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Lott Leadership Institute
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Cultivating Leaders: Tyler Yarbrough

Posted on: November 4th, 2021 by amyevans

Meet Tyler, a public policy leadership major

OCTOBER 7, 2019

Raised in the most impoverished region in the poorest state in the country, the Mississippi Delta is where I’m from. Some see Clarksdale as a place where hope goes to die, but I view it a little differently. It is a place of hope. A place where if people had the resources and agency that stems from it, they too could wholeheartedly believe in and enjoy the powerful truth: that you can be whatever you want in this world despite your current circumstances.

I wish to bring that idea home, not only for my friends and neighbors, but for the America that continues to live in the shadows. The America whose skin complexion, hair texture, economic, and educational background resemble mine.

Studying public policy allows me to use my lived experiences—growing up in a single parent household—to analyze the policy measures that make climbing up the socioeconomic ladder that much harder. I get my grit from my mom. Becoming a parent at the age of 14, she opted to raise her kids rather than pursuing her dreams. Her dreams on hold for over a decade, she went back to college while I was in middle school, eventually working her way up to a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing. Her success story and agency to act was not only for her kids, but for our community. My hometown of Clarksdale suffers from subpar healthcare options and outcomes. Its public schools perform below others in the state. We have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. These are all issues that could be easily be addressed with a few strokes of a pen—with legislation to improve the Delta.

Even though my mother’s story resembles so many others like hers in the Mississippi Delta, our stories are often not highlighted, making it impossible for us to address our problems as a state.

When we value these stories, we are presented with avenues for social progress by addressing issues that affect the most vulnerable around us. Once we recognize how we have neglected those people, the harms of our past inactions will easily be recognizable.

I say all of this to highlight the significance of receiving the Stamps Scholarship.

The Stamps Scholarship is the most esteemed full scholarship package that any student can receive from the University of Mississippi. The full scholarship comes with a $12,000 enrichment fund to enhance my academic learning experience. A product of welfare programs, low-income public housing, and food stamps while growing up, it’s humbling to have people see my potential.

Stamps has taken me to Ecuador where I bonded with the other scholarship recipients for nearly two weeks. It has allowed me to purchase my plane ticket to teach 8th grade history through a social justice lens in Providence, Rhode Island. This social justice framework allowed me to highlight issues that affect minority communities while also working to instill in my students a sense of agency to make change in their communities. We discussed bill writing and taking control of their personal stories to give a different narrative about their community, which the media often skews. While there I also was able to critically examine my own years in grade school, allowing me to bring those ideas back to the Mississippi Delta to improve the quality of education.

The Stamps Scholarship has given me the opportunity to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Focused on studying before and after apartheid, I plan to enhance my experience by creating video stories gauging the opinions of native South Africans surrounding their current debates on land reform. Although apartheid has officially ended, the black population remains at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, often residing in underdeveloped, segregated urban townships, where homes resemble shacks made of scrap metal. What South Africa does to reconcile their history has the potential to affect public policy throughout the world—even in the Mississippi Delta, where broad similarities exist.

Stamps has funded my personal growth. Most importantly, it has allowed me to expand my world view and realize the potential I have to make my mark. For that, I will forever be indebted to the university and the Stamps family.

My story highlights just how crucial it is to increase minority scholarships to the university and focus our attention on capturing the hidden talents that reside in the Mississippi Delta.

The progress of Mississippi is intrinsically tied into the University of Mississippi understanding the impact in investing in people like myself. I, and others like me, have a fiery passion for improving our state and ending the cycle of poverty dating to slavery in the region. I want others to see themselves in me and understand that they can accomplish anything that they put their minds to. Everyone deserves that!

After graduating, I would love to focus on education, philanthropic endeavors, improving the Mississippi Delta, and finding solutions to poverty and its adverse effects on an international scale. The Stamps Scholarship connects me to a national cohort of individuals who want to usher in bold changes to their respected fields. I’m honored to be amongst them. I plan to use the scholarship to better cultivate my passions, while also making bold, progressive, and systemic changes along the way.