Hundreds of people from Clarksdale and beyond joined the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center to celebrate a landmark day in its meaningful history.
The Henry Center, local and state leaders, and well-wishers from across the Mississippi Delta witnessed the dedication of the Larry Haynes Boardroom and Aurelia Jones-Taylor Administrative Complex located at 600 Ohio Avenue in Clarksdale.
Along with the Larry Haynes Boardroom, the Aurelia Jones-Taylor Administrative Complex houses the Henry Center’s new optometry clinic and 2,000-square-foot wellness center.
Haynes, the longtime chair of the Henry Center board, was ill and unable to attend the event. Senator Robert Jackson, the board’s co-chair, paid tribute to Haynes and his service to the board and community. Jackson then asked the crowd to pray for Haynes.
The dedication ceremony included a variety of speakers who bore testimony to the 33 years of leadership by Aurelia Jones-Taylor. Along with Senator Jackson, the speakers included Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy, Coahoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Johnny Newson, Bancorp South CEO Darrin Williams, Delta Health System CEO Scott Christensen and Children’s Health Fund CEO Arturo Brito.
The event was moderated by Dr. Vanessa Rogers Long, the 20th Southwestern Regional Director of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and a longtime friend of Jones-Taylor.
Based in Clarksdale, the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center, Inc. works to improve the health of people in the Mississippi Delta and Delta Hills communities by increasing access to integrated, comprehensive primary and preventive health care, and related services while promoting economic development. The agency works under the guiding belief that people needing primary and preventive health services should receive them regardless of their ability to pay. The center was named in honor of Dr. Aaron E. Henry, an African American pharmacist who served as a state representative and civil rights activist from Clarksdale. The organization began service delivery in Clarksdale in August, 1980, and celebrated 40 years of service in 2019.
“When she calls, I’ve always answered, and often on the first ring,” Chairman Newson said to crowd applause and nodding by Jones-Taylor. “And I look forward to working even more with them.”
“You all know her here, and I can tell you that she is a giant, nationally,” remarked Brito. Jones-Taylor has led the center to an even greater impact on the Mississippi Delta by expanding the scope of services and resources. This gave rise to the nickname “Miss Acquisition,” mentioned by many of the event’s speakers. The zealous pursuit of resources through grant-writing and fundraising earned the unmistakable respect of each speaker.
After becoming CEO in 1988, Jones-Taylor immediately earned that nickname. By 1990, a new 3,400 sq. ft. facility in Clarksdale was renovated to accommodate the ever-growing patient load and users increased exponentially. During this time, the agency began to focus on recruiting additional professional and medical staff, as well as improving existing facilities. As the organization began to add on services and programs, it was quickly evident that space was inadequate at both sites.
So Jones-Taylor quickly went to work, acquiring grant funding for the new Tunica facility that was completed in 1995. Even during the relentless work on the Tunica facility, Jones-Taylor and her team established new points of service delivery, including a school-based health center in Tunica in 1992, a free-standing clinic in Friars Point, MS in 1995 and school-based clinics in Quitman County and Tallahatchie County, also in 1995. The Henry Center also became the third member of the National Children's Health Fund’s network of mobile-based clinics, and one of only two agencies nationwide to receive a fully-equipped mobile medical unit from Hasbro Children’s Foundation.
One of the Henry Center’s most well-known services, the DARTS program, began in 1990. The official name is the Delta Area Rural Transit System program, providing rural general public transportation for those needing a ride to receive subspecialty medical care.
As with most projects undertaken by Jones-Taylor, the DARTS transportation program began with a bold leap of faith, even when resources weren’t as plentiful as hoped. “I remember seeing those DARTS vans when I was coming along,” recalled Espy. “There were two vans and one of them worked,” he said to laughter by those who fondly remembered with him. “She has been one of the real leaders.”
Despite the systemic challenges of the Mississippi Delta and occasional economic downturns, the growth in medical care continued. In 1999, the Henry Center received a Health Resources and Services Administration expansion grant to open two additional clinics in Panola County – one in Batesville and the other in Como. In May of 2000, the center completed the construction of a 12,000 square foot replacement for its flagship site in Clarksdale.
“It’s important to honor people while they’re living,” Bancorp South CEO Williams remarked. He then applauded the energetic leadership of the still-youthful Jones-Taylor, including how she would even explain solutions to financing issues to the bankers.
“Her greatest work has been her human resources,” said Cheryl Stanton, human resources director of the Henry Center. Stanton used a double meaning for human resources, meaning both the way Jones-Taylor leads the center’s employees and the way in which they enrich the lives of people in the Delta.
“She [Jones-Taylor] lives by the one common purpose that we all have, which is to love and serve others,” proclaimed Shirley Saddler, second vice president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. While a student at Tougaloo College, Jones-Taylor joined the Gamma Psi chapter of the sorority and has remained an active leader throughout the intervening years.
Even with all the celebration of new programs and services for those who can least afford it, more good news arrived during the event. Retired school superintendent Howard Sanders, of Jones-Taylor’s hometown of Hollondale, said that Jones-Taylor is working to establish a medical residency program to the Henry Center.
Throughout the event, the meaningful tributes were seasoned with fun stories and some laughs. The biggest laughter, however, was brought by Jones-Taylor’s nephew, Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Brian K. Jones. Announcing that he would reveal Jones-Taylor’s darkest secret, he described her zeal for professional wrestling in the NWA decades ago. He artfully described, and might have even exaggerated, her cheering for or against wrestling legends like Jerry “The King” Lawler and Abdullah the Butcher.
Then, on a more profound note, he explained her meaning and role in their family. “Her indomitable spirit and the fact that she is always there for our family means so much,” he said. “She inspires us to work harder and to look higher to achieve our goals.”
Working harder and looking higher have come to define the career of the leader whose name now adorns a building where so much is done for so many with so little.