3 Inspired People

Story Carmen K. Sisson | Photographs Whitten Sabbatini

Learnard Dickerson, Columbus
There are dreamers and there are doers. Then, there’s Learnard Dickerson, a dreamer who has made a life out of turning passion into precept.

As one of the masterminds behind Dream 365, Columbus’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, Dickerson has transformed what is a one-day event in most cities into a week-long extravaganza few could have imagined.

It’s not just about Martin Luther King. It’s not just about having a dream. It’s about living the message — and the  dream — every single day. 

From the high-profile Civil Rights activists the event draws — Ernest Green, of the Little Rock Nine; Myrlie Evers, wife of the late Medgar Evers; James Young, the first black mayor of Philadelphia, Miss. — to the concerts, speeches, youth activities, marches and parades, Dream 365 has become not just a community festival but a regional jewel, recognized as one of the Southeastern Tourism Society’s Top 20 events in January.

To the Louisiana native, an Xavier University physics graduate-turned-environmental engineer-turned-businessman-turned-activist, everything in his life has been leading to this moment, and no experience has been wasted.

As a child growing up in the New Orleans projects, the Boys & Girls Clubs provided role models, and hard work provided opportunity.

“Everything in life is about passion,” he says. “No matter what you take on in life, it has to be a burning passion. Your passion is the thing that says, ‘Regardless of the good days or the bad days, I’m going to press forward.’” The best way to find your passion is to expose yourself to lots of things. The process can’t be rushed; it must unfold naturally. “It will come,” Dickerson promises. “Everybody has a gift. You can sit on your gift, or you can allow it to be a passion and drive you towards a goal.”

Louise Campbell, West Point
If people thought Louise Campbell was going to actually retire when she retired, they had another thing coming.

One minute Campbell, 74, is covered in paint, creating backdrops for a community musical. The next minute she’s helping organize a photography contest and jewelry-making seminar with the West Point/Clay Arts Council, where she serves as a board member.

She works in two antiques stores downtown, helping creative people find just the right thing to bring their kitschy-cool vision to life. She volunteers with the United Way and serves on the board of the Henry Clay Hotel Retirement Community. She buys old houses and lavishes them with color and love, turning them into masterpieces.

In her spare time, she’s working on a mixed-media art project using torn tissue paper.

But most of all, Campbell is proudest of her 25 years as director of the Clay County Economic Development Corp. and her work as Main Street manager.

She remembers a time when abandoned buildings seemed to be spreading down Main Street with an alarming proliferation. Now, quaint shops and restaurants are abundant, and the biggest question for visitors is not what to do but how to dabble in everything West Point has to offer.

Campbell is interested in anything that’s good for the community, and as a former Mississippi University for Women art major, creativity is often the glue she uses to bring people together.

“It brings a good, positive feeling,” Campbell says. “No matter how good or bad things are, the arts bring out the best in everybody.”

But don’t count on her slowing down any time soon.

“I might be in trouble if it ends,” Campbell says. “I don’t think it would be fun to stay home. It’s still fun to go to work everyday.”

Bob Anderson, Starkville
For a man who has spent his life in the theater, playing every role a person can play, Bob Anderson is refreshingly real.

Seated in the lobby of the Starkville Community Theater’s Playhouse on Main, an organization which Anderson helped found in 1978, it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else.

He was a set builder back in the days when the theater didn’t have a home and the actors bounced from a vacant Fred’s to Oktibbeha County’s agriculture building, where the tin roof meant no plays on rainy nights — too noisy.

He has had his turn beneath the bright lights, starting with a role as the village idiot in what he confesses was a “terrible” high school play, to his most challenging performance, bringing “Death of a Salesman’s” complex hero, Willy Loman, to life.

He has been a director and a board member. He has read scripts and painted scenery. When funding was low, he and his wife, the late Mary Eleanor Roberts, supported SCT with their own credit cards.

These days, with the theater strong in its fortress on Main Street, Anderson spends his days tending shop and taking tickets at the box office. SCT’s subscriber list now tops 600, and rows of awards flank the walls, including many to the man who never let the lights dim on his faith.

He believes in the performances, but most of all, he believes in his colleagues, all of whom do this for love, not pay.

“Everybody’s working toward the same end — to be true to the play, true to what’s there,” he says. “It’s a lot of work.”

Speaking of which, if you hold still long enough, he’ll find a role for you, too.

“Can you use a hammer? Can you screw in a light bulb?” he asks. “We can use you.”