Reaffirming the Connection of the Brown University-Tougaloo College Partnership

September 29, 2022

Pictured from left to right: Brown University’s President Christina  H. Paxson, Bonner Fellows Ciara Sing ‘22, Briannah Cook ‘24, Luis Gomez ‘24 and Kevin Kim ‘24 and Tougaloo College President, Carmen J. Walters.

Students are pictured with Venita Halbert, the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, MS.

Bonner Fellows and Swearer staff members gathered together on Tougaloo’s campus. Mary Jo Callan, Vice President of Community Engagement and the Stark Executive Director of the Swearer Center, was able to join students on the March trip.

Bonner Fellows and Swearer staff were able to visit the courtroom where the young Emmett Till faced sentencing for his alleged harassment crime by an all-white jury. Benjamin Saulsberry, staff member of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, facilitated this visit.

Pictured from left to right: Students gathered around Mrs. Young, co-owner of the Young Family Farm, as she fed milk to her baby goats and shared more about their livestock care and vegetable growing operations; Bonner Fellow, Ashlyn Lovato ‘23, posing with a collection of ripe squash that she picked; Bonner Fellows spent an afternoon harvesting fresh squash, tomatoes and peppers from one of Tougaloo’s high tunnel greenhouse gardens that were created through the Tougaloo Agri-Growth Initiative;

Brown University-Tougaloo College Partnership

The Brown-Tougaloo Partnership (BTP) began in 1964 and remains a core partnership today.  Each year as part of the BTP, participating Bonner Community Fellows engage with students, staff and faculty at Tougaloo College and connect with local activists through tours of the Mississippi Delta Civil Rights Heritage sites.

At the end of May 2022, Bonner Community Fellows and Swearer Center staff members wrapped up their sixth annual trip to Jackson, Mississippi. An essential piece of Bonner Community Fellowship (BCF)’s four-year program, the trip’s itinerary focuses on exploring the history and legacy of community organizers and institutions involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Two groups of Bonner Community Fellows participated in this past year’s Swearer-sponsored trip due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, with sophomores attending over Brown’s Spring Break and juniors attending in late May. Next year, the Swearer Center will be leading this trip over the winter break. This will be open to Bonner Fellows and, for the first time, students participating in the other Swearer Center fellowships will be invited to attend.

History of the Brown University-Tougaloo College Partnership

The Brown -Tougaloo Partnership was “formalized in 1964 during the Civil Rights era with the goal of enriching both campuses through student, faculty and administrative exchanges…in the over 50 years since its creation, more than 500 individuals have participated in our various programs and projects.” The annual Bonner trip is one example of a short-term exchange; Brown and Tougaloo students of any year are welcome to participate in a semester or year-long exchange through the benefits of the BTP.

A Historically Black College nestled in the heart of Jackson, Mississippi, Tougaloo College has been navigating tumultuous racial politics in its southern context since its founding in 1869. Students have the opportunity to learn about long-lasting partnerships between institutions such as Brown and Tougaloo on the trip while reflecting on themes of power and privilege. Through engagement with the Tougaloo community, students can contextualize their experiences at Brown and participate in a meaningful dialogue with members of a distinct campus community. 

March Bonner Trip 

Over the Spring Break trip students were invited to participate in Tougaloo’s 2022 Social Justice and Civil Rights Conference, organized by the Reuben V. Anderson Institute for Social Justice. Noteworthy panelists included actress and producer Aunjanue Ellis and DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, leader of the long-standing newspaper known as “the voice of Black Mississippians,” the Jackson Advocate. Panelists spoke on the role of the arts and media in advancing racial health disparities and needs within the Mississippi health sector.

Bonner Fellows began their trip by visiting Jackson’s conjoined Mississippi History and Civil Rights Museums and exploring the downtown area. Students then attended structured learning tours of Mississippi Delta Civil Rights Heritage sites led by Dr. Brinda Willis. The Spring Break trip tour was initially organized by The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, whose partnership with us is detailed in this article. Stops included the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden Statue, the Tutwiler Community Center & Tutwiler Quilters’ Headquarters and the Delta Health Center. Students had time at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to hold in memory and reflect on the violent Mississippi lynching of the young boy Emmett Till, known as one of the inciting racist tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement. With facilitation help from staff member Benjamin Saulsberry, students were asked to compare the public responses of Emmett Till’s lynching to the responses of other historical and contemporary injustices kept at the forefront of our society grappling with the ripple effects of white supremacy. 

Mr. Tony Bounds, the College Archivist at Tougaloo, provided students with a historical walking tour of the campus during both visits. Mr. Bounds pulled from Tougaloo’s rich archives to share a few snippets of the school’s long and inspiring history of student organizing and activism, like newspaper clippings about the Tougaloo Nine students who organized sit-ins to desegregate public spaces in 1961. These stories highlight the vital importance of civic engagement in the setting of higher education. In an article featuring Mr. Bound’s work, Tougaloo’s 14th president Dr.. Carmen J. Walters shared: “I realize a great responsibility lies on the shoulders of institutions of higher learning like Tougaloo to produce the next generation of leaders for the betterment of society.” Through facilitated dialogue, solo reflections and group activities, Bonner Fellows bridged their understanding of the past and present cultural contexts of the United States on these trips.

May Bonner Trip

Sprinkled throughout the walking tours and site visits that characterize this second Bonner Fellow trip to Jackson were also moments of connection over food– and what better way to build community than through delicious nourishment? From dining on fried chicken and cornbread at the local establishment Cock in the Walk to chowing on the vegan delicacies of the Black family-owned Herbal Blessings cafe, students and staff alike had ample culinary experiences to bond over. For both the Spring Break and May trip experiences, students also had the opportunity to eat at the Young Family Farm, a Black-owned family business that is part of the Higher Purpose Company whose mission is to build community wealth amongst Black Mississippi residents. Over food sourced from the Young Family Farm, Higher Purpose Co. staff members shared the importance of developing economic and social support networks for Black entrepreneurs who face many discriminatory challenges while trying to establish and develop their businesses in the area. For the Young family, such support has been crucial in allowing them to launch their business initiatives related to growing, pickling and canning produce and cultivating wine. Amidst the omnipresent dry cotton fields that evoke the history of racist, violent American plantation sites worked by enslaved peoples, the Young Family Farm stands out as an oasis of economic and moral growth and a site for ample learning for our students. 

Brown students also met with Attorney Julian Miller, the Director of the Reuben V. Anderson Pre-Law Program and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tougaloo College, who runs the Tougaloo Agri-Growth Initiative. On the May trip, Bonner Fellows learned about the sustainable, on-campus farms in development to support local produce production and were even invited to pick vegetables from the blooming garden. On the March trip, students had a special visit with Tougaloo Professor Dr. Wendy White to the Jackson Medical Mall, a community development project that “transformed an abandoned shopping mall into a modern medical and retail facility.”

Ways to Get Involved

The two Bonner Community Fellow trips to Mississippi and Tougaloo College this year sparked many conversations about the importance of resource-sharing, relationality, communication, reflection, cross-cultural learning and, above all else, the need for community building in enacting change. Visit our webpage to learn more about the Bonner Community Fellowship page or explore Swearer’s ways to engage.