Author and journalist Jesse Holland reminds people whenever he has the chance that his roots lie in Mississippi.

“Whenever I speak anywhere or talk to people about anything, the first thing that I tell them is that I am from Mississippi,” Holland told an audience of over 1,000 at Saturday’s Crystal Ball fundraiser for the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. “If they’re not from Mississippi, I tell them, ‘I’m sorry for you,’ because here the people are real, the people are generous. We are people who care, who know our names and we care for our neighbors.”
Holland, who wrote the companion novel for last year’s top-grossing movie “The Black Panther,” was the recipient of the Star of Hope Award during the annual event held at the Arena in Southaven.   

As Holland has written novels on superheroes such as the Black Panther, who he first learned about reading comic books in a drug store in his native Holly Springs, the theme for this year’s Crystal Ball was “Super Heroes: Use Your Powers for Good.”

In addition to scenes from the movie continually showing on the back wall of the arena, a full-sized Batmobile was parked inside for viewing and photos taking, and people inside were dressed as superheroes, such as Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash, to aid in support of the festive atmosphere inside the arena.

As well as an award-winning journalist with the Associated Press and writer of works addressing African-Americans in Washington and federal government, Holland is the author of the upcoming work “Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Finn’s Story.”

“Being honored here tonight just reminds me of how much Mississippi cares,” Holland said. “This organization (Community Foundation) and this award lets me know why I continue to come home. Here is where we care, know our names, care for our people and take that extra step to let their fellow man know that they belong.”  

The presentation of Holland as Star of Hope Award winner was part of an evening that also honored others who have impacted their communities and Northwest Mississippi.

Derick Biglane of Hernando was named as the Dan Maddox Man of the Year.

Biglane co-founded the Krewe of Hernando that coordinates several projects each year. He is a past-president of the Southaven Rotary Club and helped start its annual Crawfish Countdown fundraiser and helped start an October Brewfest for clean water in Central America with his work with the Hernando Rotary on his move to the DeSoto County seat. Biglane also heads the Hernando Soccer Association and helped raise money to start the Hernando Soccer Complex.

The Margaret Maddox Woman of the Year is Becky Nowell, the wife of Cleveland, Miss. Mayor Billy Nowell. Nowell envisioned the “50 Nights of Lights” during the Christmas season for downtown Cleveland as a holiday tourist attraction. She also chairs the GRAMMY Museum located there, is active in the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street and United Way community efforts.

Chawla Hotels was given the Business of the Year Award. It is the largest privately-held hotel company in the Mississippi Delta and has a history of supporting the Boys and Girls Club in the Delta and other efforts. The firm has worked with Coahoma Community College to form the Chawla Hospitality Academy, which is a training center for employees in the hotel business.

The other Community Star Award was to Palmer Home for Children as Nonprofit of the Year. Palmer Home is a ministry started in Columbus in 1895 and which added a home in DeSoto County about 16 years ago.  

One of the highlights of the night was a check presentation from Robin Hurdle, president of the Maddox Foundation, to Community Foundation president/CEO Tom Pittman, which amounted to the final payment of a challenge commitment from Maddox to the Community Foundation, which the Maddox Foundation helped start in 2002.  

Maddox had made a Challenge Grant to the Community Foundation to match 100 percent endowment contributions through 2013 and Hurdle made the final payment on that challenge to Pittman as part of the program.  

“Tom, here is the final check,” Hurdle said to Pittman. “Here is the final payment on our commitment, our $10 million commitment. Seven-hundred-twenty thousand dollars.”

“We literally would not exist without you,” Pittman said in reply. “We certainly could not do our work without you.” 

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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