Brent to lead Fair & Civic League

By CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,

The Yazoo County Fair and Civic League has been in operation for decades, and has recently reached new heights under the leadership of its new president, Catherine J. Brent.

After serving on the league board as vice-president for over 20 years, Brent stepped up and served in the president's seat when Mr. H.A. Scott fell ill.  She was officially named the league president in 2016, and since then has set to work making improvements within the organization.

Brent is the wife of Aubry Brent Sr., and the mother of Ward 4 Alderman Aubry Brent Jr., and Wanda Brent Thomas, of Sugar Grove, Ill.

Brent worked in the education field for 43 years, before retiring in 1993.

She started out her career working as a reading teacher, after graduating high school in the late 1940s.  By then she was already living a happy life as a wife and a mother, and was pursuing secondary education at Alcorn in the summer time. 

In 1962, Brent earned a Bachelor's Degree with distinction in Elementary Education from Alcorn.

Brent continued her teaching career at many of the small schools in the Yazoo County area during that time.

"I started out as an elementary teacher, and the school was W.A. Campbell," said Brent. "At that time,  the person who taught the smaller kids taught about four or five grades, and that was certainly a challenge."

Though it was a challenge to be a working wife and mother in those days, Brent decided to continue her education at Jackson State, and by 1973 she had achieved a Master's Degree in Elementary Education, and was later awarded a Specialists Degree in Elementary Education in 1977.

By this time, Brent said that she was satisfied with her level of education, and enjoyed the advancements in her career from classroom teacher to elementary principal, and then on to other  administrative positions such as instructional supervisor, food service director, assistant superintendent, and even federal programs director.

 After so many years in the education field, Brent touched numerous lives and still remains in contact with former students and coworkers.

"I have been out to some of their homes," she said. "Some of them live out of state, and they want me to come for a visit."

When she finally retired in 1993, Brent thought that she was going to spend her free time traveling and visiting her grandchildren.

Those plans changed when she was called upon to serve on the Board of the Yazoo County Fair and Civic League.

Brent had been involved in other clubs and organizations before, such as the Jolly Misses and the Mesdames Club, Inc., and she has been a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church for over 75 years.

But the Yazoo County Fair and Civic League had a great need for an individual with leadership skills, and Brent was the one named for the job.

The league was originally founded in 1935 by Mr. R.J. Pierce and Mr. T.J. Huddleston Jr., as an organization designed to host separate events for the African-American community during the time of segregation.

"They wanted somewhere to have a fair," said Brent. "At that time, we had a white fair and black fair, so that's how it was started."

For many years, the Fair and Civic League owned a large building on Calhoun Street that stood where a rehabilitation center is now.  In this location, local African-Americans could freely meet and set up a small marketplace to sell their farm grown produce and canned goods, and they also hosted dances and proms, as well as recreation and sporting events.

 "They used to play ball there," said Brent. "They played football outside, and they would play basketball on the inside of that building."

The building stood for many years until a storm came and blew the roof away, rendering it unusable.

Since its founding, the Yazoo County Fair and Civic League has been actively involved within Yazoo City.

During her administration of the League, Brent has overseen several repairs and other projects at the L.T. Miller Community Center, including the repair of two bathrooms, repairs made to the north end of the center where the offices are housed, the roof has been repaired, special greenery has been added throughout the building, special nooks have been set up in various corners, and several rooms in the building are being rented out for office space.  The league also hired maintenance employees to help complete all work in a timely manner.

They have also hosted and sponsored fundraisers in the community center, such as the Christmas Cantata, and the Open House, as well as a successful Annual Meeting of League members.

Once a much larger organization, the league at one point in time boasted over 300 members, but has since reduced down to around 40 active members at present.

"We had the open house to inform the community about us and to let them know that we were still alive and what we were doing," said Brent. "We collected money that day to fund programs, and some of that was from new memberships."

Brent said that she would not have been able to complete all of these projects without the help of her fellow board members: Edith Myles, Margaret Harris, Travis Johnson, Danny Neely, Linda Carter, Dorothy McGowan, Joseph Johnson; and maintenance employees: Rev. Cleotha Hill, Melvin Eason, William Anderson, and Herman Robins.

The primary purpose for the Yazoo County Fair and Civic League these days is to keep the L.T. Miller Community Center open for events, to preserve the Oakes African-American Cultural Center, to help maintain adequate housing for individuals who are elderly and/or disabled, living on a very low to moderate income level, and to monitor certain housing complexes in Yazoo City.

Brent said that the most rewarding part about being a volunteer is that she gets to meet people from all walks of life, and has provided her with various opportunities and activities in the community.

She encourages others to become volunteers as well because it gives people a purpose and a chance to lead an active life even after retirement.

For more information about the Yazoo County Fair and Civic League, or to ask about volunteering or membership, please call their office at 746-7984.