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For Greenville’s Ahdis Beruk and Brookhaven’s Laura Lee Lewis, last week was no ordinary week in their lives. The two Mississippi young women made a trip to Ferguson, Missouri, to measure personally the racial and political unrest that most of the country watched unfold earlier this year. The death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in August and the ensuing protests, crackdowns and violence have drawn lots of attention to Ferguson, including a visit from this dynamic duo from The Magnolia State.


“I was headed to Ferguson to record the fallout for my weekly radio show,” says Washington County resident Beruk who commands the radio program "Tell Me About Yourself." The eighth grader also hosts TeenTalk every Friday night 7-9 pm at www.wdsv919.org. It streams live on www.Joynetradio.org.


The path was much the same for Lincoln County native Lewis. “I had planned to go to Ferguson a few weeks later but when I learned that Ahdis was going, we decided to combine efforts. I have launched a mission called Treat Me Fairly. Whether differences are based on race, or gender, age, nationality, political preferences or sexual orientation, we should all be treated fairly and with respect.” That campaign is anchored online at treatmefairly.org. The future teacher is on track for a May graduation from Mississippi State University with a degree in education.


The diverse team visual of these two steel Magnolias does not go unnoticed. One white. One black. One from the Mississippi Delta. The other from the Heartland of Mississippi. They are strong leaders for their respective generations and they are both buoyed by a strong sense of social justice for all people.


According to Lewis, there are lessons to be learned in Ferguson for a city seeking a return to humanity and decency in its treatment of all people. Lewis’ strategy for treating others equitably is simple. “If we treat people fairly, we will soon discover that the differences that separate us are not nearly as great as the similarities that bind us. We learned in Ferguson that we have to change minds; we have to change hearts; and we accept that it will take courage to lobby for legislation that offers legal protection for those who are currently being mistreated under the law.”


Beruk seeks the same solution, using her call to volunteerism for all teens. “In my weekly radio show, I ask teens to rally around what is important in their lives and to make a difference.” She recently gave that same advice during a stint at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Her work is showcased in her platform YEAH! (Youth Encouraging and Actively Helping).


This joint Ferguson trip took place quite by accident. Both girls will be participants in the upcoming Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg. Lewis was first alternate last year in the state competition and will check in as Miss Riverland. Beruk was third alternate in last year’s Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, also in Vicksburg. She will compete this year as Miss Riverland’s Outstanding Teen in June.


“Sometimes the best ideas require no planning. We met at a contemporary affairs training session and decided to do this,” says Lewis, who was a preliminary talent winner in last year’s state contest. “It was a great time for us to bond as sisters as well,” offers Beruk who was a state interview winner last year. The Miss America Scholarship program promotes the Outstanding Teen Division as a little sister program to its Miss winners.


What’s next for the dynamic duo? Beruk is off to speak at St. Louis’ OSHA Area Office. Lewis continues her Treat Me Fairly Listening Tour through Selma and New York City. Team Riverland continues to make a difference by examining the lessons of justice.


Vicksburg Teen Visits Coast USO

Miss Pearl River Valley's Outstanding Teen Addison Mathis visits the USO in Gulfport in support of soldiers. The official Wounded Warrior student ambassador connected with Volunteer Chance Carson and Officers Bowie, Towers and Metcalf on their way out to training. More at leafrivervalley.com Addison is the daughter of Scott and Andrea Mathis of Vicksburg. She will represent the state at large in Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant this June in The Red Carpet City. She is a junior at St. Aloysius

 Oak Grove Junior Speaks to ASCEND

Miss Hattiesburg's Outstanding Teen Ryone Thompson speaks to the ASCEND Program, sponsored by Theta Sigma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. ASCEND stands for Achievement, Self Awareness, Communicate, Engagement, Networking and Developmental Skills. ASCEND is for girls 9th-12th grade. Ryone talked about her personal experiences with AD/HD and how being diagnosed helped her rise in academic performance. The theme of the day was how to excel in test taking.


Ryone is a junior at Oak Grove High School where she is a member of the varsity debate team, Beta Club. She is the daughter of Rod Thompson of Hattiesburg and Niki Thompson of Dallas.

 Building a Community Book by Book

Miss Hattiesburg, Ivey Swan, shares a book with Festival South’s Rachel Ciraldo.


Miss Hattiesburg, Ivey Swan, loves the arts – a passion she is sharing with patients and visitors at Forrest General. What looks like a giant bird house sitting near the front entrance of the hospital, is actually something quite unique, though you may not recognize it; this is a library – The Little Free Library.


It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where Forrest General patients and visitors can share their favorite literature and stories. The Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. The project is jointly sponsored by the Hattiesburg Arts Council, Festival South and the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art.


Swan said introducing The Little Free Library to Forrest General is a way to help the hospital fulfill part of its We C.A.R.E. mission of enhancing the patient and visitor experience.


Reading sparks the imagination and the creative mind and when it comes to learning to read, Swan agrees: the younger, the better. Throughout her childhood years, Swan has participated in every area of the arts as a dancer, singer and visual art enthusiast. Now her desire is to instill a love for the arts in others, especially children, who are the masterminds of creativity.


The Little Free Library features an image of “Artie,” a personified paintbrush character who symbolizes a love for the arts. Artie sings, dances, plays instruments, paints, attends theatre events and embraces all the arts have to offer. Swan created the character in 2009.


“I saw Artie as a character that children could relate to. Children are imaginative beings and their passions need to be fed in order for them to grow to their fullest potential as an adult. They are the future of a creative economy in Mississippi and the nation,” said Swan.


In 2011, Artie was introduced at Festival South, a two week multi-genre art and music festival in Hattiesburg. In 2013, over 2,000 parents and adults attended Artie events. In 2014, Artie partnered with the Hattiesburg Arts Council to begin “The Artie Club” for children ages 5-12. The club allows children and parents an opportunity to participate in activities and events to help them learn about the arts.


“I believe EVERY child should be introduced to the arts,” said Swan.


While Swan’s talent, beauty, poise and charm make her an exceptional role model for the arts, she is especially looking forward to gracing the stage this June where she will represent Hattiesburg in the Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg.


An opportunity this lifelong arts advocate is hoping will inspire and make a difference in the lives of many including patients and visitors at Forrest General.


Anyone who would like to donate books can drop them off at the Information Desk in the front lobby of the hospital.




Having a military dad makes Vicksburg’s Addison Mathis a very proud daughter. Her father Scott Mathis is a veteran of the Gulf War, having served in the U.S. Army as a frontline soldier. He fought 18 months with the 1st Infantry Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War. He has also raised a fighter.


Addison Mathis appreciates the fact that her dad continues to contribute to society after he returned home from service. “The same is not necessarily true for all men and women who serve,” says the junior at the Red Carpet City’s St Aloysius High School. Many veterans return home from service to find themselves Homeless, Jobless and Hopeless. “America is better than this. In my heart, I know that there is no greater mission than soldier support. That’s why I became an official student ambassador for The Wounded Warrior Project.”


For the past decade, Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) has helped tens of thousands of wounded service members and their families successfully return to civilian life. With the mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors, WWP programs are specifically structured to engage warriors, nurture their minds and bodies, and encourage their economic empowerment. Warrior families and caregivers are provided comfort, care, and education to help support the recovery of their warrior.


To date the Warren County resident has appeared on statewide television to speak about her fight for that recovery; traveled to high schools around the state with her message of involvement; volunteered across state lines in support of WWP; and led a local fight as CEO of a Service for Soldiers organization that she founded at her school. “We will be hosting a 5K Yellow Ribbon Run to generate money for WWP and in-kind contributions and service for state and local veterans.”


The patriotic teen has been in contact with Barbara Parker, who started the original Yellow Ribbon campaign in America. Parker encouraged her to act on her passion. “Years ago, the yellow ribbon was recognized as a universal welcome home symbol for returning military men and women. Tie a Yellow ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree is still one of my mom’s all time pop favorites!”


There is a lot to be done. On the horizon, Mathis plans to tackle strengthening the GI Bill and supporting state legislation to retrain veterans for the workplace. “Allowing veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to access local doctors instead of dying on veteran hospital’s long waiting lists is integral in her efforts.


“I encourage all of America to reignite the Yellow Ribbon campaign; but I don’t just want our veterans to feel welcome when they come home, I want them to continue to play contributing and meaningful roles in our communities and in our society.”


Note: Mathis is the 2015 scholarship winner of The Leaf Foundation. In June, she will represent the state at large as Miss Pearl River Valley’s Outstanding Teen in Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Vicksburg. For more on the Wounded Warrior Project, go to woundedwarriorproject.org.


Miss Riverland Laura Lee Lewis visits Mamie Martin Elementary School in Brookhaven to share "Lessons in Life". She has raised $30,000 to date for the school district's academic programs and they have adopted her "HERO" program as their curriculum guide.




Miss Southern Magnolia Briana Exum connects with students at The Dance Place, as she explains her project "Finding Your Voice."


Morgan Lindsey Burnett recently participated in Jackson Medical Mall’s Health Fair. A Mississippi Medical Center student, the Brandon native will represent the state at large in the Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg this June as Miss Pearl River Valley. She is the daughter of Ive and Valerie Burnett of Brandon and the 2015 Scholarship winner of The Leaf Foundation.




Oak Grove High School Junior Ryone Thompson (center) recently spoke to Hattiesburg High School Faculty about AD/HD Awareness. The OGHS Varsity debater shared helpful strategies for dealing with children affected by this disorder. Ryan is the 2015 Scholarship Winner for The Leaf Foundation and will represent the city at Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Vicksburg this June. She is the daughter of rod Thompson of Hattiesburg and Niki Thompson of Dallas.




Leaf Foundation on Capital Hill! So proud of our Miss Mississippi!! Jasmine Murray who sang "His Eye is on the Sparrow" at the annual event in Washington, D. C.  

 Watch the performance.





Miss Hattiesburg Ivey Swan uses the arts to calm the fears of Sumrall Day Care students at Sumrall Methodist Church following the recent tornado.

For Lamar County Resident Ivey Swan, encouraging children to express their feelings in creative ways, such as art, painting, dance and music is nothing new.  Recently the Ole Miss senior was pressed into using her arts advocacy in a different way.  Visiting the Sumrall Day Care Center that was displaced by the recent tornado, Swan was able to use the healing and therapeutic qualities of the arts to help Lamar County’s youngest storm victims overcome their fears.

On task at the center’s temporary home at Sumrall Methodist Church, Swan explained, “Children who have experienced disasters, even just through graphic media coverage, may not be able to talk about it or express the feelings disaster triggers in them.  The arts can help ease the pain of trauma.”

Using coloring books that feature her original signature paintbrush character “Artie,” Swan was able to not only foster the talents of these budding artists but also able to ease their minds about a disaster and fears that they could not possibly understand.  Artie has become a symbol for arts passion and has recently partnered with Festival South and The Hattiesburg Arts Council to herald their children’s arts programs.

“Communicating and coping is the key,” acknowledges the newly -crowned Miss Hattiesburg.   “The Pine Belt Spirit is at work – and despite unimaginable losses, progress is being made.  Community by community. Block by block. Neighbor by neighbor.”

Ivey is the daughter of Randy and Millie Swan of Hattiesburg and is the 2015 Scholarship winner of The Leaf Foundation.  She will represent Hattiesburg in The Miss Mississippi Pageant this June in Vicksburg.  More on Swan’s mission, The ART$ - A Road to Success, can be found online at artieforthearts.com. 

Miss LRV's OT Zhariah Hubbard Meets Miss America!!



Miss Leaf River Valley’s Outstanding Teen Zhariah Hubbard met the reigning Miss America Kira Kanzantsev by chance in the Las Vegas airport. The local titleholder was on her way to the prestigious James Logan Debate Tournament in California with the Hattiesburg High School Debate Team when Miss America spotted her. The Hattiesburg High School Junior was holding her Outstanding Teen crown in her hand. She carried it with her because she plans on making an official pageant platform presentation while she is in California. Thanks to HHS Debate Coach Scott Waldrop for making the chance photos happen and for arranging the additional speaking opportunity for Zhariah in The Golden State.


As she was able to explain to Miss America, Zhariah’s platform is All About U: A Mission of Acceptance (U Matter, U Contribute, U Fit In). She will represent The Pine Belt at Miss Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen Pageant this June in Vicksburg. Kira Kanzantsev, New York’s third consecutive Miss America, wished the local representative well and told her to be sure and say hello to Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray, who also competed as a Leaf Foundation titleholder.





2013-14 Scholarship |Winner showcase
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