A Tech student’s 15 minutes of fame dawned early in her pursuit of a degree.
Frededreia Willis, a freshman journalism major, was interviewed by a CNN columnist John D. Sutter in regards to the “most economically divided place in America” which he calls her hometown of Lake Providence.
“I met the reporter at Subway in my hometown,” Willis said. “We spoke briefly and he asked me if I’d be interested in answering some questions for the Change the List project he was working on.”
Sutter said his Change the List project is an attempt to get CNN’s audience involved in pushing for change in bottom-of-the-list places.
“My journey to Lake Providence started with an online vote,” Sutter said. “Our audience chose income inequality as the top social justice issue of our time so I am covering it in my Change the List project.”
Sutter said since the late 1970s the US gap between rich and poor has been growing at an incredible and unsustainable rate. East Carroll Parish, home to Lake Providence, is more divided economically than any other parish or county in America.
“A lot of people don’t like to label Lake Providence as poor, but it is,” Willis said. “It’s not a negative comment. It’s real, we can’t shun away from what’s real.”
Sutter said the poorest fifth of Lake Providence makes an average of $6,800 a year while the top 5 percent makes more than $600,000 a year. These numbers create the gap that is greater than any other place in America.
“I feel like being from Lake Providence allows me to appreciate doing and seeing things outside of my hometown,” Willis said. “We don’t have a Walmart, a movie theater or anywhere we can go to play games so when I get that opportunity I cherish it; it makes me want to strive more and achieve in life.”
Sutter said the lake in Lake Providence is less than a mile wide but it separates two worlds.
“The poor largely live on one side of the lake, the rich, the other,” Sutton said. “Sure there’s a road that connects the two, but the lake is a potent symbol and a real barrier.”
Sutter said inequality in Lake Providence grows out of an ugly history. In the 1800s white plantation owners got rich by forcing slaves to pick their crops. That’s changed, of course, but those who own the land now still control the economy.
“Economic inequality is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement,” Sutter said. “To truly have a fair society, our economy, not just the laws, must work for everyone.”
Willis said in the opening seconds of the video that she hopes that one night the Holy Spirit will move over the town.
“We have to sit back and think, why is God keeping this town alive?” Willis said. “It’s because he knows there is definitely hope here, he’s waiting for us to start to believe in ourselves.”
Willis said that she wishes her community would interfere with each other’s lives. In the last seconds of the video, Willis said she wishes she could build a beautiful bridge across the lake to force the different economic classes to interact.
The video can be found at www.cnn.com/changes.
“I don’t wish to build it solely for transportation purposes, but as a symbol to connect the two worlds that are divided by the lake and bridge the gap between the economically unequal gap that is ever growing here,” Willis said.
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