Hometown Heroes :: Melvin Priester, Saving Jackson One Room At A Time

melvin-preister-jrSitting amongst the crowd while sipping on an orange Faygo, Melvin Priester Jr. (@MelvinPriester) watches a movie about an African American hero unbeknownst that he might be considered a hero himself.  Priester was recently elected Councilman for Ward 2 of Jackson and is hosting a movie night at the Presidential Hills Community Center. The night before, along with Hinds County Sherriff Tyrone Lewis he showed the same movie, 42, a movie that illustrated the history of Jackie Robinson at Triumph Church.

“It really moved me as and when after our first movie night a young man came up to me, he was in the 6th grade and told me he had never gotten to go to the movies before in his whole life,” says Priester.  This movie night is just one example of the things Priester is really proud of. He is also quick to tell what inspired him to work for others in the first place: family tradition.

Priester’s grandmother, the late Bernice Stimley, was a shining example of how important it is to treat people with dignity, respect, and a commitment to caring. Stimley owned a grocery store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Jackson, ran a daycare center, and owned a number of properties. Priester said that when black people got an opportunity to work in polls she did so with passion until she was physically unable to.  “I share that spirit and drive,” Priester adds. “I think having multiple interests gives you the perspective to be able to look at what your primary job is in a new light and a new passion.”

On this rainy Saturday, the light from the windows starts creeping into the community center making it hard to view the movie on the projector screen.  Priester stands atop chairs to cover the windows with black garbage bags and cardboard to give the center filled with an audience of no more than a hundred a dark, movie-like atmosphere. While doing that, beneath him a volunteer for the movie night mops water from the leaking roof. Priester says he’s excited about hands on work like the “nuts and bolts things” that are necessary in Ward 2.

So far, he’s helped get potholes fixed, abandoned properties cleaned up, and lights turned on in parks for safety. He is also fighting to get Jackson Public Schools to resume bus services to the afterschool programs that the City of Jackson runs. Priester says he’s passionate about seeing drastic improvement in our educational system. “I see JPS is the biggest economic impediment to Jackson’s re-development,” Priester comments then explains how people move out of the city because they don’t trust JPS is good enough for their kids.

Children line the front row of the community center with their eyes glued to the makeshift movie screen. Alice Jackson, a resident of Presidential Hills brought her three grandchildren and says Priester couldn’t have picked a better movie. “I’m glad he did this because a lot of kids might not have known about the history of Jackie Robinson,” Jackson says. Her 9 year-old grandson Marvin Jackson who plays baseball says it made him want to play more often. He also has some ideas for the councilman. “They should bring a baseball event, or football!” Marvin says.

Even though Priester is open to suggestions, one of his first plans of action was made clear to the crowd that night. “Everyone knows Jackson doesn’t have a movie theater and we’re trying to change that even if we have to do it one room at a time.”



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