Soul Sessions Podcast: Kam Ridley
Mississippi Humanities Council Communications Director Kam Ridley is our guest.
She has news about grant money that's up for grabs, and a look at their efforts to honor Black History Month.
Kim Ridley talks with Soul Sessions guest host Yolanda Clay-Moore in today's episode.
IN THIS EPISODE:
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Paul Wolf: So often we hear about a state agency and we wonder, well, what do they even do? I mean, a vague name. Let's take the Mississippi Humanities Council, for example. That could encompass so much. Is it the arts or history or current events? Well, it could be all of the above.
Hey, it's Paul Wolf, with a front row seat to conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. We call the podcast Soul Sessions. It's the people, places, and events that make the City With Soul shine. Today my colleague, Yolanda Clay-Moore, has a conversation with Mississippi Humanities Council Communications Director Kam Ridley. She has news about grant money that's up for grabs, and a look at their efforts to honor Black History Month. And when Yolanda asked for a definition of the humanities, well, it was kind of textbook, so Kam tried to simplify.
Kam: You want me to break that down in layman's terms?
Yolanda: Yes. Yes, that would be great.
Kam: All right. In short, we are a state agency and we help people learn about the subject of humanities. We put on events, we provide grants to people who want to do events, who want to do talks, have classes, create oral history projects. So anything that deals with human nature and the human touchpoint, that's where we come in. Did that help?
Yolanda: Yeah, that helps a lot. Now, you mentioned grants. Tell us more about what those programs look like.
Kam: So we offer two different grants. The first one is the mini-grant, that's $2,500. And it's for non-profits who do public facing programs. That basically means it just needs to be a free program to the public that hits on a humanities topic. What's a humanities topic? Anything almost, right? Anything that has to deal with humans.
So we're talking literature. We're talking, it could be something as simple as button making. It can be hands-on textile things. So that's the first grant. You are eligible for the mini-grant anytime during the year. That's the best part about it. You just have to apply four weeks prior to your program.
Yolanda: That's important to know because people may be hearing this and have a program coming up, and they might not fit into that guideline. So that's important to know.
Kam: Yeah. Don't hit us up two weeks before, but if it's four weeks before, we got you. And the other thing, what's important about the council is we actually like to spend our money. We're one of those councils that are like, "Hey, we want to fund as many projects as possible so we can reach as many people as possible." So we encourage grantees to call us first before you just start delving in and putting all your info together. Because we have our program coordinators who will literally walk you through every step. We're here to explain it, explain what you need, so that when you do submit your application, it will be successful.
That's our goal, is to make sure that that application is going to get through, because we don't want to hang onto the money.
Yolanda: Some people are just ... they shy away from applying because they're scared of the process. So that's wonderful to know.
Kam: Yep. And then the next grant is our regular grant. We only offer that grant two times a year. The first time is in May, and then the second time is in September. Those grants are up to $10,000. Those support a vast array of projects, but much larger projects. So, conferences. If you think the Mississippi Book Fair, we support that. Productions, TV and film productions, documentaries. We've supported a lot of those.
And so we do have deadlines coming up on May 1. But again, have people give us a call and we will walk you through the process. It really is simple. If you can get somebody on the line, a person, a human, and talk through the process. We want to fund humanities programs in Mississippi. And the more that we can fund and the more that we can reach people across the state, the better we all are for it.
Yolanda: Just to put you on notice, I'm going to have you on speed dial, okay?
Kam: Excellent. Please do. Please do.
Yolanda: Because we do get a lot of those calls and everything doesn't fit into our scope of offering. So it's good to have another entity in place that we can forward them to. So that's really great to know.
Now, you mentioned that one of your roles was to tell people about Mississippi Humanities Council. And from my understanding, this is the first time they've had a communications person in place. Is that correct?
Kam: Check that out. Black history in Black History Month. It is, actually. This is the first time in the council's 51-year history that they've had a communications director. And that position came about because the board was saying, "We do great work. We've been recognized by the NEH over the years, but people in our home state really don't know what we do." And so they said, "Hey, let's come up with the communications manager position."
And then I moved back to Mississippi and I thought to myself, what a fantastic way to transition from news into another role, and to be able to talk about the good things in Mississippi. That's my only job, to talk about the great forward-facing public programs. I was like, "Sign me up, honey. Tell me where to go." So that is my main job right now, telling everyone what we do and who we are.
Yolanda: The last time I saw you, you were talking to me about some grant money opportunities for the Mississippi Freedom Trail. And I know we have at least 30 markers throughout the state. Tell us a little bit more about that program and how communities or individuals can gain access to that funding.
Kam: Thank you so much for asking about this program. The Mississippi Freedom Trail basically honors civil rights stories, places, people that have made an impact in our state. What we're trying to do now, because we just got $1.8 million in additional funding, along with Visit Mississippi, and what we're trying to do is reach all of these lesser known stories. We all know about Medgar Evers, we know about Fannie Lou Hamer, we know about Ida B. Wells, but who we don't know about is Ms. Maddie, who may have impacted civil rights in her church along with the other 52 church members.
Those are the stories that we're trying to get out right now with the Mississippi Freedom Trail. So here's the most important part. Right now, the council is paying 100% for all Freedom Trail markers to be installed in the state.
Yolanda: Wow. Wow. So there's no more matching. Fully-funded?
Kam: Fully-funded, but for a limited time.
Kam: Hear that again. I know I sound like one of those, "But first, if you dial ..." But really, it is for limited time. People have until March 31 to submit the application. And the application is literally one PDF sheet. It is not that deep. You just go on the website, click submit here. And it is just a Google form that gives us the who, what, when, where, and why. And then we have a committee that will help decide which markers get approved.
But we want to hear stories from everyday people. We're reaching out to faith leaders, we're reaching out to community leaders, libraries, we're going into neighborhoods. So anybody who has a story about something that has impacted Mississippi civil rights history, it's not too small. Tell us. We want to know.
Yolanda: Well, one of the things we always like to do is, just tell us a little something about, why Jackson?
Kam: Why Jackson? Jackson is my hometown. I was born and raised here. And when I left ... I was a news reporter, and I left right after Hurricane Katrina. I actually thought I'd never come back. But one day, I was just sad and came home. My mom said, "Come home for a visit." I went to church, I go to Cade Chapel. And my minister's sermon was the prodigal son.
Yolanda: Oh, wow.
Kam: And I never left after that. I felt like that was made for me to come back home. Because I had been thinking about coming back home and it had been on my heart for five or six years, but I just kept moving, kept going. Miami, Boston, New York, wherever I decided. But when that sermon hit home, it was like, it hit home. And then my mama fed me right after that and I was full and I went to sleep and had a dream about being home. I never went back.
That's why Jackson, because it's home. But also because it's like a renaissance now. Everything that's happening in this moment, I feel very led to be here, and I'm meeting people. And it's just alignment, total alignment with where we are in our city. So I'm excited to be back.
Paul Wolf: That's Kam Ridley, the Director of Communications for the Mississippi Humanities Council, in a conversation with my colleague Yolanda Clay-Moore. It sounds like if you have a passion, the Humanities Council may have a grant for you. Their website is mshumanities.org. I urge you to check it out.
Soul Sessions is produced by Visit Jackson, the destination organization for Mississippi's capital city. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Rickey Thigpen. If you want to learn more about us, you can always go to our website. It's visitjackson.com. I'm Paul Wolf, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.