Civil Rights Icon Shirley Sherrod Tells All

Shirley Sherrod has dedicated her entire life to civil rights. At the age of 17, Sherrod’s father was murdered by a white farmer over a disagreement involving livestock. It was at that point that Sherrod made the commitment to work towards economic and social improvement in southwest Georgia. Sherrod has continued community building since leaving her U.S. Department of Agriculture position as the Georgia State Director of Rural Development following Andrew Breitbart’s release of a video clip from a 2010 NAACP event including her comments, which were later found to be taken out of context. ESSENCE.com invited Sherrod, who will speak at the ESSENCE Festival, to reflect on her passion for community service, her former U.S. Department of Agriculture role, and her Courage to Hope memoir.

Monique Valeris May, 16, 2013

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"In addition to being able to enjoy the many acts, it gives us a chance to have some of these major discussions we need to be having in the Black community and in this country. I'm excited about going to the Festival."

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"We are still in the Civil Rights Movement. There have been some gains, but when you stop monitoring the issues, you look up and see that they are facing us again. We have to continue to make things better, not just for Black kids but for all children."

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"I had worked outside of government until I became Georgia State Director of Rural Development. I developed an initiative to reach out to some of the poorest counties in the state. After I was forced out, they sent me a message saying I had gotten three times more money into persistently poor counties in Georgia than they had done in the previous eight years."

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"A landless people is a powerless people. That's part of our disconnect now. We've gotten away from the land. We should all be concerned about trying to support our farmers and Black land ownership."

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"I'm back home building a processing center to aggregate vegetables that can be sold to local school systems. I'm working with small growers who are farming 10 to 20 acres to help them sell to school systems so they can make more money to pay taxes and continue to live in the rural area. I'm also developing a USDA-certified commercial kitchen so people can produce products that can be sold anywhere. I'm also working on a young women's leadership project."

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"People have been telling me for years that I need to write a book. I made a vow when my father was murdered that I didn't want people to forget what happened to him. I've devoted my work to that. It helps my family to hear comments from people who have read the book."

7 of 7 The Washington Post/Getty Images

"There's something you can do to make where you live better. You are the one who can help make a difference in your community. Bring changes by working with organizations or start talking to others about what you can do. You can start small. You'd be surprised sometimes on where that takes you."