Lynn Walton presided over the meeting today. Mark Killingsworth provided the opening prayer and Coty Primeaux led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Lynn led the club in the Four Way Test. The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn in Hattiesburg and via Zoom.
Lynn then installed Mackenzie Parker as our newest Rotarian. Jerome Brown is his sponsor. Mackenzie is a Vice President of Commercial lending at The First Bank. He is a native of Hattiesburg.
Lynn reminded members of the February 3, 2022, wine tasting. It is scheduled for the Canebrake Clubhouse. She also reminded members of the need to secure silent auction items. The money raised from the auction will be donated to our fourth-quarter charity. She also asked Rotarians to look around and notice Rotarians who aren’t present. She asked that members call or email them and tell them we miss them.
Allen Anderson then introduced today’s guest speaker, Grant Callen. Grant is the founder of Empower Mississippi, which is a solution center, tackling Mississippi’s biggest challenges which are keeping some Mississippians from achieving all that they can. The three areas they are focused on include education, the workforce, and the justice system.
Grant notes that only one-third of us are doing well. Only one-third of us graduated from college and only one-third of us earn $50,000 or more annually. Mississippi has the second-worst workforce participation in the nation, and we have the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation.
In 2013, Empower Mississippi helped pass charter school legislation in Mississippi. Charters are public schools that have more ability to participate in the education of our children. To date, only seven charters have been started in the state with an enrollment of about 2,600 children. Before this legislation, children had to go to school in the district in which they lived, regardless of the quality of schools in the area. Charters now provide a way out for students who are in bad school districts.
More than eight percent of all charter school applications are turned down. Empower Mississippi is working to improve that percentage. They have established a fund that is generating money to assist areas developing charters. The goal is to raise one million dollars for that fund. Empower Mississippi has a goal of doubling the number of charter schools during the next three years. If charter school students don’t do well, the school can be shut down. That is not the case for public schools, according to Grant.  
Lynn thanked Grant for his presentation. There being no further business to come before the club, she adjourned the meeting with our motto: “Service Above Self.”