by Jerry W. Robinson, Jr., Ph.D., Director Center for Community Development Delta State University Cleveland, Mississippi and Professor Emeritus University of Illinois


This manuscript presents a conceptional and operational framework for a holistic approach to community development. It spans across thirty-three years of my life, time I spent interacting personally and professionally with Ken Wilkinson, who helped guide me in this approach to community development. I've presented the material in four stages. Much of the information deals with the relationship that Ken and I developed as professional colleagues and collaborators. The goal is to demonstrate how Ken has influenced and continues to shape my life--sometimes like dynamite and sometimes like yeast! The four stages are:

  • Stage 1: Fellow Graduate Students and Friends
  • Stage 2: Student: Instructor and Dissertation Advisor
  • Stage 3: Professional Colleagues and Collaborators: Developing Programs and Models for Community Development
  • Stage 4: Riding in the Community Development Omnibus in which Ken Drives


Ken Wilkinson entered my life as a fellow graduate student at Mississippi State University in the fall of 1962. His demeanor was quiet, studious, kind, attentive, supportive and unassuming. He continued to present himself accordingly throughout our long relationship. When we met, Ken was in the final phase of his doctoral program in rural sociology. I was beginning the masters program. I had changed career goals from agricultural missionary work to rural sociology because of my intellectual conflict with prevailing theological beliefs, and with issues related to social justice--desegregation and race relations--in the South, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was in search of new friends with common interests. Because of our common backgrounds, intellectual curiosity, and shared interest, Ken and I became friends quickly.

Both Ken and I grew up in strong families and in the church. We had earned bachelor degrees from colleges affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Ken had attended Louisiana College in Pineville, Louisiana. In those days, Ken was a big, muscular guy. He played tackle and attended college on a football scholarship. I had graduated from Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi. As undergraduates, both of us had majored in sociology. In the early days, Ken and I spent lots of time discussing preachers, racism, the merits and demerits of college football, and the idiosyncrasies of our major professor, Harold Kaufman. Both of us had two sons who were born while we were in graduate school, so issues related to parenting was a concern too.

Ken and I had little in common with church leaders who knew the answer to all of society's complex racial and cultural problems, especially those leaders who used religious doctrine to espouse social, cultural and racial superiority. We especially had difficulty with ministers and church leaders who saw no relationship between the Christian ethic, social justice and the Bill of Rights. There were many persons in Mississippi during this period who used scripture to promote racial superiority, leaders who would deny social justice to African Americans because of their religious convictions. One of our common professional goals was to learn more about how roots of prejudice and discrimination develop and/or prevail in some communities so we might help society deal with these complex problems.

Harold Kaufman was a common topic of discussion among most graduate students at Mississippi State University. He was the University's first "distinguished professor" in any academic area. Dr. Kaufman had built the department of sociology and rural life into one of the strongest in the southeast.

Thus, the administration at Mississippi State supported his work, as was further evidenced by their agreeing to create and fund the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) under Kaufman's leadership. SSRC remains a strong and viable unit to this date.

Harold Kaufman was a person with strong convictions and unwavering ethics. Ken observed: "Dr. Kaufman is one of the hardest workers I have ever known, and he expects his graduate students to follow his example." Kaufman would arrive at his university office at the crack of dawn. Every day he returned home at noon for lunch and a "power nap." He was always back in his office by 1:45 p.m. and often worked into the evening. Kaufman was a small, stooped-shouldered man as the result of an illness at an early age. Yet his energy level was high, and his intellectual stature was at the top of the profession during 1966.

I think Ken and I chose Dr. Kaufman to be our major professor for two reasons. First, because we were serious students, and Harold Kaufman always treated the two of us with the same consideration that he gave to faculty and staff members. He encouraged and insisted that we participate in faculty and in SSRC staff meetings. When visiting scholars or consultants, such as Roland Warren of Brandies University, George Hillery of the University of Virginia, or Alvin Bertrand of Louisiana State University, came to the campus, Dr. Kaufman made sure that we had the opportunity to attend seminars they led and to interact with them in one-on-one settings. Second, Ken and I were attracted to Kaufman because of his contributions to community development. He was a man of high status in rural sociology. He served as president of the Rural Sociological Society and the Southern Sociological Society while Ken and I were at Mississippi State, and he had begun to develop his notion of the community as an associational network or community field theory shortly before we arrived at MSU. From the beginning, Ken was interested in the theoretical implications of community field theory. I was interested in its practical applications. Dr. Kaufman, Ken and I recognized in the sixty's that communities with strong horizontal and vertical linkages, networks, were able to identify problems, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate the way they solved community problems. Developing internal organizational capacity was developing "the" community. Social capital is not a new idea, as some recent authors would have us believe!

In brief, during the first two years of our relationship, most of the interactions which Ken and I had were typical of relationships shared by most graduate students who become friends. But I'm certain that I learned more from Ken, benefited more from our relationship than he did.


My next association with Ken was in a very different role--he was my teacher and advisor from 1964 to 1966. After earning a doctorate of philosophy in rural sociology from MSU, Ken became a member of its faculty and associate director of the Social Science Research Center. During 1964, Ken was my instructor in two graduate seminars--one in social psychology and one in group dynamics. To this day, I have my class notes and one of the texts, Individual in Society, by David Krech, Richard Curtchfield and Egerton L. Ballachey. This text was published by McGraw Hill Book Company in 1962 and remains a common reference. Always thoroughly professional, Ken was a generous and sensitive instructor.

Several memories of Ken during the second stage of our relationship are vivid. Ken's performance in the classroom was exceptional--as a young assistant professor, he was a seasoned and skillful instructor. Through his lectures and seminars, Ken demonstrated mastery of the subject matter. His teaching methods included in-class application of theory from group dynamics and social psychology--he bridged the gap between theory and practice to make his classes dynamic. Even in his first years of classroom instruction, Ken usually came to class without lecture notes--he only brought the class roster and whatever papers or tests we may have written for him. I remember Ken saying, "After you complete this class in group dynamics, you will never be forced to attend a boring meeting because if you find the presentations or discussions boring, you can become intellectually absorbed analyzing 'why?'. If you master the information which will be presented in this course, you will benefit from this course as long as you live." He was correct. I have followed his advise, playing mental games to turn many dull meetings into interesting events.

During the mid-sixty's, Ken helped Harold Kaufman build a strong research program in the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State. It was my good fortune to work under Ken's supervision as we planned the research project for my doctoral studies, and as I gathered data for the research which supported my dissertation. The research project was titled "Community Structure and Involvement." It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. My family and I spent the summers of 1964 and 1965 in Natchez, Mississippi, where I worked under Ken's supervision.

These were troubled times in the Deep South, a period of intense racial tension and conflict. While we were off campus gathering data, manufacturing plants, homes, and cars were bombed, several in Natchez! For protection, Ken made sure that my family and I had official university documents, proof that we were MSU researchers not insurrectionist! These security measures provided solace and helped eliminate suspicion. During this intense period of field work, Ken taught me skills that have served me well throughout my career.

Because of intense racial conflict over voter registration and school desegregation during this period, data collection was an arduous and precarious task. During this stage of our relationship, Ken taught me the art and science of community development field work, a craft which he mastered very early in his career. For example, I recall the day Ken and I were pre-testing our interview schedule in Piney Woods, a rural area near the Mississippi State campus. We needed to make sure that the questions we intended to ask subjects in our sample were understandable and made sense to community residents.

Ken parked his car in front of a small, wood-framed farm house. Upon getting out, Ken paused and began looking around, carefully viewing the landscape. When I inquired, "What are you doing? Is this the correct place? Is something wrong?" Ken replied, "No! We want to interview someone inside this house, and they may be watching us. So, look around as if you want to buy the place, then they'll let us inside. After bragging about the place, maybe we can complete the interview." His strategy worked; we completed pre-test interviews at every residence included in the sample. Ken Wilkinson could be subtle.

Ken was a member of my dissertation committee. My research goal was to learn more about the influence of social class on community identity and participation, or social involvement in Natchez, Mississippi. We learned that participation in the community field and the strength of associational networks in Natchez was indeed strong, but participation among African Americans tended to be informal, while among whites, it was more formal. Ken's contribution to my professional career during this stage was very significant. In addition to providing sound advice to my research design and analysis, he helped edit the final manuscript. But for his help, it would have never passed the committee or library's review. From Ken, I learned not to dangle participles, not to split infinitives, not to state repeatedly--"it is interesting to note that ...," and not to end sentences with prepositions.

Being the generous person that he was, Ken and his family hosted a yard party at their home in June of 1966. It was immediately after the MSU graduation where I received the Ph.D. Faculty, graduate students (colleagues from the University) and my extended family attended. I recall Ken and Dr. Kaufman pulling me aside near the end of the party. "Congratulations!" they said, "We're proud of you. We're happy that you have earned the Ph.D. and that you have a great job. That's the good news . . . The bad news is that a Ph.D. is only good for three or four years. It won't get you tenure or promoted. You must keep studying, and you must publish if your career is to develop." I have never forgotten that moment -- Perhaps it was the first time I understood the reality of being a student and a professional. I have shared this advice with every graduate student with whom I've had the privilege of working. Indeed, one does not cease growing until after one quits learning!


During 1968, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded a substantial three-year grant to the Research Center of Houston Baptist University, which I directed. The purpose of the grant was to study how being a "cross-over teacher1" influenced the mental health of public school teachers. A cross-over teacher was a person who was working for the first time in a desegregated classroom where the teacher's race was different from the majority of the students. In other words, teachers were crossing what had previously been "racial barriers." The guidance which Ken provided as this project was developed and implemented was valuable to our success. One of his key insights was that attention should be given to levels of social support and rejection that teachers might receive from their families and significant others outside of the school setting because they were cross-over teachers. This insight proved to be the most significant learning from the research. Those teachers who experienced the most stress in the desegregated classroom received the least off-the-job support from significant others in their lives.2 By-products of this applied research project and of action programs on issues related to school desegregation led to my appointments in the departments of sociology and agricultural economics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Let me describe how Ken was involved in this transition.

During the spring of 1970, Bob Bealer, chair person of the rural sociology search committee at Penn State, wrote to me about a position that was available. I was interested. Then during August of that year, while attending the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society at the Sheraton Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., Fritz Fliegel, John van Es, and Andy Sofranko approached me about joining the faculty at the University of Illinois. Ken was on leave from Mississippi State, on temporary assignment with the Cooperative State Research Service of the USDA, and also was attending the same RSS meeting. We met and compared notes about the two positions and reached the following agreement--Ken would pursue the position at Penn State, I would apply for the position at Illinois. We acted on our intentions.

January of 1971, an unusual coincidence happened. My wife and I were in Champaign for the job interview at the University of Illinois. One evening, while we were walking down the halls of the Illini Union, we met Ken unexpectedly. My immediate response was, "Ken, you're not here interviewing for the same position in rural sociology, are you? I don't want to compete with you." He immediately replied, with embarrassment, "No, I'm working with the Water Resources Center here at the University on a USDA project." I was embarrassed by doubting that he had broken our pact. Ken and I were the only persons interviewed by Illinois or Penn State, and both of us were hired. I've often wondered what would have happened if we had competed, or if Ken had ended up at Illinois and I in Pennsylvania (The only thing I'm certain of is that I would have enjoyed Penn State's football games much more than I was able to enjoy the Fighting Illini.). Life takes interesting turns, and it would have been different, very different, if we had not landed where we did.

Ken and I were not in close contact for several years following the move to Illinois. During 1977-78, I was able to spend a year at Cornell as a visiting professor, securing an appointment in the Northeast Regional Rural Development Center [this was before the Center moved to Penn State]. Ken had a role in that appointment coming to fruition. During this period and the early 1980s, Ken and I interacted informally, mostly seeing each other at professional meetings. I learned from colleagues in rural sociology and community development that Ken's research and his work as a teacher was being received favorably and was regarded highly at Penn State, in the region and the nation.

During the late 80s and early 90s, Ken's oldest son, Jeff, was a student in aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois. When Jeff graduated, the entire Wilkinson clan descended upon Champaign-Urbana for the graduation celebration. My family and I hosted Ken, Beverly and several family members for this gala occasion. That was a day when Ken's behavior demonstrated pride in the achievement of his son and family!

My last face-to-face encounter with Ken occurred during August 1993 at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Orlando, Florida. I had drafted a twenty-six page paper describing an action and theoretical framework for a book that I hoped Ken would help me write. The proposed title for the book was Community Actualization: Mirage or Reality; Fantasy or Feasible? I gave Ken the manuscript and asked him, "Please take this paper back to Penn State and critique it for me. If you think this idea has potential, I want you to help me write this book." His reply was, "I'll read it tonight! ... I've nothing else to do. Let's have breakfast tomorrow morning to discuss it." The next morning we spent at least two hours discussing it.

I have kept Ken's handwritten notes about this manuscript in my files. He thought the idea of a book about community actualization had potential. It needed refining, and he made more than a few suggestions. I have incorporated many of Ken's suggestions in the following material, and now I will share the framework for achieving an actualized community through two long-term community development programs, The RURAL PARTNERS program and The Delta Partners Initiative. The book, which Ken had agreed to help me write, would have been based partly on outcomes from these two long-term community development programs.

Toward the Actualized Community

It's important that community action programs be practical and grounded in theory. This section provides an operational framework to help guide The Delta Partners Initiative, a program which seeks to help [Mississippi] Delta communities create solutions in leadership, community and economic development. The success of The Delta Partners Initiative (as was the case for RURAL PARTNERS in Illinois) depends on its ability to mobilize citizens to participate in local community improvement projects. Unless citizens participate in planning efforts and participate in projects to improve the quality of life in their community, this mission will not be achieved. Thus, the operational framework calls for the high goal of "community actualization," to help guide community leaders, citizens and project staff as they collaborate to create positive outcomes in Delta communities.

Defining Community Actualization

If a community is defined and best described as people within a geographically bounded area involved in social interaction, and with one or more psychological ties with each other and with the place where they live,3 then community actualization might be defined as the collective ability of its residents to create the type of community they desire, with minimal dependence on resources external to that community for creating and sustaining change.

Six Indicators of Community Actualization

Our community actualization concept is comprised of a hierarchy of six indicators that are shared among individuals and groups who are residents of a community: (1) a state of collective identity; (2) a sense of collective belonging; (3) a sense of community solidarity; (4) a sense of collective pride in the community as a place and in its associational networks; (5) a sense of achievement; and (6) a feeling of fulfillment. As Maslow theorized, we hypothesize that our continuum will be a hierarchy; i.e., community residents will not develop characteristics at the top of the hierarchy until the lower level of community needs have been met. Also, we do not hypotesize that every resident will be a fully actualized person.

The goals for the Illinois RURAL PARTNERS program (1990-1994) and the emerging DELTA PARTNERS INITIATIVE (1995 - 2001) are to enable and foster community development. Hopefully, this will yield an outcome which has been labeled as community actualization. These two programs involve more than ten years of social action and action research designed to stimulate community preparedness for community development and economic development. A book, which I plan to write, will determine if community actualization, as defined later in this manuscript, can occur in a rural community. And, if community actualization is possible on the county level in rural America. The answer is complex, and the directional clues currently seem ambiguous. It is certainly easier to describe the progress and measure outcomes in program counties and communities than it is to figure out whether or not these communities are becoming actualized.

Community Actualization: Putting Theory into Practice

The two rural development programs that I mentioned will be described with more detail later. Both programs seek to create much higher levels of membership, participation and ownership in community organization. A goal was to strengthen associational networks and broaden the community field. The Illinois RURAL PARTNERS program was funded by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and more than seventy collaborating partners (mostly multi-place organizations, stakeholders in community and economic development.) The DELTA PARTNERS INITIATIVE was launched in September 1995, after a nine-month community and regional planning effort. It is currently funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Delta State University, Alcorn State University, Entergy, Union Planters Bank, the McKnight Foundation, and Delta and Pine Land Company. Other collaborating partners are emerging.

Both programs were developed in response to frustrations of many private and public sector community leaders working in rural counties where there was no consensus regarding development (such as county wide priorities for investment in social and physical infrastructure, education, or types of development that would be appropriate and beneficial to the community). Both programs are sponsored by a unique coalition of public and private organizations that have rural development or rural revitalization as part of their mission. Collaborators are defined as individuals and organizations (stakeholders) with a wholesome, competitive interest in community and economic development. The strength of the two partnerships is derived from the members' commitment to foster community and economic development in rural areas.

The major premise supporting both programs is that leadership development and community development MUST PRECEDE economic development in rural communities with declining human resource capital and population bases, deteriorating social and physical infrastructure, and declining financial resources and economies. To that end, educational and skills-oriented learning materials have been developed to guide social action at the community level. Through implementing the projects embodied in the program's educational and action research modules, community leaders engage in a process that builds leadership in the community and county. This process helps citizens in each county develop the skills and resources they need to guide and manage community and economic development. Therefore, economic development is not the central or primary goal. Rather, the ability to help citizens and leaders create and manage development in their community is a primary goal or outcome of both programs.

It is hoped that the long-term consequences of such a process--providing educational programs, technical assistance and some financial support in a self-help program--might encourage and create: (1) a broader and stronger citizen involvement in community life and enhance the allocation of additional community resources to support local development efforts; (2) a better fit between institutions and residents (or service providers and service consumers); and (3) a clearer vision of a desired state for "the community" in small rural places. If these goals are achieved, then benefits enjoyed by current residents will be shared with future residents, and the efforts toward community actualization will be sustained across generations. Indeed, responsibility for creating the actualized community must be shared, for the vision of the desired community changes through time.

Building Community in Rural Towns and Counties

For both programs, the small towns and open rural areas are thought to have the potential to become "the community," although distinct cultural differences and clearly delineated rural communities exist in both states and in most of the counties within each state. In Delta communities, the majority of the residents are African American. In Illinois, less than two percent were African American. In the Mississippi Delta and rural Illinois, production agriculture is becoming much more diversified. To enhance the role of citizens in some rural communities, especially those with many small municipalities with few resources, it is useful to enlarge the community focus to a county focus. Using the county focus in Illinois, every town, village or township, however sparsely populated, has a voice in development efforts. Some participating counties in Illinois have as many as twenty-six incorporated municipalities, each with a population of fewer than 5,000 residents. In the Mississippi Delta, one rural county has fifteen municipalities. Gaining collective consensus among so many units of local government in bi-racial communities is not easy. Resources are severely limited in many small Delta towns, and collaboration among the private sector, county government and neighboring towns is seen by some leaders as the "last best hope" for the smallest of these places.

Rural residents may identify with several locales or communities--places where they may shop, work, socialize, recreate, seek medical treatment, attend church, govern themselves or educate their children or themselves. The geographic boundaries of these communities might well approximate a county's boundaries. The associational networks and community arena in which residents interact creates a "community field without barriers."

Defining the county or the town and the rural countryside as community allows localities to pool local resources and to seek additional resources together. In short, it is difficult (or nearly impossible) for small communities to "go it alone." In the economic development arena, amenities are typically considered region by region, and, in these instances, a larger focus makes sense.

Since rural people are concerned about the quality and availability of services and jobs, they usually find that current conditions are causing them to form partnerships with a number of towns to "develop" those things that they need. In effect, rural people find themselves in a position of belonging to, or needing to develop, several different "communities" depending on the need. The growing needs for health care, education, economic development, etc. are causing many rural people to form much larger "economic and service communities," such as the county.4

Both of the community development programs are designed to help small towns and surrounding areas (in Illinois the county was the larger area) emerge as the "good community." Both programs recognize the limitations that individual communities have to control their destiny and the opportunity counties have to achieve economic growth for a greater number of rural residents. The challenge to the local leaders working in the programs is to communicate, to encourage, and to involve greater numbers of local citizens from all parts of the county community.5

A Comprehensive Formula for Rural Development

A comprehensive rural community and economic development program needs a solid foundation with a flexible structure to implement program goals and action strategies. The following comprehensive but flexible formula provides a framework for developing and implementing both of these programs--the Rural Partners/Kellogg Program and The Delta Partners Initiative.

Human Resource Development (H. R. D.) + Leadership Development (L. D.) + Organization Development (O.D.) + Community Development (C.D.) + Economic Development (E. D.) = Community Actualization (C.A.)!

This action formula provides a broad foundation (see Figure 1) for holistic and systemic community-based development efforts. It espouses the long-term mission of building actualized citizens, stronger community-based organizations and creating stronger rural communities. Goals and objectives of the RURAL PARTNERS/Kellogg Program and THE DELTA PARTNERS INITIATIVE were developed by economic development professionals, community leaders and university faculty.

Through these two programs, local leaders are launching new types of community action projects, actions designed to reverse decline in community life, to bring a new spirit of community activity, and to prepare the community to participate more effectively in the economic development arena. Each project has a specific outcome, some tangible and others intangible. The intention is to empower formal and informal associations in each county to create at least part of the change which local citizens desire. Some counties have more than 600 persons serving on or involved in the "Countywide Strategic Planning Committee for County and Economic Development" and its related subcommittees. Thus, the research will measure the degree of achievement which residents and local leaders have as a result of participating in self-help projects sponsored by the community's formal and informal associations.

Control and Community Actualization Is Not A Dilemma

A key factor in achieving community actualization in some communities seems to be the level of control (responsible freedom) given to or assumed by citizens and communities over program outcomes. In Illinois, as it is in Mississippi, the program staff and funding partners adhered to the premise that the community development process must be inclusive. Leaders and citizens from all communities and all walks of life (private and public sectors) were elected to planning and action groups. They must be representative of the community's population in terms of gender, age and racial factors.

In the RURAL PARTNERS program, five community action modules provided a foundation for activities to begin the process of creating and sustaining community and economic development across the county. By working together in inclusive groups (usually for the first time) in these foundation action projects, leaders from throughout the county became convinced that economic development must be driven by informed decision making. Furthermore, the leadership skills of local leaders throughout the county were enhanced.

The balance of power and influence between local leaders and program staff became a delicate issue on more than one occasion in several Illinois counties. For example, in addition to requiring inclusiveness, the funding partners and program staff insisted that scientific and systematic procedures be followed as community action projects were being planned and implemented. Random sampling was required in countywide needs assessment studies, and leaders were encouraged to be inclusive when committees were elected to develop, distribute, and collect questionnaires and prepare the needs assessment report. However, the product or final outcome from EVERY community action project was controlled by local citizens. To help assure local ownership, citizen committees selected the issues to be addressed, developed the priorities, and wrote the reports from data obtained from action research studies. They held local meetings to share results with citizens throughout the county. Yet, in more than one county, insistence on adhering to systematic procedures and avoiding shortcuts created the impression that the program staff were being "too academic" and wanted to control the program.

The project leader has noted a contrasting theme in the Mississippi Delta--citizens are much more likely to expect and depend on the outside expert and funding partners for the initiation of change. Creating and sustaining local "ownership and support" for community and economic development will probably be more difficult in Mississippi. However, a permissive policy might be objectionable to the state's taxpayers or the sponsoring partners.

Conversely, program control cannot lie totally with the local groups or citizens if they do not have the ability or commitment to complete a difficult project which requires high skill. Responsibility is shared by local groups and sponsoring partners. The goal is to strike the appropriate balance, favoring to the wishes of the local community. If technical assistance is needed, the sponsoring organization should help local groups find it. The research question which needs to be answered here is, "What is the proper relationship between citizens and program staff in community and economic development projects when citizens lack the knowledge and skill to successfully complete an action project without technical assistance?"

Collaboration at the local level is required if a community is to participate in the RURAL PARTNERS program and in THE DELTA PARTNERS INITIATIVE. Collaboration which shares ownership for a project's outcome is much more likely to create a sense of community actualization. Valuing partnership and mutual ownership is critical. Program staff noted that a "framework for teamwork" was difficult to manage and sometimes idealistic. However, when local leaders initiated dialogue to clarify issues of control, all parties were able to develop acceptable solutions.

Outcomes: Unknown but Unlimited

In August of 1994, eight of the ten RURAL PARTNERS program counties in Illinois started to implement their long-range strategic plan. When the program began in 1990, only two of the program counties had a county wide organization charged with the responsibility of leading community and economic efforts throughout the entire county. However, as the planning process was being completed in 1994, all ten counties created a new organization or revitalized an existing organization to lead their county wide development efforts. Thus, social infrastructures were created, and a duly empowered group of leaders was present to guide the county wide development program.

Long-term action programs are being planned to develop the social infrastructure (to strengthen internal and external associational networks) and to improve the quality of life in the Mississippi Delta. The Delta Partners Initiative will be carefully monitored and evaluated to determine its long-term effect on Delta leaders and communities. Will it help create solutions in leadership, community and economic development? Will it create stronger senses of collective identity in rural communities, of collective belonging, solidarity, community pride, achievement and fulfillment? Perhaps both action programs will help create community actualization in rural communities and rural counties.6 Outcomes are unknown, but with the support and best efforts of citizens, leaders, and the collaborating partners in The Delta Partners Initiative, the potential is unlimited.


H. G. Wells, the British historian wrote, "We are an omnibus in which our ancestors ride." I propose that many community developers, including myself, are "The rural community development omnibus in which the professional accomplishments and wonderful spirit of Ken Wilkinson rides--he is its primary driver." Persons engaged in rural community development should not ignore his work.

I certainly cannot and do not wish to escape Ken's influence. Why? After accepting the B. F. Smith Chair for Economic and Community Development at Delta State University in January of 1994, I learned that it was Ken Wilkinson who had given my name and a strong recommendation to William LaForge of McGuinnes & William, a "professional head-hunting" firm in Washington, D.C., which did the national search for the position.

Moving from Champaign-Urbana to Cleveland, Mississippi, from the University of Illinois to Delta State University has not been an easy transition. It's been challenging and demanding, as expected, but there have been several major rewards. I'm sure others will follow. Today, I'm helping to develop and implement community development programs to attack the massive problems of the Mississippi Delta--pervasive poverty with all of its accompanying social and cultural evils, intensive competitiveness between and within communities, rigid social class structures, and intensive prejudice and racism among some whites and some African Americans. My intent is for the art, theory, of Ken Wilkinson to be the heart and soul of this program. I hope that I'll help shape the lives of a few students, citizens, leaders and communities as Ken Wilkinson did.


1The label "cross over" was created by a federal judge, not by the research team.

2See Jerry W. Robinson, Jr. and William B. Crittenden, The Effect of Participation in a Desegregation Institute Upon the Attitudes and Behaviors of Black and White Teachers: A Before - After Study. Preliminary Report, No. 3, Research Center, Houston Baptist University, 1970.

3Community Development in Perspective, James A. Christenson and Jerry W. Robinson, Jr., eds. The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa. 1989.

4Daryl Hobbs, Helping Rural Communities Prepare for Economic Development Newsletter. Number 3. November 21, 1991. Laboratory for Community and Economic Development, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Daryl Hobbs is Professor or Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and past President of The Rural Sociology Society.

5Douglas Dougherty, Helping Rural Communities Prepare for Economic Development Newsletter. Number 3. November 21, 1991. Laboratory for Community and Economic Development, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Douglas Dougherty is the Director of Economic Development and Marketing for Soyland Power Cooperative and past President of the Illinois Development Council.

6See, Jerry W. Robinson, Jr., op cit..