Natchez explores partnership with Senegal city

Published 12:14 am Friday, June 3, 2016

NATCHEZ — A delegation of West African and local officials are looking to build a bridge between Natchez and Senegal.

Natchez and Adams County elected officials along with members of the local tourism industry, historians and others met Thursday with dignitaries from two cities in Senegal, West Africa, and the Caravan for the Promotion of Cultures of Africa at the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture.

The purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue about establishing a sister city pact between Natchez and a city in Senegal, Shirley Mock of One Voice Mississippi said.

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Mock, a Natchez native, and her son Berthrone Mock-Muhammad, a Jackson cardiologist and board member for the International Museum of Muslim Cultures, have helped coordinate the sister city program idea.

“This city is rich in culture, rich in ethnicity,” he said. “We celebrate our ethnicities in Natchez, because culture is what makes up the roots of Natchez. We need to celebrate that.”

CAPCA Executive Director Ndeye Ndao gave a presentation outlining the basics of such a sister city partnership.

CAPCA facilitates sister city partnerships through an incubator in M’bour, and the nonprofit works globally to promote African culture, trade investments, cooperation, tourism and improving the relationship between the U.S. and Senegal, Ndao said.

A sister city partnership allows residents of both cities to explore various aspects of a different culture, Ndao said.

“You’re not just sitting in your borders,” she said. “You’re exploring a whole different culture, a different language, different people.”

Sister city partnerships can include, Ndao said, performance art exchanges, community development programs, music exchanges, museum exchanges and community service projects.

In attendance at the meeting were two mayors from cities in Senegal — Falou Sylla of M’bour and Aminate Kanté of Sam Notaire — who traveled to Mississippi for signing ceremonies with sister cities in Mississippi.

M’bour has formed a sister city partnership with Jackson and Sam Notaire with Philadelphia.

Sylla and Kanté said they were overwhelmed with the hospitality and warmth they have felt since arriving in Mississippi.

Sylla said one of the purposes of the trip was to learn more about the impact slavery had on Africans in America.

“We know what happened in the motherland, but we are looking forward to knowing what happened to our ancestors here,” Ndao said, translating for Sylla.

Kanté said she was surprised to see so many African-Americans in the U.S.

“That’s not what (we) see on TV,” Ndao said, translating for Kanté. It was a big eye-opener. I have been around the world, and (I have) never felt more welcome than (I) do here. (I) feel like (I) am still home.”

Mayor Butch Brown said the sister city program can be beneficial to Natchez in many ways, including tourism.

“African-American history is what we are here about today,” he said. “It’s what this building is about and what tourism in our city and our state is about now … recognizing those who have not been recognized.”

Berthrone Mock-Muhammad said the most successful sister city partnerships have a strong grassroots component.

“What’s different here is that you have a really strong link of elected officials that are in line,” he said. “You have great leaders among you … keep focused and stay ahead, and we will get to the target.”

The meeting was facilitated by Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees member and former mayor Phillip West, who touted Natchez as a unique city in Mississippi.

“And we are one of the most unique cities in America,” he said.

Those who attended the meeting included Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Alderwoman-elect Felicia Irving, Alderman-elect Billy Joe Frazier Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus, Supervisor Ricky Gray, Supervisor Calvin Butler, Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten, Natchez Police Chief Daniel White, Tricentennial Director and Interim Tourism Director Jennifer Ogden Combs, Tricentennial liaison Kelin Hendricks, Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Mimi Miller, Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond, Tricentennial Commission Chairman Stratton Bull, members of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, mayoral candidates Darryl Grennell and Eric Junkin and others.