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The Black Belt, notes a 2017 Associated Press story, was named both for the color of its fertile soil and the high percentage of black residents. The region is not only sacred ground for the civil rights movement, but today is home to a growing number of innovations in community wealth building and homegrown economic development.

To tell this story, we begin this webinar with an interview of Dr. Shirley Sherrod, a co-founder of New Communities near Albany, Georgia, home to the nation’s first community land trust, which turned 50 this past fall. In the interview, Sherrod talks about the history of New Communities and the lessons it provides for activists in the Black Belt today.

We then turn to a distinguished panel of three individuals, who share their insights:

  • Bill Bynum is founder and CEO of Hope. Bynum leads a leading Southern community lender based in Jackson, Mississippi, that to date has lent out $2.5 billion.
  • Cornelius Blanding is executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives-Land Assistance Fund, a network of cooperatives in the Black Belt founded in 1967. Blanding was a winner of the James Beard Foundation’s leadership award last year.
  • Leonette Henderson is Director of Development and Partnerships at Higher Purpose Co., a nonprofit that seeks to build community wealth through lending and technical assistance support to start-up black entrepreneurs in rural Mississippi.

This webinar explores:

  • How community development financial institutions are supporting community-based development in the Black Belt and Mississippi Delta.
  • The role of peer networks in supporting Black-led entrepreneurship.
  • The struggle to maintain Black control of land in the South.
  • The links between civil rights organizing and community economic development in the South.
  • The vital importance of long-term vision in economic system change work.


Dr. Shirley Sherrod, New Communities, Inc.

Dr. Shirley Sherrod, “The Struggle for the Land: A Story from America’s Black Belt,” Nonprofit Quarterly, May 20, 2019.

Rick Cohen, “Shirley Sherrod: ‘I’m the lady USDA fired’—and the Nonprofit Leader We Should All Admire,” Nonprofit Quarterly, June 20, 2011.

Cornelius Blanding, Federation of Southern Cooperatives

Rachel Tepper Paley, “2019 Leadership Award Winner Cornelius Blanding,” James Beard Foundation, April 30, 2019.

Steve Dubb, “A Successful and Historic Co-op Federation Supporting Black Farmers Turns 50,” Nonprofit Quarterly, November 6, 2017.

Bill Bynum, Hope

Catherine Jones, “Community Finance Leaders Bust Myths about Rural Poverty,” Nonprofit Quarterly, August 23, 2019.

Steve Dubb, “Economy Remix: Community Finance Leaders Seek to Lift Up the Delta,” Nonprofit Quarterly, March 20, 2019.

Leonette Henderson, Higher Purpose Co.

Jarquita Brown, “Young Family Farm: Built on 20 Acres of Land and 55 Years of Marriage,” Daily Yonder, May 23, 2019.

Gabe Schwartzman, “Miss. Project Builds on Cultural Strengths to Develop Economy,” Daily Yonder, November 5, 2018.