By Jackie Hampton
“If you want something you never had, you have to do something you have never done,” said Marvin Hogan, executive director of Friends of Children of Mississippi, Inc., as he addressed those in attendance of the 50th year celebration of a head start program that has serviced 145, 000 children over a span of 50 years. Friends of Children, Inc. celebrated its 50th year anniversary Oct. 22, at the Jackson Hilton on County Line Road in Jackson.
Attendees included former students and parents of FOC, former and current board members, insurance agents, staff and other invited guests. Hogan, who has stated over the years that FOC is committed to placing vulnerable children and their families on a pathway to success, said we are living in a world that seems more confusing every day and in order to improve the community we live in, we must continue to work together.
Hogan was very pleased to announce that FOC is in its second year of a five-year non-competitive funding application grant. This announcement resulted in a standing ovation. The keynote speaker for the celebration was Yolande Allen, former FOC deputy director. Allen, stated she was very impressed with a video showing the history of FOC which included footage of Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman is a strong supporter of FOC. Allen recalled the time when Sen. Robert Kennedy, (during President John F. Kennedy’s administration) and his assistant, Attorney Peter Edelman along with Joseph Clark of Mississippi toured the poverty-ridden slums of Mississippi to see the conditions in which children were living in the state. It was during this tour in 1967 that Edelman met Marian Wright and they were married in July 1968. Allen said one must remember the many shoulders of those FOC is standing on, many of which she said, their names are unknown. These are individuals which brought food to the early FOC centers when there was no funding. She said women brought their greens and their peas and their flour and sugar.
The centers were not the nice buildings we see today Allen told the audience. She said many of the centers were located in churches either in Sunday school classes or in the sanctuary where pews were pushed back. She said the staff gave the children a lot of love. Allen said, “I love you is the least heard statement children hear today, and we must pass this statement on.” She said the little souls teachers impact today are looking for love and former students of FOC need to come back and volunteer to work for head start centers or seek permanent jobs in head start centers. Allen introduced one of her former students of head start who gave a strong testimony regarding FOC. Lania Thompson said, “I am a product of head start.” She said that coming from a single-parent home she attended the Farmhaven Center in 1982.
She said that head start set the tone for her becoming a lifelong learner and a head start instructor. When she announced she received her master’s degree from Jackson State University, a thunder of applause broke out. Thompson has been employed by FOC, Inc. for 16 years serving in various positions throughout her career. She said her children also attended head start. Cathy Gaston, FOC deputy/EHS director, presented other “head start babies.” Testimonies were given by a mother, Nekella Blackmon and her twin sons, Jestin Clerk and Jeremy Clerk. The boys are active honor students at Shirley D. Simmons Middle School in Canton. Blackmon, who now works for Tepper Head Start Center in Isola proudly stated just as her sons had done “I was a head start kid.” A final testimony was given by Amaya Jones, an 18-year-old head start student who said even though she had received numerous awards and certificates, her “Potty Award” from head start meant more to her than any because it set her on a path of lifelong learning. Jones is a graduate of Mississippi School of the Arts with emphasis in theatre.
She is now a freshman at the University of Mississippi majoring in liberal arts studies with emphasis in English, African-American studies and theatre. After graduation, she wants to attend Howard Law School and become an attorney, hoping to one day own her own law firm. Jones said she has been able to achieve much with the help of God and a great foundation at the early childhood center.