'It's Going to Take a Lot of Hard Work'

Marcus Nelson returned to Helena-West Helena to work for KIPP Delta Public Schools and help change the educational opportunities for kids who are growing up where he did.

(Click here to read a related story on nonprofit work in Helena.)

(Click here to read a related story on the drug sting Operation Delta Blues in the Helena area.)

He believes existing joint efforts can revive the town economically.

“I know we can get back to that point [of prosperity]. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. … Lifelong citizens want to see it flourish and be the great city that it once was,” Nelson said.  

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, who commutes from Helena to the federal courthouse in Little Rock, doesn’t believe nonprofits can directly bring economic growth to his hometown in the form of new businesses and jobs, but he thinks improving the town in general should help.

“Hopefully, in some way, the byproduct of all that will lead to job creation,” Miller said.
Returning to 1970s prosperity, though, before Helena’s largest factory, Mohawk Tire & Rubber, and other companies left, might not be possible, he said. However, for the people whose histories or families keep them vested in Helena, Miller believes there’s hope.

“You have to stop somewhere, unless you’re going to all pack up and leave,” Miller said. “Do we believe we can stabilize this community and make it a nice place to live? Yes. We just want a nice place to live, so we want to make it as nice as we can make it.”

Miller lives four blocks from where his great-grandfather, a former slave named Abraham Miller, moved during the Civil War.

“You’ve got to understand, my folks have been battling here for over 150 years. Why do I stay? Who knows? It’s almost in my DNA not to go anywhere,” Miller said.