricals)

New York Premiere by TOPHER PAYNE

Directed by MICHAEL BARAKIVA September – November, 2015

In Topher Payne’s biting comedy, Perfect Arrangement, it’s the 1950s and the age of the Red Scare. The Martindales and the Baxters have manufactured a life as peppy as a sitcom, right down to the corny jokes and occasional product placement… but when a co-worker at the US State Department discovers their deepest secret, the worlds of “I Love Lucy” and Edward R. Murrow clash in hilarious, ironic, and genuinely moving ways. Read more HERE!



John’s Gift

First published in A Cup of Comfort for Christmas Prayer (Adams Media Publications)

Ephesians 4:7-8 –  “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.”

The first time my son, John, held a crayon,

it was to create; a cat, a dog, a tree, or a creature or place no one had ever seen. He drew while watching TV, eating at the table, and riding in the car. He drew on homework, in school and in church, as if an unseen force drove his fingers and he couldn’t stop.

At age five, he began art lessons and his art teacher told me on more than one occasion, “He has the gift.” She explained how she could teach the basics of drawing, the different techniques of painting water color, pastels, charcoal, acrylic, and oils, how to study objects and draw their form. But the gift is God-given.

In her studio, she said, “I set different models on that table and have students draw what they see.”

She showed me some art her students had done, vases, bowls of fruit, a piece of driftwood, each a masterpiece by a child’s hands.

I said, “You have some talented students.”

She smiled. “Now, let me show you some of John’s work.”

I followed her to another stack where she picked up the top picture.

“This is John’s painting of the fruit.”

I took the artwork and followed her as she guided me through his painting.

“Notice the detail, how he shaded the shadow of bowl underneath and highlighted the light reflecting off the orange?”  I nodded. “But look beyond the bowl.”

 I scanned the page, holding the curling edges taut. Above the painted bowl of fruit was a light.

I glanced over at the light above the table. It was identical to the painted version, down to each tiny link in the chain holding the fixture.

“Look at this,” his instructor said pointing to his painting. “My art books on the table, my paint jar, and the shelf beside the table with each item.”

I looked at each, compared them to the real items. Chills ran with amazement through me.

“That’s not all,” she said. He includes the window behind the table? And this.”

She pointed to the black dog outside the window sitting beside a tree in the painting.

“He sees beyond the obvious, sees the bigger picture.”

She chose another of John’s drawings, a fire-breathing dragon with enormous wings and a tiny figure of a man fighting the creature with his sword. Each individual scale had been drawn on the dragon and the fire exploding from its mouth and nostrils was so real, you would hesitate touching it for fear of being burned. The ground was just as complex, with different sized stones, tiny cracks, wide crevices, and dust rising beneath the valiant man’s feet. The sky revealed a bright orange sun setting behind a rocky mountain range.

“Most artists draw from models or landscapes they see.  But John can draw this kind of detail in things he doesn’t see or may have never seen. Only a select few have this gift.”


There was that word again.

But with gifts also come trials.  John struggled in his school work.

“He has problems paying attention,” one teacher said.

“He’s looking at the board, but his mind is miles away from school work,” said another teacher.

“He needs to be in a special reading class,” still another one said.

Then we heard others word. ADD. Medication.

So, every night we read and did flash cards at the dinner table. Weekly, I took John to tutoring. Even though medication did help John concentrate and stay on task, he hated how it made him feel. We slowly worked our way through each grade.

John’s best friend, Josh, was an artist, too, and throughout school, they yelled and loped through the woods behind our house, imaginations running wild along with them. They drew their own super heroes and developed “save-the-world” plots. They created other worlds with powerful enemies threatening to take over earth and its people, drawings in such intricate detail the blades of grass in a meadow were easily counted as well as the strands of hair draping a character’s shoulders. They had big plans for their artistic endeavors. And I couldn’t wait.

When I received a letter from John’s High School explaining Awards Day and that John would be receiving an award, no one had to tell which award he’d be receiving.  I knew.

I sat on the bleachers in the gym that had filled up with loud voices and the clamor of students finding their seats. On the floor, chairs were neatly lined up and in each chair sat a student who would receive an award.  I watched John tease the girl sitting beside him, clowning around like he always did. The long program was a blur except for John’s art teacher stepping to the podium and calling John up to accept the art award.

After the program, I went to John’s art classroom to thank his teacher.

“John’s one of my most talented art students,” he said.  “He oversaw our school mural project, drew most of it. Come on. I’ll show you.” As I followed him out of the classroom, he said, “He certainly has a gift.”

When the local Museum of Art held its Youth Art Competition, John entered a few of his pieces and won Best of Show.  He also sold his first art piece.  To me!

After John graduated, we looked into art colleges. But there was one problem. School and John had had never mixed.  All he related to the word “school” were other negative words.

One day, John brought home another word. Army.

And another word.


He left for boot camp at Fort Benning in September 2006. I was mortified because troops were being regularly deployed to Iraq. Daily newscasts showed casualty counts from what was called the War on Terrorism. And there was no sign of an end to this war.

At John’s graduation, he received an award for marksmanship. I was proud, but frightened.  All I’d ever seen in John’s hands were crayons and pencils and paint brushes.  Not weapons.

From Fort Benning, he was transferred to Fort Hood. From there, after extensive training, he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq to serve in PSD (Personal Security Detail).

Throughout my house, John’s paintings and drawings hung on the walls and I longed for his gift to once again to bring colorful life into our existence. Everyday, I questioned the Lord and prayed about His plan for John and his gift. All I could visualize was that weapon in my son’s gifted hands.

The phone rang early one morning and I rushed to answer it, smiling immediately when I heard John’s voice.

“Hey, Mama. How’s it going there?”

“Fine,” I said, sounding choked up. “How are things there? You need anything?”

“I’m fine, Mama.  Really I am. But I do need something.”


“The kids here are always asking for soccer balls.”

“Soccer balls?”

“Yeah.  And there’s this one kid—I call him Little Buddy—who comes to the fence asking me for a ball.  I’d really like to give him one. A nice one.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

I hung up, immediately called my pastor and was so excited when he said, “We’ll send John a whole box of soccer balls.”

The boxes went out, the church’s box filled with soccer balls and my box filled with goodies for John and a special ball for Little Buddy. I imagined Iraqi children crowding around John to receive their ball.

Then I knew. John’s gift still lay within his hands, not with a paintbrush or a pencil, but with his love for these children.

And with this love, he was creating something so much bigger than what he could create on paper.

I thought about God’s gift to us on starry night where shepherds were keeping their flock, how He knew His infant son would one day face powerful enemies threatening to take over earth and its people.

God’s plan was so much bigger for His son’s life, bigger than his mother Mary’s or his friends’, or even His disciples’ plans.  They all loved and honored Jesus, but sometimes they couldn’t see past the obvious to see the bigger picture.

I know now that God’s plan is so much bigger for my son John and the gift that lies within his hands.

So much bigger.

By Richelle Putnam


Papa’s Presence

In Memory of C. H. Davis and his beautiful lifelong wife, Clara

Papa was the quiet presence in the household on 33rd Avenue and 20th Street in Meridian, Mississippi. Shorter than most men, the top of his bald head shone in the early morning kitchen light while he sipped cream colored coffee from a saucer rather than a cup. He smelled of sweet tobacco from the pipe he puffed and smoke swirled around him as he read his newspaper with the intensity of a secret agent decoding hidden messages within the words.

A lonely distance haunted Papa’s presence, whether he was in the same room or at the same table. However, in no way did this distance intimidate you because Papa wore a gentle look and his voice was tender and consoling, never boisterous. At the earliest age, I knew Papa’s strength was greater than the stoutest of men. When Papa was home, everything and everyone felt safe, like a colossal hedge surrounded us that nothing could destroy. Even at night, when creaks and moans expelled from their old house, I felt protected from the ghosts in my room where taunting shadows loomed upon the walls and skulked about.

Weekends at my grandparents highlighted each week. Hurried walks up the block to Wall’s Store with the shiny quarter Papa had given me accompanied my eager visions of bright red wax lips or an icy bottle of Coca Cola or the latest Archie or Blondie comic book. Life was good. Life was fun. Life was secure.

I don’t remember when the digging started, only that from sun-up to sundown, Papa was digging, digging, digging under his house. My sister, my cousins, and I would be out back beneath the persimmon tree playing tag or arguing about something important, like who was It. And there Papa would be digging, digging, digging.

Papa wasn’t one you questioned because, well, Papa didn’t talk that much. Neither did he explain when you asked questions. We trusted Papa and simply accepted the fact that he was digging. Why he was digging didn’t matter.

When Papa finally finished his task, he quietly gathered his shovel, pick, and other tools and returned them to the shed out back. Nothing was ever said, that I heard, about the hole beneath the house.

The first time I climbed into the hole, I surveyed it in awe. An entire floor had been added below. The dug out space smelled pungent from damp dirt and mildew and I felt as if I’d been transported to an unknown earthen fantasy world like in H. G. Wells, Journey to the Center of the Earth. My cousins and I descended into this private world to play house or school or to cool off on a sweltering Mississippi day. We told stories or shared updates on friends and school, never once thinking our surroundings bizarre. Heck, we were the coolest kids on the block. I mean, who else’s papa had dug an enormous lair beneath their house.

I grew older and the world beneath Papa’s house became old news, no longer beckoning me into its fascinating, curious setting. It wasn’t until years later, after my grandparents had moved from the residence on 33rd that I learned the depth of my grandfather’s love and the answer to the question I never asked.

During my early 60s childhood, the dread of nuclear war had risen with The Soviet Union and The United States’ development of the hydrogen bomb. The US government had warned that if a nuclear war occurred, it could not protect every citizen. This glaring reality provoked the building of home fallout shelters. And this is what my papa had spent many quiet hours doing beneath his home.

Papa passed away many years ago, but I often think about him, especially when I felt anxious about my soldier son being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember Papa’s endurance when attempting to accomplish what the most powerful country admitted that it couldn’t do. His fear didn’t hurl him into hysteria, but drove him to do what he felt he had to do—protect his family. And somehow that gave me solace knowing his great-grandson was doing the same thing overseas.

Thank you, Papa, for loving us enough to spend your days digging, digging, digging.


By Richelle Putnam – See more about Richelle here 


Only an empty lot remains of the house on the corner of 33rd Avenue and 20th Street. At one time there was a small garage apartment, at the end of the steep driveway, behind the big house, which was home to my Uncle Charles and his family. It was the first building on the corner lot to be torn down. The only house remaining is the one my grandfather built next-door to his house.  My mother, older brother and sister and me lived there first and then my Uncle Eugene and his family. My Uncle Charles, Aunt Agnes and their two children lived in the garage apartment behind Papa’s house.


(Click on “Show Thumbnails” to read the summary behind each slideshow photo)


EMBDC President Wade Jones Resigns

In a Press Release, the EMBDC Board of Directors

stated that the Board has accepted the resignation of Wade Jones as President of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce/economic development organization for Meridian and Lauderdale County. Bob Luke, Chairman of the EMBDC Board made the announcement and said the Board believed it was a good decision for Wade, EMBDC and the community.

A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Wade graduated from the University of Mississippi and since February 2001 has served as EMBDC president. During his tenure, EMBDC’s regional economic growth initiatives included Young Professionals of Meridian, a Small Business Development program, and Leadership Lauderdale. He stated at this time, it was appropriate for him to pursue alternative career tracks.


To empower a diverse leadership culture to achieve economic wealth through excellence in education, new investment and the nurturing of existing business and industry.

The East Mississippi Business Development Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that serves as the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development agency for Meridian and Lauderdale County. Formed in late 1996 by a group of visionary business leaders, the EMBDC serves the City of Meridian, City of Marion, Lauderdale County, and over 1,400 dues-paying members.

 Southern Roots Magazine wishes the best for Wade Jones in his new endeavors and EMBDC in its search for a new president.