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Street Talk

Building Right Makes A Place Better And Has A Lasting Impact


Roy Decker is an architect and a “principal partner” at Duvall Decker architects. He practices his profession in Jackson along with his wife Anne Marie Duvall. They just won the “Emerging Voices” award from the Architectural League of New York for work they’ve done in Mississippi. I had the pleasure to work with Roy Decker in mid November of 2014 in the town of Louise in Humphreys County. Louise is a town of 300 people located 16 miles northeast of Yazoo City. Both Roy and I along with two others were asked there by Ellen Bourdeaux of the Mississippi Development Authority. 

I arrived pretty early in Louise, we were meeting at 8 a.m., and I left the Valley at 5 a.m., so I had about 30 minutes in a delta dawn light to look around by myself. It was not as bad as I imagined. Sure the small downtown looked rough, but it was fixable. The houses were older, but many in good shape. There was a picturesque creek running through town. 

Louise even has a grocery store, run by the sons of Hoover Lee, a Chinese immigrant who came to Mississippi as a small child from war torn China in 1934. Hoover is still alive and well, he was the mayor four times. The current mayor Ruffin Smith led us around. Roy and I talked with Ruffin about some things he could do downtown, Ruffin owned a few of the buildings. I left Louise late that afternoon feeling way more positive about the place, a place so small as to almost be forgotten. 

Forgotten Louise is not, for almost exactly one year later in November 2015 Ruffin was in statewide news. The city council of Louise had approved a resolution to accept refugees from war torn areas of the world including Syria. The governor of Mississippi said he was going to stop Syrians. I called Ruffin up and asked how did that city council meeting go. He said it went fine, except a few people from “Greater Louise” spoke against the resolution, but all who lived there knew the town was still alive due mainly to one refugee, Hoover Lee. 

I’m going to use a long quote here, so watch out, these long quotes I’ve used by other people have been getting me in trouble. Some even think if I quote somebody I must share the same opinion. 

Here’s what the City of Louise said, “Whereas this town’s governing body fears no threat, but rather feels its Christian duty and obligations to divine providence which has led this great nation from its founding to contribute relief for these poor people’s needs. Therefore be it resolved that the town of Louise hereby expresses its willingness and intent to accept said refugees to the fullest extent of its abilities.”

After the call with Ruffin I thought about seemingly unfriendly places I’d lived. Ankara, Turkey in the early 90s while the war with the Kurdish PKK was going on, Germany in the 1980s when it was still a cold war divided country into east and west sections (rode my motorcycle through the Soviet Army base outside of East Berlin by mistake, they let me through), and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998 right before al Qaida blew up the U.S. Embassy there. 

Here’s my experience with people. It does not matter who they are or where they come from, if you treat people right, they’ll respond and do the same and do right by you. 

Treating people right, natives or newcomers is just the best and highest thing one can do. Regardless of the culture, there are always a few who want money or things just for themselves. And there’s always some jerk that’ll get a false reading on your intentions and jump to the wrong conclusion.

This is where Roy Decker comes back in this article, because he believes, via his profession, in treating people right, all people, thereby making Mississippi a better place. He and his wife designed and invested in new low cost housing back in forgotten corners of the Jackson area.  Building right makes a place better and has lasting impact. 

Derrick Johnson, state president for the NAACP, said about low cost housing, “Poor communities here are especially vulnerable, the whole system perpetuates exploitation. Residents need people they can trust.” 

Roy Decker is doing that, now for 20 years in Mississippi, his is a method and mindset worthy of us looking into – building lives and building value. A far better situation than the one now proposed by the Oxford guys for us.

Last week I had a rather lengthy quote, half an article, from the Guardian newspaper on the economics of trailer parks. Who gets richer and who does not. I promised the second half in this column, but because of space concerns please Google it yourself to finish the piece. 

Google “guardian May 2015 owning trailer parks” and it will pop up. Notice the economic aspects the article stresses.

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