Biking, running ‘cultural expedition’ traveling the Mississippi arrives in Vicksburg Tuesday

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Relay of Voices, a four-month long biking and running expedition from the headwaters to the mouth of the Mississippi River, is coming through Vicksburg tomorrow, Oct. 8.

Relay began its trip in Minnesota last July. Its mission is to collect individual stories across the Mississippi River region. Relay is listening deeply with no agenda, seeking to understand why people make a home in this region of the country so often prey to declining populations, poverty, and strife.

The effort is spearheaded by Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Bradford Styrbicki with the assistance of her husband, Tom, support staff and regional volunteers. Team members include certified triathlon coach Nic King-Ruley, and project manager Dinah Bradford.

Relay for Voices will be arriving in Vicksburg at approximately 9:30 a.m. at the Warren County State Welcome Center, 4210 Washington St. While here, Relay plans to “relay the voices” and landscapes from Tallulah, La., to connect them to the stories of Vicksburg. The public is invited to witness and participate in this storytelling process.

Relay is working with 104 communities, 20 to 40 miles apart, as it travels downriver through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, finishing at the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico in November.

“We want to create a platform for listening with the body in and around the communities of the Mississippi River,” Styrbicki said in a release. “As we build a physical vocabulary drawn from the lives of the people of Vicksburg … we hope a story emerges that resonates beyond the river and connects all Americans. Through accumulation and just being present, we hope to be a catalyst for all the voices of Vicksburg while also providing insightful data for scientific purposes.”

Relay has vetted each stop along the way to provide an accurate representation of both the river and the diverse communities surrounding it. A primary reason for choosing the Mississippi River region was the contrast of rural and urban communities, with many making a living off the water and land. The river is home to a collection of small towns ranging between 200 and 60,000 in population anchored by seven cities with populations over 100,000.

With the help of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau a broad cross-section of city residents has been asked to serve as the “voices” of Vicksburg. They come from different age groups, cultural backgrounds and professions. Those participating include: Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Herman Smith, Emily Tillman, Linda Fondren, Lesley Silver, Layne Logue and Patrick Smith.

“We are so excited to assist the Relay for Voices team as they travel down the Mississippi River telling the stories of our river cities,” said Laura Beth Strickland, executive director of Visit Vicksburg in the release. “The Mississippi River is a huge part of what makes Vicksburg special, and we can’t wait to see how Victoria and her team bring together some of our stories.”

On the morning of Oct. 8, Vicksburg will be approached by surrogate walkers, runners, cyclists, and paddlers from neighboring river communities.

When no regional surrogates’ step in to carry the voices downriver, Styrbicki approaches the distance as a duathlon—a run out of town, cycling the longer stretch between, followed by a run into the next town. Styrbicki and her husband will “gather the landscape” making observations with their senses as well as with GPS body cameras mounted to their torsos or bikes for use in mapping analysis and storytelling.

Relay has partnered with 29 Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs),19 Chambers of Commerce, 30 arts, culture and educational organizations, 45 city and county governments, as well as hundreds of individual volunteers in each community to solidify programming and to assist with accommodations, transportation, event space and nourishment to support the expedition as it travels south. Other partners include the Great River Road, Mississippi River Network, Water Institute of the Gulf and Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.

Relay of Voices is a project of A House Unbuilt, a nonprofit corporation based in Lake Charles, La., and Chicago.

For more information, visit the Relay of Voices website and A House Unbuilt website.