Johnny DuPree on Diversity in Mississippi

Originally published by The Mississippi Link, 2/11/2016 – 2/17/2016

298265_259007810806387_896387493_nCurrently serving his fourth term as mayor of Mississippi’s fourth largest city, Johnny L. DuPree, Ph.D. walks into a room with a sense of urgency, visibly and audibly excited about the possibilities for success for Hattiesburg and all of Mississippi.

He is Hattiesburg’s first black mayor, first elected in 2001, and still going strong, focusing on what he sees as his purpose – building healthy families and putting them in stable homes, where the door to prosperity is open.

He sat down with The Mississippi Link to talk about what drives him as a political leader in the face of obvious challenges in Mississippi – a state with 37-percent African-American population and the highest number of black elected officials, but still has not elected a black politician to statewide office since Reconstruction. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation and one of the most conservative.

Dupree said one of the hallmarks of his success has been building bridges.

“There’s no one place that has all the resources that you need. One thing that stifles many African Americans is our inability to reach out to other places and connect,” he said.

When solutions to problems have not been in sight, he has searched to find them. He’s become so well known in circles such as the Mississippi and National Leagues of Cities, and the Mississippi and U.S. Conferences of Mayors, they’re now looking to him for guidance.

In June of 2015, the U.S. Conference of Mayors named Hattiesburg one of America’s Most Livable Cities, in its population category of under 100,000. Just this month, DuPree has been appointed to the National League of Cities’ Youth, Education and Families Board.

Dupree is a 62-year-old real estate broker-turned-politician, who started his public service on the Hattiesburg School Board, then the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. He has now stood 15 years as mayor of Hattiesburg, and shows no sign of slowing down. Too much work yet to get done, he said.

“When you build on relationships, people learn who you are. Then, you’re also learning who other people are and learning that – people are just people. The core of most people is to help because there’s a feeling you get from helping people that you don’t get when you hurt people,” he said.

He continued praising the value of building relationships. “It’s a whole different kind of feeling, reaching out to people to give them an opportunity to feel good.”

The most recent census from 2013 places Hattiesburg’s population at 47,556, and demographically at 53-percent black, 41.9-percent white. Nicknamed the “Hub City,” it anchors a tri-county area that includes Forrest, Lamar and Perry Counties, which has a combined population of 146, 996.

The Hattiesburg Convention Commission, created by the state Legislature at the request of the Hattiesburg City Council,in 1990, oversees tourism related operations in the tri-county area. The commission partners with Hattiesburg in numerous ways and has used its revenues from tourism to renovate and reopen historic properties in Hattiesburg’s AfricanAmerican community, such as its former black U.S. Officers Club, now a unique African-American Military Museum. Dupree is not a member of the Convention Commission. Moreover, he is recognized, as are other mayors in the tri-county, as an ex-officio member of the private, non-profit Greater Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership.

Over the course of his tenure as mayor, Dupree has put forth key initiatives designed to improve the quality of life for his residents. These include special health and financial education services, and a Hattiesburg-area Youth Master Plan. A clinic for city employees, which opened in 2014, gives taxpayers a return on their investment, said DuPree, in the form of a more productive city staff. When people who work for the city are healthy, everyone else benefits, he said.

“When you talk about education. It has no color. Financial stability has no color. Health care has no color. I ache for a white child who has cancer, just like I ache for a black child with cancer.”

As he champions diversity, DuPree preferred not to discuss the state of race relations in the state for this interview.

He ran a race neutral campaign for governor and made history when he was elected state Democratic nominee. He believes that it’s only a matter of time before an African American will win election to statewide office.

Every time he has stood for political office, he said people kept telling him, he couldn’t win.

What’s needed in Mississippi, he said, is for more African Americans to go out and try to become part of the “the establishment.”

“We tell each other we can’t do it, but what we’re actually saying is I can’t do it. We have to get out there and try.”

Dupree said he draws inspiration from those early black Southerners who were elected to state and federal offices during Reconstruction.

“They laid the groundwork for my success and the successes of other African Americans. Their picture is a symbol of hope because it is a constant reminder that anything is possible.”

 

Democratic Chairman: Party is behind DuPree for Hattiesburg mayor

23477922_BG1The following statement was issued on September 19, 2013, by Rickey Cole, Chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party:

“It has come to my attention that certain individuals in Hattiesburg have represented themselves to be Democrats, but are supporting the opponent of our Democratic nominee for Mayor, Johnny DuPree, in the upcoming September 24 Special Election.

Let me be crystal clear:  the Democratic Party is solidly unified behind our nominee Johnny DuPree, and anyone actively opposing his re-election is not and should not be considered a loyal Democrat.  We encourage all Democrats to speak up and speak out in favor of the re-election of a tried and true public servant, Mayor Johnny DuPree.”

Dedication to Urban Forestry Lands City a National Honor

Hattiesburg-The Arbor Day Foundation has named the City of Hattiesburg a Tree City USA community for its commitment to urban forestry. It is the 20th year Hattiesburg has earned this national honor from the Arbor Day Foundation, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees.

Hattiesburg had to meet four standards to become a Tree City USA community. They include the development of a tree board or department, a tree-care ordinance, a community forestry program with annual expenditures of at least $2 per capita, and an Arbor Day Observance and proclamation.

“A Tree City USA designation for the past two decades is awesome,” said Andy Parker, City Arborist. “Teamwork and a clear understanding of the value of trees has been the key to our success.

Research shows trees promote healthier communities by filtering the air we breathe by removing dust and other particles; moderate climate, conserve water and provide vital habitat for wildlife; reduce the heat island effect in urban areas caused by pavement and buildings; reduce energy use and increase property values.

“We all benefit when communities like Hattiesburg place high priority on planting and caring for trees, one of our nation’s most beautiful resources,” said John Rosenow, chief executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation. “We applaud Hattiesburg elected officials, volunteers and citizens for providing vital care for its urban forest.”  The Tree City USA program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service. For more information about Tree City USA, please visit www.arborday.org/TreeCITYUSA .

City of Hattiesburg Moves to Beef up Health Care in Mississippi

Mayor Johnny DuPree Proclaims August 8-12 as National Health Center Week

Hattiesburg-The City of Hattiesburg is continuing efforts to provide premium health care to people of all economic backgrounds living in Hattiesburg and surrounding areas by proclaiming the week of August 8-12 “National Health Center Week.” 

A proclamation ceremony was held Wednesday at The Kaye Ray Medical Complex (Hattiesburg Family Health Center). Geroldean Dyse, interim CEO of Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc., said community health centers across the state play a key role in providing health care to uninsured and medically underserved people across the state.

“The need for community health centers has never been greater,” said Dyse.  “Throughout our 14 sites, located in and around the Hattiesburg area, Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc., provided health care to over 40,000 patients last year, resulting in over 100,000 visits. We have board certified providers and a well-trained staff with big hearts striving to meet the health care needs of the communities we serve.”

Health centers are nonprofit, community-owned and operated health providers that aim to reduce health care costs by fostering prevention and integrating the delivery of primary care with aggressive outreach, patient education, translation and other enabling services. The centers have made great strides in the Mississippi health care system specifically by maintaining high standards of accountability, demonstrating cost-effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of care and empowering communities to address unmet health needs.