Southern Echo’s mission is to empower African Americans and low wealth communities throughout Mississippi and the Southern Region with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to impact and demand accountability of the political, education, economic and environmental systems to address the needs of communities through comprehensive organizing, leadership development, training and technical assistance programs.
Echo’s vision is to ultimately realize the end of institutional and systemic
racism in Mississippi and to see an education system that provides every
student, regardless of race, gender, religion, and disability with a first rate
and 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.