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Saint Paul teacher brings Black history to life

St. Paul teacher Darryl Young brings students to his family’s farm in Mississippi to learn about the blues and Black history.

Mississippi Delta Blues Camp is an annual youth-centered learning excursion designed to take Black youth to the Northwestern area of Mississippi, known as the Delta. More than 400,000 Black people migrated from Mississippi between 1910 and 1970 during the Great Migration; the camp aims to reconnect youth with their ancestry academically, creatively, and culturally.

The nonprofit camp was created by Darryl Young, who teaches history at Saint Paul’s High School for Recording Arts. The first camp was held in 2020. Young, as a teacher at a predominantly Black alternative school, spends his time reconnecting his students with the history and influence of Black culture. Young says he believes there is nothing better than a real-world experience, so he decided to take his students on the road from Minnesota to Mississippi for a week of cultural exploration and ancestral honorance.

“I tried to make it as close to the original migration of their ancestors. I wanted them to feel that struggle a little bit. And so we drove down there in the school van through the states that their grandparents and great-grandparents went through, looking at the scenery. That was kind of difficult for them,” said Young.

Young’s students are primarily artists; the camping trip happens every spring so the students can attend the annual Blues Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The students also visit HBCUs, museums, indulge in southern food, and camp out on a farm where they connect to the historic impact of agriculture.

“It's a whole new world to them when they're looking at these Confederate flags. That was a big culture shock to them. I tell them that greatness is still there. It’s in the soil.”

For Young, the soil he is referring to is his family’s farm, which hosts the students and exposes them to farming. Young’s parents were cotton pickers in Delta Mississippi prior to buying land on the former cotton field. He even says his father would share the memory of looking over Young laying on a cotton sack while they worked long hours. He says his parents eventually migrated to Minnesota in 1968 for better opportunities and to provide him a better life.

“My family, that's my motivation right there. My mom and dad, they started with nothing, barefoot in the Mississippi Delta. They were teen parents when they left. They had everything against them. But they came back in such a big way,” said Young.

32 years later, Young’s parents returned to Delta Mississippi in 2000, and purchased land on a vacant cotton picking field. They now run agricultural businesses from the farm and hold space for Young’s camp. He says his hope for his students, and all Black youth, is to see that no matter what, adversity can be overcome.

“They see the sacrifices that were made in order for them to be doing what they are doing. They gain an appreciation for the different options that they have, that others in the past haven't,” said Young.

Students interested in attending the Mississippi Delta Blues Camp should contact the High School for the Recording Arts and enroll in Young’s Mississippi Delta Blues history class.

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