Our mission is to empower African American, vulnerable, low-wealth and marginalized communities throughout Mississippi and the Southern Region with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to demand accountability and action for political, education, economic, and environmental, health, and criminal justice.
Our bold vision is to end the institutional, structural and systemic racism in Mississippi and the Southern Region that drives inequitable economic policies and to bring about an educational system that provides every student – regardless of race, gender, religion, zip code or disability – with a first-rate, quality public education.
Southern Echo was founded in 1989 to build the capacity of African American communities to form a network of new, accountable grassroots leaders and community organizations, based on an inter-generational model. Born from the labor and love of Hollis Watkins, Leroy Johnson, and Mike Sayer, Southern Echo provides training, technical, and educational assistance to marginalized and vulnerable communities with the primary goal to empower these communities so that they might impact the formation and implementation of the public policies that affect their lives.
Hollis Watkins was attracted to Civil Rights work in the early 1960s, becoming one of the first Mississippians to join the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He worked with SNCC leader Bob Moses organizing communities around the state. When it seemed that the Civil Rights Movement was burning out in Mississippi, Watkins wanted to give people the tools they needed to continue addressing issues that concerned them — farm subsidies, voting, and public education. He enlisted Leroy Johnson, an activist who had extensive experience developing community education, environmental and cultural programs during his time at Rural Organizing and Cultural Center (ROCC) and Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE) and Mike Sayer, an attorney who had directed field services and community projects and trained elected officials for MACE, to help him take the lessons he had learned from the Civil Rights Movement to build a community organizing organization. Johnson, a Holmes County native, suggested that the organization focus its efforts in the Delta — where poverty and racism conspired daily to crush the souls of Black folks. Southern Echo has become an organization that empowers the descendants of enslaved African people and is unparalleled in its community organizing ability.