BILOXI, Mississippi — Tomesha Davis grew up in East Biloxi and still considers East Biloxi home. Now, in her role as Director of Client Services for Habitat for Humanity Gulf Coast, she serves residents in the area. Davis was one of 7 recent graduates of the first East Biloxi Community Collaborative leadership training.
“The first Ah ha moment is when I walked in for orientation, there were so many different people,” said Davis. “There were senior citizens. There was a young, single mother who had recently finished school. There was just a different collection of people. As I looked around, I thought, ‘this is going to be good.’”
This was the first year of the training class which is geared to create a cadre of informed and empowered East Biloxi leaders. The participants must live or work in East Biloxi and have a passion to see conditions in the area improve. Classes were held once a month for seven months on topics such as civic engagement, education, and economic security. Attendees like Shirley Moses, a senior citizen who lives in Point Cadet, say the training made them feel more empowered to make a real difference in their communities.
“I enjoyed that class,” said Moses. “As a matter of fact, I hate that it’s over,” she laughed. “I learned what is needed to become effective leaders. I learned you must be a trust worthy person, knowledgeable, smart, and wise. You also have to be able to listen, because if you can’t listen to somebody else sometime, you can’t be a leader.”
Throughout the monthly sessions, participants worked on plans individually and collectively to address their areas of concerns. Now that the classes are complete, graduates are charged with putting those plans into action with the help of EBCC. Davis is partnering with another graduate to start aquaponics gardens in the area. Aquaponics refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).
“East Biloxi is classified as a food desert, so with these gardens, residents in the area can have access to healthy food,” she said. “It’s also two-fold, because besides them having access to healthy food, as it (the aquaponics garden) grows they could possibly generate income from it by selling their products at the farmer’s market. That’s long term.”
Leadership participants say the training is one they will never forget. Several of them plan to stay in touch with each other as they pursue their projects. Davis says the relationships she’s gained are invaluable and the knowledge she’s gained is something she will take with her always.
“I’m using what I have learned in my day to day,” said Davis. “If I have a client who comes in who is from that area, I’m more invested and engaged. I thought I was before, but I really am now.”
Leadership graduates recently enjoyed a special graduation ceremony held at Patio 44 Restaurant in Biloxi to recognize them as they received a certificate of completion.