“The Help” and HKS Students Provide Boost for Mississippi Town

March 5, 2012
By Jenny Li Fowler

This year’s Academy Award for Best Picture may have gone to “The Artist,” but another Oscar-nominated film was a winner on a different level for a group of Harvard Kennedy School students.
In 2010, Greenwood, Miss. hosted the vast majority of the shooting for ”The Help,” a story of racial segregation and domestic workers in the South during the 1960s. While the filming of the movie brought attention to the area’s past and present, it also laid the foundation for the community to improve its future, particularly in the impoverished neighborhood known as Baptist Town.
Not only did the filming boost the local economy, but a premiere attended by the film's stars and producers in Madison, Miss., raised about $150,000, all of which was designated to improve the Baptist Town community.
The HKS Community Development Project (CDP) – a student group whose mission is to empower Baptist Town residents to build locally-driven solutions to neighborhood challenges.– teamed up with local residents and The Fuller Center for Housing of Greenwood/Leflore to help put that money and other resources to good use in Baptist Town.
The Fuller Center for Housing promotes collaborative and innovative partnerships with individuals and organizations in its quest to provide adequate shelter for all people in need worldwide.
“We see both a lot of challenges in Baptist Town but also a lot of capacity with the residents, so we think it's a good partnership,” said James Solomon MPP 2012, CDP co-director.
Kennedy School students even recently rolled up their sleeves to help rebuild a front porch for a Baptist Town resident, Marie Reed, who merely wanted to be able to sit outside her home once again. Baptist Town residents guided the construction process, while the Fuller Center donated the materials.
“Ms. Marie's grandson was telling us that she worked three jobs for about 30 years and was retired on a fixed income, so she didn't have the kind of capital to do these sorts of improvements on her own,” said Solomon.
In addition to bringing an economic boost to the town of 15,000 residents, the impact of the filming of the Oscar-nominated “The Help” can be measured in more than dollars.
“A lot of the residents got really energized by getting to work on the movie and getting to film it. And the folks from Dreamworks have been really wonderful in their commitment to Baptist Town,” said Solomon. “The movie has definitely served as a catalyst to get people in Baptist Town more excited about improving their community and get all of Greenwood to work together and make it a better place.”

picture of HKS students helping to renovate a porch

Tyler Jaeckel MPP 2013 (L) and James Solomon MPP 2012 assist Baptist Town residents in the repair of Ms. Marie Pryor's porch.

“We see both a lot of challenges in Baptist Town but also a lot of capacity with the residents, so we think it's a good partnership,” said James Solomon MPP 2012, CDP co-director.

picture of HKS students helping to renovate a porch

Kendra Bradner MPP 2013 (L) and Dawoun Jyung MPP 2013 (R) staple screens to the porch.


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