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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.

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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.

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Our Roots


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Our Roots


Hamer’s drive and dedication to empowerment, racial reconciliation, and the promotion of justice in her community drive the work of staff and students at the Freedom Project.

The Freedom Project is deeply rooted in the local community — local people were instrumental in launching the Freedom Project in 1998, and we build on the history and legacy of local civil rights workers. In particular, former Ruleville resident Fannie Lou Hamer inspires what we do. Born to a sharecropping family in 1919, Hamer began working in the cotton fields outside Ruleville at age 6. Like other black Mississippians, she was denied the opportunity to get a decent education and was not allowed to vote, run for office, or participate in the politics of Sunflower County.

At the age of 42, Hamer attended a mass meeting hosted by young activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Inspired by SNCC's vision of a true democracy and a beloved community, she tried to register to vote — and was promptly thrown off her plantation for doing so. She joined SNCC's staff and became the spiritual leader of the freedom struggle in Mississippi. Despite being threatened, jailed, and beaten horrifically, she traveled throughout the state to organize black communities and encourage black people to register to vote. As part of Freedom Summer in 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; at the Democratic National Convention that summer she gained international attention for her courageous description of the reality of racism in Mississippi. She went on to organize farm workers, run for office, and start her own Freedom Farm in Sunflower County. Her work helped break the hold of white supremacy on the state. Her courage, commitment, and powerful voice inspired countless people during her lifetime, and she continues to inspire the Freedom Project today.