The LEAD Center


The Freedom Project’s LEAD Center is located in the town of Sunflower, MS (population approximately 1000), located roughly 100 miles north of Jackson and 150 miles south of Memphis. Freedom Fellows come from Sunflower and the surrounding towns of Indianola, Moorhead, Ruleville, and Drew.

The Need

Despite its cheery name, Sunflower County can be a tough place to grow up. Sunflower has a median family income that is roughly half the national average, and an unemployment rate almost double the national average (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Families struggle to live healthy lives with over 40% of adults qualifying as obese or overweight . Women face additional pressures – the teenage pregnancy rate is roughly triple the national average, and the county has the second lowest life expectancy for women in the nation. Compounding these already daunting problems is the difficult truth that the Mississippi Delta continues to be one of the most racially segregated and racially charged regions in America.

Despite these obstacles, the community in Sunflower County is primed for change and willing to work hard to create a better future for its children. The Freedom Project is a resource for public school students in grades seven through twelve and their families who are motivated to achieve more than their situations have afforded them, and who are willing to do so by striving toward higher education. We are continually working toward creating a corps of academically capable, socially conscious and mentally disciplined young leaders in the Mississippi Delta.


The Achievement Gap

Young people in Sunflower County face overwhelming odds.  Imagine going to school in a county where:

Nearly 41% of your classmates will leave high school without earning a high school diploma.

The average ACT score is 16.3, nearly 25% lower than the national average - and lower than the NCAA's minimum for athletic participation.  

On average, only 40% of high school students pass their English II test (which is tied a student's ability to graduate high school)

At the Freedom Project we are not trying to improve our only students' academic scores, but increase their motivation, confidence, and habits in school so they are able to compete with their peers nationally.  We are aware that the hardships are not only to overcome failing schools, but to equip our students with the tools necessary to navigate college.