HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - For Black History Month, WDAM 7 is highlighting African Americans making real change in their communities.
This changemaker is someone who is trying to make life better for the people who call east Hattiesburg and the borders of the Leaf River and Bouie River home.
Hattiesburg City Councilwoman Deborah Delgado has represented the folks of Ward 2 for five terms now.
For her, it’s not a job, it’s a labor of love because it’s the community her family has called home for generations.
In order to make real change, Delgado said she had to be persistent.
”I don’t accept no,” Delgado said.
That’s the mindset Delgado stood firm in for more than a decade to see her brainchild “Twin Forks Rising” become more than just a plan on paper.
”Because if you can visualize it, you know, then you just have to hang on to it until you can make it happen,” Delgado said.
Delgado’s ambitious plan was to bring Ward 2 back to its former glory, and it came to life in 2013 when the city adopted Twin Forks Rising, a Community Development Renewal District.
The area once filled with thriving black-owned businesses along the now historic Mobile and Bouie streets declined over the years.
”Historically, Hattiesburg treated it as a problem area,” Delgado said.
Delgado said reviving the community has meant tackling those problems that plague the ward, namely mother nature.
”Not only have we had major flood events over the years, but we’ve gone through Hurricane Katrina, a 2013 major storm, the one that really damaged the University of Southern Mississippi,” Delgado said. “And then, in 2017 we had another big hit, another part of the ward. The one that damaged every building on William Carey’s campus. It also flattened communities within Twin Forks Rising.”
Delgado said when you add poverty to the equation, the perception of Ward 2 isn’t good.
”As a consequence, you have a community that looks like it’s not being taken care of, that looks like it’s not being focused on, that looks like it’s not being valued,” Delgado said.
To change that, Twin Forks Rising is starting to restore certain parts of the community with the help of investors. One of the first projects is the old Eaton School.
”It has only been in the past few days that we’ve been able to have a developer step forward who has the ability to restore the exterior of this property and make it a property where there will be residential spaces on the interior,” Delgado said. “In addition to that, having townhomes on an adjacent property.”
The next project is teaming up with The Sunshine Lady Foundation.
”The Sunshine Lady Foundation was established by Warren Buffets’ sister,” Delgado said. “She is someone who had a heart for people in need.”
This partnership will help those truly in need a new roof over their heads, like Navy veteran James Hendricks.
Delgado sent WDAM pictures of the unlivable conditionings of Hendricks’s home. WDAM also saw Hendricks home and spoke to him about the help he will receive from Twin Forks Rising.
”It’s in bad condition. I need a new one,” Hendricks said. “I’m glad that Twin Forks Rising Corporation is building me a new house.”
Hendricks said he won’t be the only one getting a new home. Delgado said the partnership will enable Twin Forks Rising to build six homes in the floodplain and to completely remodel another.
If you are a resident in the East Jerusalem area and tired of the train delays, Delgado said there’s a plan for an overpass.
”On Williams Street, just east of the railroad track, where Hall Avenue dead-ends on the west side of the tracks, this is the area where our overpass will allow a way in and out of the community in the event of train traffic,” Delgado said.
Delgado said these plans just scratch the surface of what Twin Forks Rising has in store for its residents and an area Delgado said has been underestimated.
”The things that the people in Ward 2 want is the same thing that everybody else wants: a good quality of life, a safe place to raise their children and an opportunity to earn an equitable income so that you are able to take care of yourself,” Delgado said.
There is much more in store for Ward 2. To see the master plan and its three phases, visit the city’s website.