I remember when I told my mothers side of the family that I’d accepted an internship with Dr. John Perkins and had to relocate to Jackson, Mississippi for one year. Some questioned if this Chicago girl would adjust to seeing chickens crossing the road. I told them I’d give it a try. I’m ashamed at how ignorant we were of the state that I now reverence as the foundation of my lineage. However, I would later discover that my paternal side of the family carried our roots with us from the South to the North often referring to ourselves as “Mississippi Mud”.
I arrived to West Jackson on a late sticky afternoon. Dr. Perkins grandson John, affectionately known as John-John or Big John, picked me up from the airport and transported me to Antioch. The Perkins Foundation bought about 11 homes in West Jackson, renovated them, and rented them out to the local community. However, Antioch was the mother ship of all the homes. With nine rooms, it housed mission groups, business meetings, and my favorite: house church. If you were lucky enough you’d get to meet Lowell and Dixie Noble; an elderly White couple from Iowa who often stayed at Antioch for the summer and devoted their latter years to fighting oppression. They were minimalists before it was trending and we often dreaded when it was their turn to cook for “house church”, because they provided barely just enough food and didn’t believe in ice.
I placed my luggage in a huge blue bedroom that had a bathroom attached. This would be my temporary dwelling place until the other interns arrived. I gave myself a mini tour of Antioch and wondered what in the world was I doing in Mississippi. I wandered into the kitchen where John was waiting for me with Jonathan, affectionately known as Scoot. He was an employee of the foundation and would soon become one of my many “play cousins”. They asked if I was hungry. I was. They said they knew just the spot. My first introduction to Jackson food was a Black owned burger joint by the name of Stamp’s located across the street from Jackson State University. Stamp’s burgers are the best burgers in the world.
We went back to Antioch and they informed me that I’d meet more people and family in upcoming days. Scoot gave me a bat for security before they left. The Chicagoan in me chuckled on the inside. My laughter didn’t last too long. I couldn’t sleep my first night in West Jackson due to the constant gunshots and Sonic Boom (Jackson State drum line) late night rehearsal. I finally drifted to sleep as it was time to wake up. Thank God my excitement surpassed my exhaustion as I prepared for my first full day in Jackson.
I met Grandpa. Obviously, he isn’t my biological grandfather. His name is Dr. John Perkins: a Civil Rights activist who has devoted his life to developing communities of racial reconciliation. He’s the only Black man I know that can say whatever he wants in a room full of White evangelicals and receive a standing ovation. He has written eleven books (one of which I had the privilege to help interview him for) and has a center dedicated to his mission at Seattle Pacific University. And yet, he allows his interns to refer to him as Grandpa, which adds to my growing list of reasons why I love the South.
My roommates started to arrive and I moved into a house directly next door to the home of Dr. Perkins. Every day, Monday — Friday, we walked a few feet to the office and worked to help the mission of what is now known as the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation.
My life as an intern was fulfilling. I learned the passion and commitment it takes to run a non-profit organization. I attended Rotary Club breakfasts on Tuesdays. We made history by attending the reopening of King Edward Hotel after it shut down in 1967 for refusing to integrate. I took groups of visitors on Black history tours and even planned/hosted an event with Dr. Perkins and Charles Evers, the brother of Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers. Life was good.
Stay tuned for part ii.