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Vicksburg has a new attitude when it comes to health. It shows up in the community garden Shape Up Mississippi and Alcorn State University started to bring children outdoors and to teach them about nutritious foods.

It’s also prevalent at the free clinics in the city where individuals can get health screenings, helping to eliminate transportation as an obstacle for access to health care.

On Monday, the city celebrated the national recognition of its labor. Vicksburg is one of eight communities around the country to receive the Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for creating a healthy lifestyle in its community.

Mayor George Flaggs, Jr. announced at a celebratory event on Monday that the city would match the $25,000 awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation toward Vicksburg’s health initiative, led by organizations such as Shape Up Mississippi and United Way of West Central Mississippi.

“It speaks volumes for when you collaborate together,” Flaggs said. “We want to continue to do that and that’s why I committed another $25,000, that’s the least we can do. But more importantly than the money is other communities coming together around the world seeing that we were recognized, a small town in Mississippi. So we’re on the map.”

“We are frustrated with Mississippi being typecast as poor, unfit and uneducated,” said Linda Fondren, the founder of Shape Up Mississippi.  This prize means that Vicksburg is leading the way to changing that conversation.”

The other winning communities this year were Algoma, WI; Allen County, KS; Chelsea, MA; Garrett County, MD; Richmond, VA; San Pablo, CA, and Seneca Nation of Indians, NY.

Vicksburg is the first community in Mississippi to receive the award.

“It was about two years ago that we started working towards becoming a Culture of Health Prize-winning community, and we saw so many things that were worthy of recognition,” said Michele Connelly, the Executive Director of United Way of West Central Mississippi.

“[The award] gives us an avenue to share our story, and to get people to see there are great things happening in Vicksburg,” she added. “I see it as an opportunity to change the perception of what other people believe about us.”

The awards are given based on a scoring system RWJF developed with the University of Wisconsin, measuring a variety of statistics such as rates of obesity, tobacco use, and employment.

“A true benefit for this community is that it has a strong leader in the mayor, a great United Way, as well as individuals willing to broaden the leadership so that it’s not just the few, it’s the many,” said Necole Irvin, Chair of the Culture of Health Prize National Advisory Committee that selected the winners.

Connelly said the $50,000 would be used to expand the city’s health initiative.


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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.