For one Vicksburg woman, making a difference demands focusing on young people

For Vickie Bailey, it’s all about helping the city’s young people.

As director of youth development for the city of Vicksburg, she works with people and organizations like the Fuzzy Johnson Baseball League and the King Empowerment Center to develop, organize and implement ideas and programs that can help youth stay out of trouble, do well in school and become better citizens.

That means developing athletic programs, tutoring services and mentoring programs to help young people develop.

Vickie Bailey

“I think that’s my pulse,” she said. “The total aspect of the youth. My philosophy is, ‘Get them while they’re young.’ We can mold and develop them at an early stage and then we produce a positive, solid individual, as opposed to waiting until they get old, and then want to try to do something with them.

“It’s almost like concrete. You wait and let them get to a stage where you don’t do anything, and it’s hard. You have to chisel. But if we start at the beginning, we can mold and develop and the process is so much easier.”

She said some programs, like the tutoring program at Kings, are under way and helping children. Other programs are still being planned, like a proposal by Ernest Galloway, one of the people associated with Fuzzy Johnson LLC, to start a tutoring program. Part of that plan, she said, requires finding a location where children can have a quiet atmosphere to learn.

Bailey has spent most of her career with the city’s park and recreation department, after serving as tennis coach at Warren Central High School, while splitting time with parks and recreation before going to the city full time.

“I’ve been around sports all my life,” she said. “You name it, I’ve played it.”

One influence for sports, she said, came from her stepfather, Luster Price.

“He was a true athlete in every sense of the word, just gifted beyond measure. When they had YMCA football for the boys, I was out there with my little brother, and me just being a child, catching and running.

“I had a little hat on my head, and they wanted me. They chose me before my little brother, and when they found out I was a little girl, they said, ‘She can’t play.’ But I had the skills and ability.”

Another influence was former parks and recreation director Tommy Jones, who Bailey said allowed girls to play baseball, because a softball program was not available at the time.

“I came up in an era where we didn’t stay inside. We were outside; we were on the playground and we made up our own games. Whatever we could do.”

Jones, she said, helped her through athletics, from playing baseball to programs at the Jackson Streey YMCA, to swimming.

“He knew I played tennis with Vicksburg High School, and at that time, we had four tennis courts at Halls Ferry,” she said, adding Jones helped get her into Tougaloo College on a basketball scholarship.

When she returned from college, Jones gave her an opportunity to run the city’s tennis program at Halls Ferry on a part-time basis.

When Jones was succeeded by Sid Beauman, Bailey was named program director for parks and recreation.

“I did T-ball, softball, and we did a lot of field maintenance. At that time, parks and recreation ran all the of the baseball and softball leagues. We didn’t have associations, we did it.”

She became involved in youth programs when then North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young created a youth service division that involved mentoring.

“We started youth services at the Kings Community Center. We formed youth services that included tutoring as  a suspension alternative program for school students suspended from school.”

The goal of the program, Bailey said, was to prevent truancy and crime.

“Kids were being suspended, and while they were suspended, we had a rash of crimes going on. Homes were being broken into, and it was happening during school because children were suspended and the parents went to work, leaving the children on their own. And children would intentionally get suspended to get out of school so they could hang out with groups.”

She said the city worked with then-school superintendent Donald Oakes to develop an alternative program to keep the students in school. The program was later transferred to the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Bailey later became director of the Jackson Street Community Center, where she was able to have mentoring programs, summer and Saturday morning programs for children.

“When I got there, I thought it was the ideal job,” she said. “I could expose kids to things they wouldn’t otherwise get to do; things that I was exposed to. We were doing those things, and we had a waiting list.”

When the program was downsized, she worked as senior assistant and business director for the Walter Payton Health and Wellness Center at Jackson State University, doing marketing for the center and its programs.

She later went to work for Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg before joining the Mississippi Tobacco Free Program for Warren and Claiborne County to educate people about the effects of tobacco.

She went back to parks and recreation at the request of former South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson, working with parks and recreation director Joe Graves and became involved in a citywide project to upgrade and renovate the city’s community parks as part of the administration’s move to improve residents’ health and fitness.

“We could see a great transformation, and we got accolades from people throughout the community even while we were out there doing it. And they were impressed that our parks were coming back.”

When city officials created a youth development department, Bailey returned to working with the city’s youth and families.

She is still looking ahead for further programs and ways to make Vicksburg a better place.

“My passion is still to have a youth center. I think it’s vital that we need space so that we can mold and develop our youth,” she said.

“There’s so much that needs to be done. I want the best for Vicksburg. This is a diamond in the rough.

“There is so much potential that we have not tapped into or had the time to bring it out. Hopefully we will step up and be the destination Vicksburg is supposed to be.”

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