COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCIES
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy's Council on Juvenile Delinquency, one of his "New Frontier" initiatives, along with the Ford Foundation and the City of New York, funded Mobilization for Youth (MFY) to correct conditions that led to juvenile delinquency. MFY organized neighborhood councils composed of neighbors, local officials, service providers, school boards and city councils to implement plans. The concept was called Community Action, and it looked like an effective and inexpensive way to solve problems. The Ford Foundation was funding other projects, including one in New Haven, Connecticut, which recruited people from all sectors of the community to come together to plan and implement programs to help low-income people. MFY and New Haven are often cited as the models for community action agencies.
The Community Action Program in Mississippi was established in 1965 with the first charters going to the Coahoma County, Tupelo, Mid-State and Sunflower County Progress programs. Funding for the programs came directly from the federal government under the Office of Economic Opportunity, which became the Community Services Administration in 1974. In the early days of CAA in Mississippi, the programs that were most frequently offered were Head Start, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Summer Recreation, Credit Unions, and Neighborhood Service Centers.
Today, CAA agencies get funding from state and other federal sources like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State Department of Education, which provide funding for summer feeding programs for children. HUD sponsors the Housing Counseling Program, which prepares people who are about to purchase homes for the first time and assists those defaulting on present home payments. CAA counselors are available to provide assistance in preparing initial budgets, offer advice, and help arrange priorities and options concerning financial matters.
A core of people who have been associated with with CAAs for years lend stability to their programs. Lamar Braxton from Natchez got involved with community action in 1966, and after one year with the Head Start program, he became a CAA director. Braxton was president of MACSA in 1970. Paul Harris from Yazoo Community Action became a CAA director before Braxton. Other early names in Mississippi community action were Helen Bell and Ruth Daugherty. Many of the directors started as deputy directors and moved up--Robert Posey, Rev. L.Z. Blankinship, Obie Clark, Troy Catchings, and Kenn Cockrell. Robert Jamison, like Braxton, was a Head Start director before he became a CAA director.
In describing the difference between the way things were in the early days and now, Lamar Braxton said,
"When I came on board, all the executive directors of CAA programs were white. There was a lack of confidence in the black community. However, things have changed greatly since then. There is more public support for community action now from all citizens. Using AJFC as an example, our agency expanded into two counties in 1978 that would not accept us in 1967. In fact, the counties came to us and asked to be included this time. There was also a time when there was intimidation of CAA staff members by law enforcement and others in some parts of Mississippi. That's not true now. Whites feel freer now to participate and to seek CAA services. In many places, including ours, CAP has been seen as a program for blacks only. That's not the case anymore. We see more and more whites seeking assistance.