Written by: Andre' White, Bluff City Post Article
After a stormy day and night on Friday, May 9, 2014. Saturday, the morning of the 10th was a jewel. As I was approaching Duncan Park, the sun's rays had their perfect placing among the trees, birds chirping and squirrels were playing and gathering as usual. It was another day that God had blessed us with. I noticed as I was admiring the beauty of the park, that there was a banner that was hanging from one of the park's picnic areas saying, "It Still Takes a Village To Raise Our Children." I found that statement to be so true.
Curiosity kicked in and as I approached the gathering, I took notice of the purple and white lettering on the kid's shirts. Futhermore, I observed teenagers and adults in good spirits, having fun and enjoying good smelling food. I ended up meeting one of the organizers of the event, who introduced me to Chantel Marsaw, the founder of "It Still Takes a Village to Raise Our Children," a non-profit organization in its own right, that acknowledges graduating high school students and siblings who have lost a parent; father or mother along their journey.
Ms. Marsaw presents plaques to these young people in memory of the deceased parent; also in honor of the student who has endured the loss. I asked Chantel what inspired her to do this and she replied, "The idea came through my child from God." Her daughter came to her one day saying, "Mom I'm so glad to have you. There are a lot of my classmates that do not have a parent." At that time the count was 19 graduates without a parent and her daughter was the Class of 2013 President at Natchez High School, Van'Triece Scott.
Chantel Marsaw knew something had to be done, she prayed to God and found both the vision and foresight that led her to take a stand and do something significant. She wanted to make sure these students who accomplished their first major goal in life, were recognized and encouraged. She also wanted to inspire them to continue to follow their dreams and destinies; supporting students as far as; Hattiesburg High School, Jefferson County High School and local surrounding schools- Adams County Christian School, Cathedral, Natchez High School and Trinity Episcopal School.
This, being her second year, she had the First Annual Picnic at the park, inviting children from the current Class of 2014 and their families along with the Class of 2013 to give support to one another by celebrating and enjoying life. Some of the first year's children have gone abroad, but flew back into town just for this event. I told Ms. Marsaw, "What an impact!" We are so glad there are people like her in the community and in this world standing for our children. What a great cause!
NATCHEZ — Shedrick Green did not feel alone when he walked across the stage at Friday night’s Natchez High
graduation.Though it’s been 12 years since Green hugged his father, Dad was there — in spirit. And though
Green was never one to talk much about the death of his father, a new found community of his peers knew Dad was there too.
Shedrick Minor, Green’s father, died in 2001 when Green was just 7 years old. The loss is something Green said he’s dealt
with personally, but not something he is quick to share with friends and classmates. Sometimes people forget or don’t know that you’ve
gone through something like that, so I don’t talk about it all the time,” Green said. “I don’t even remember the day he died.
I’m not trying to block it out or anything, but I just choose not to remember that day. Memories came flooding back when Green
walked into the Natchez High School library last and was surrounded by 18 other seniors who immediately knew his pain.
Each of the students had suffered a loss like Green’s, and each was there — unexpectedly —because of it.
A newly formed community organization — named, “It Still Takes a Village (To Raise Our Children),” —
had come to the school to honor the students and, intentionally or not, help them open up.
Natchez native Chantel Marsaw founded the organization after her daughter asked if there was anything they could do for the seniors
graduating who had all lost a mother or father. “I thought it would just be a few, and then when she started telling me how many kids
it was, I was shocked,” Marsaw said. “I just knew I had to do something for them for having gone through such a tough thing in their
lives.” Marsaw wanted to have commemorative plaques made for students to honor their achievements and remember their
family members, but she soon realized that plan required more money and resources than she had available.
“I went on Facebook after that and just posted about what I wanted to do for the kids,” Marsaw said. “Everybody
started commenting on it saying it was a great idea and asking how they could help.”
In no time, Marsaw said she had been contacted by several local businesses that donated enough money to get the
plaques made for the students. The students, however, had no idea what Marsaw was doing and were initially confused when called to
the library. I thought I was in trouble,” Torian Johnson said. “When I walked in and they told me what they were doing, I just
started crying. “They had to bring in a bunch of tissues because we were all crying so much.”
Johnson, who lost her mother, Efetoya Johnson, in 2011, said she had no idea how many students in her class had also
lost one of their parents. “Some of them I knew it had happened to, but I had forgotten,” Torian Johnson said. “It’s just something
people forget because we don’t all talk about it.
The plaques that were presented to the students featured a large bulldog, the Natchez High mascot, at the top followed
by the parent’s name and the student’s name.
Marneria White, who lost her mother, LaTonya White in 2002, said she’s kept the plaque close since she received it.
“It reminds me that someone cared enough to go through all this,” White said. “I could not stop crying when they gave it
The experience is something that has brought the students closer together, Meghin Dawson said.
“We cried for like 20 minutes straight,” Dawson said. “We were closer after that for sure.”
Dawson lost her mother, Renee Dawson, in 2011, and said being able to open up with the other students has made her
realize they should share their experiences with others more often.
“Some people should know not to take their parents for granted,” Dawson said. “Tell them you love them.”
Overall, Green said the plaque and the experience is one he used to remind him of his father’s legacy.
“He was a great man, and for me it’s all about keeping his memory going,” Green said. “Sometimes people might forget
about you, but we can’t forget.
“This lets us know that people out there are thinking about us, and we appreciate that more than anything.”
Program for students who have lost a parent
Published 12:02am Sunday, September 7, 2014
Marneria White has walked a mile in the shoes of the Miss-Lou high school seniors who have lost a parent or sibling.
White’s experiences coping with the loss of her mother while still trying to be a regular teenager are what she hopes to share with others going through a similar situation.
“Sometimes kids going through that stuff might not want to open up to an adult who has never been there, but I have been there,” said White, a Natchez High School graduate.
“I have been through it, and I know exactly what to say and what not to say.”
White was one of the first beneficiaries of a community organization that works with and honors students who have lost a loved one.
The organization — “It still takes a village” — was created by Natchez native Chantel Marsaw after her daughter asked if there was anything they could do for the Natchez High School seniors graduating who had all lost a mother or father.
Last year, the organization honored 19 NHS graduates who had lost a parent or sibling during the school’s graduation ceremony.
White, who lost her mother LaTonya White in 2002, said the moment was one she’ll
“It was a big deal walking across that stage and knowing that all these people were going through the same thing you were,” White said. “We all had achieved a goal that we knew our parents would have wanted us to do.”
Since then, Marsaw has expanded the program to include eight area schools, and the organization has received a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Marsaw said the decision to expand from just NHS to the private and parochial schools in Natchez, as well as others in surrounding areas, came from necessity.
“After we did the first one, I started getting all these calls from people, and I realized
how many kids there are that have lost someone and don’t get recognized,” Marsaw
said. “We had to do it.”
With the expansion, Marsaw knew she would need a team of dedicated volunteers who could help her keep up with the extra work required with more students.
Marsaw immediately turned to the NHS graduates who were part of the first group to be recognized.
Luckily, some of those students had been so moved by Marsaw’s efforts, they hopped right on board.
“Mrs. Marsaw is like a mother to me and if she’s stuck with me through all of that, I’m always going to make time to help her,” said White, who is a sophomore at the
University of Southern Mississippi. “She called me up and told me they were getting
bigger and would I like to be on her board.
“I was happy to help anyway I could, because sometimes parents or other grownups
don’t know what they’re going through or what it’s like.”
Marsaw said she was especially grateful to have White’s sister, Justice, be a part of the students at NHS who will be recognized this year.
“It’s like going full circle,” Marsaw said. Justice said she seeing her sister go through the recognition process last year at graduation and the bonds she created with the other students made her want to be a part of the organization.
“My sister would tell me all about what they did, and it sounded good,” Justice said.
“She encouraged me to sign up, so I did.”
Marsaw also received an influx of community members who joined the board to help out with the additional needs of the organization.
Seeing the response from the students who have already been recognized, as well as the volunteer community members, has been fulfilling for Marsaw.
“I believe God sent me all these people,” she said. “It’s just incredible to see everyone wanting to help these kids out.”
At graduation in May, the organization will honor students who have lost a parent or
sibling at Adams County Christian School, Cathedral High School, Jefferson County
High School, Franklin County High School, Natchez High School, Port Gibson High
School, Trinity Episcopal Day School and Wilkinson County High School.
Marsaw said she soon hopes to expand the organization to begin reaching out to students before their senior year and hosting various events for each grade throughout their time in high school.
“If we do that, we can know about a ninth grader who will be recognized and follow
them all the way until graduation,” Marsaw said. “That way, no one gets left behind.”
Sisters, Marneria and Justice White