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Roots & Routes of the Ozarks: People and Pathways

Missouri Humanities’ 6th Annual Humanities Symposium “Roots & Routes of the Ozarks: People & Pathways” was centered around the movement of people into, out of, and within the Ozarks. It examined how both chosen and forced migration, as well as historical changes in transportation, continue to inhabit and shape the region.

Our keynote presentation was held on Friday, April 28th, 2023 and our four program sessions on Saturday, April 29th, 2023. 

Friday, April 28th

The Roots of Route 66: The Green Book
and Driving While Black on the Mother Road

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM at The Historic Fox Theatre (157 Park Central Square, Springfield, MO 65806)

The keynote presenter, Candacy Taylor, is a photographer, cultural documentarian, and author of the bestselling book, Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America. Candacy’s talk featured the Green Book as a life-saving tool that not only kept Black motorists safe; it inspired Black entrepreneurship, pride, and resiliency. 

Candacy Taylor has been a national keynote speaker for 15 years. She has traveled over 500,000 miles documenting American culture and is an award-winning author and photographer who has been producing transmedia projects for over 20 years. Her multimedia presentations feature what she has learned about race, gender, class, culture, and identity on America’s main streets, urban enclaves, and rural byways.

Taylor is the curator and content specialist for Negro Motorist Green Book, a 3500-square-foot exhibition that is being toured by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) from 2020 to 2024. Taylor’s projects have been funded by numerous organizations including, The Library of Congress, National Geographic, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Park Service, and The National Trust. Her work has been featured in over 80 media outlets and she was awarded a fellowship from the Hutchins Center at Harvard University under the direction of Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“Nearly half of the counties on Route 66 were sundown towns so traveling the Mother Road was like navigating a minefield.“

– Candacy Taylor

Sponsored by Missouri State University – Ozarks Studies Institute and hosted by History Museum on the Square with support from the Springfield-Greene County Library and Hotel Vandivort. 

Saturday, April 29th

Latinos in Higher Education: Navigating Challenges and Pathways (Session 1)

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM in the CoxHealth Innovation Room at the efactory (405 N Jefferson Ave, Springfield, MO 65806)

Latinos are an important part of an often unseen diverse cultural landscape in the Ozarks. Since the 1980s, agricultural industries have attracted growing groups of immigrants from a range of backgrounds including Cuba, Central America, and Mexico. Many have now grown up in the region and are seeking education pathways, but barriers continue to be present especially for women. Our panel discussion talked about the challenges Latinas face in Higher Education from first generation to second generation to third generation.

This panel received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the National Museum of the American Latino, and is hosted in partnership with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival with support from the efactory.

The Panelists and Moderator: 

Judith Martinez (Panelist) is an Associate Professor of Spanish Literature, Language, and Culture at Missouri State University, where she has also served as the University Provost Fellow for Diversity and as the Provost Fellow for Faculty Development. She has founded and developed initiatives that promote awareness and actions toward cultural competence goals, including monthly diversity workshops, book talks, and mentorship programs for students and faculty. She has been awarded the Curtis T. Lawrence Award for Excellence in Teaching on behalf of the Honors College and was recently selected to be the EAB Leadership fellow for the University.

Judith’s research interest focuses on critical theory that evolves around violence, feminism, poverty, massive waves of migration, the un-doing of the community, parallel state, and different forms of oppression. Last year, she was the recipient of the University Research Award. 

Judith is involved in community initiatives such as Leadership Springfield and the Board of Latino Leaders. She constantly collaborates to offer her expertise and last year she earned the Citizenship award for her collegial and supportive spirit toward others, and the year prior, she was awarded the Board of Governors recognition for her leadership and community involvement in and outside campus. 

Elisa Peters (she/her) (Panelist) is a sophomore in the BFA Art and Painting program at Missouri State University. She is pursuing both Spanish and Latin American, Caribbean, and Hispanic Studies minors and a French for Communication certificate. She is an active member of Sartorial Magazine, Missouri State University’s source for fashion, beauty, and culture.

Wendy Torres (Panelist) is a sophomore Psychology major with two minors in Latin American Studies and Spanish at Missouri State University. They are the secretary for the campus organization, American Association of University Women, and represents them as a senator in the Student Government Association of Missouri State University. As a first-generation college student, Wendy plans on graduating in 2025 to pursue a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling to increase mental health support in Latin American communities.

Dr. Juan Meraz, MBA, Ph.D., CDP (Moderator) is the Assistant Vice President for the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Missouri State University. Dr. Meraz graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management, a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Master of Business Administration and completed his Ph.D. in 2019. He has served as the Provost Fellow for Diversity at Missouri State, and a faculty advisor for MoState Movement, facilitator for the Bears Lead Mentor Program, and Director of the Latino Leadership Institute.

Dr. Meraz is an Executive Board member for the MBAA International – Immediate Past President 2020-2021, Executive Board Member and Treasurer for the Multicultural Business Association (MBA), and Executive Advisory Director and Senior Editor with Franklin Publishing. He is also a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) and serves currently as the Diversity Executives Leadership Academy (DELA) Board Chair.

Dr. Meraz is a graduate of Leadership Springfield Class 31, member of the Springfield/Branson National Airport, and Co-chairs the Public Entities Diversity Performance Measures Sub-Committee. Dr. Meraz is a graduate of the following Harvard Kennedy Executive School Programs: Strategies for Building and Leading Diverse Organizations, Crisis Leadership in Higher Education, and a graduate of Harvard’s: “Leadership for the 21st Century” program which completed the Harvard Executive Public Leadership Program.

“Si Otsedoha (We Are Still Here): Remembering Cherokee Removal”
Film Screening & Discussion (Session 2)

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM at the Moxie Cinema (305 S Campbell Ave #101, Springfield, MO 65806)

Watch Missouri Humanities’ “Si Otsedoha (We Are Still Here): Remembering Cherokee Removal,” a short film that follows the Remember the Removal Bike Ride and highlights the endurance, emotions, and bonds of Cherokee people over nearly 1,000 miles along the Trail of Tears. Missouri is the longest and one of the toughest sections of the ride, sometimes called “Misery” by riders because of its hilly terrain.

We heard from riders featured in the film, along with the president of the Missouri Trail of Tears Association, as we discussed the Remember the Removal Bike Ride, forced removal, and the Trail of Tears. Audience Q&A followed the panel discussion.

Hosted in partnership with the Moxie Cinema with in-kind support from the Missouri Trail of Tears Association. 

Meet The Panelists and Moderator: 

Will Chavez (Panelist) is a member of the Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo tribes. He has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 28 years. During that time, he has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and photographer for the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, an organization made up of professional Native journalists from throughout North America and Canada, and has won numerous writing and photography awards.

Will was one of 20 cyclists who took part in the inaugural Remember the Removal ride in 1984 and did the nearly 1,000-mile ride a second time in 2017 as a mentor rider. He is currently the vice president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. Growing up in northeastern Oklahoma, Will learned the language, traditions, and culture of the Cherokee people from his Cherokee mother and grandparents. He also appreciates his father’s culture and when possible and attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. 

Emily Christie (Panelist) was a bike rider for the Remember the Removal Bike Ride in 2022 and a member of the first all-female team from Cherokee Nation. She is from Stilwell, Oklahoma, and is currently employed at Cherokee Nation Health Services as a Policy Analyst. She is a 2022 Oklahoma’s NextGen Under 30 awardee.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northeastern State University (NSU) with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In the summer of 2023, Emily will graduate with her master’s degree in business administration, with an emphasis on Healthcare Administration. 

After learning about the bike ride in 2012, it became Ms. Christie’s mission to learn more about the Trail of Tears and the impacts it had on the Cherokee Nation. She participated in the Ride to honor those who helped establish the new way of life for the Cherokee Nation and pay tribute to those that were lost during the Removal. 

Rocky Miller (Panelist) is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and President of the Board of the Trail of Tears, Missouri Chapter. He is a former candidate for Tribal Council for the Cherokee Nation and is a former State Representative for the State of Missouri. He served as Rules Chairman and was formally Utility Chairman for the House of Representatives.

He is a Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor. As a Land Surveyor, he has mapped and traversed many miles of the Ozark hills. Rocky is the former owner of R. Miller Companies, an engineering and environmental services firm that has been in operation since 1970. He has a Bachelor of Science-Civil Engineering, from the University of Missouri-Rolla and an MBA from St. Ambrose University. He recently founded Trail Consulting, a government consulting firm.

Erin Whitson (Moderator) is a Historical Archaeologist, whose research to date has primarily focused on identity politics—especially between dominant groups and those categorized generally as “other.” She received a Master of Science degree in Historical Archaeology from Illinois State University and is working on her Doctorate (and is currently ABD) in Anthropology at Binghamton University in upstate New York. 

Erin works as an archaeologist for Missouri Humanities. Her current archaeological work is based on a project tied to her work as a Ph.D. candidate, which focuses on research at two Cherokee Removal (or Trail of Tears) campsites in southcentral Missouri that date from 1837 to 1838. Partners for the project include Cherokee Nation, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, Mark Twain National Forest, Saint Louis University’s Remote Sensing Laboratory, Binghamton University’s Anthropology Department and Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory, and private landowners. 

Refugees & Resettlement in the Ozarks (Session 3)

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM at The Library Center (4653 S Campbell Avenue, Springfield, MO 65810)

History is filled with stories of people forced to leave their homes to escape war, violence, or persecution. Resettlement can be a pathway for at-risk people to find safety, equilibrium, and stability after being faced with some of the more harrowing aspects of humanity. In the panel discussion, we explored refugee resettlement in the Ozarks. We looked at the history of refugees in and out of the region–including why and what refugee populations have chosen the Ozarks as their home. We heard stories from members of refugee communities and discuss how community members can help support refugees and in return how refugees shape local communities.

Hosted in partnership with the Springfield-Greene County Library District and the History Museum on the Square. 

Meet The Panelists and Moderator: 

Mohammad Reza Hussaini (Panelist) is a human rights activist and scholar from Afghanistan, who has devoted his career to promoting human rights and empowering communities in Afghanistan through his work with the Change Makers of the World Organization and the Afghan government. He has earned recognition as the youngest Change Makers Award Laureate, and at the age of 18, he was awarded the Top Youth Award in 2020. 

Mr. Hussaini was forced to leave his country out of fear of persecution by the Taliban. With the support of the United States Congress, he was able to make his way to the United States, where he continues his work with international NGOs focused on human rights, education, and diplomacy. His work has aided many Afghan immigrants in the Springfield community to settle in and start a new life. 

Currently, Mr. Hussaini is studying political science and journalism at a higher education institution. He continues to share stories about Afghanistan as a youth journalist and news reporter for a local National Public Radio station.

Mara W. Cohen Ioannides (Panelist) is faculty at Missouri State University, president of the Midwest Jewish Studies Association, founding president of the Ozarks Studies Association, and Vice President of the Greene County Historical Society. 

Her doctorate, from The Spertus Institute, is in Jewish Studies with a specialty in American Jewish Studies. She has written the only history of the Jews of the Ozarks and the Jews of Missouri.

Tha Tlung Lian (Panelist) is founder and CEO of Veilamtah B&B Ministry, President of Chin Community of Springfield, and Children Education Director at Springfield Chin Community Church.

Tha Tlung graduated from Baptist Bible College with a degree of Master of Arts in Church Ministry with a specialty in Pastoral Counseling. He is currently studying for a Ph.D degree in pastoral and ministerial leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written the foundation of leadership in Chin (Hakha) Language, and under his leadership and guidance, the Chin Youth are working to write the history of the Chin Community in the Ozark Area in the English Language.

Rebekah Thomas (Moderator) is the Director of the International Institute of Southwest Missouri. Over the last six years, she has been privileged to lead a small team to provide comprehensive resettlement and employment case management services to refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Myanmar.

Rebekah’s unwavering belief that “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” drives her commitment to fulfilling her agency’s mission “to provide opportunities for immigrants and refugees and create a welcoming, prosperous, and healthy Southwest Missouri region for all.

Traveling into the Ozarks: Ways to Experience the Region and its People (Session 4)

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM at Mother’s Brewing Company (215 S Grant Ave, Springfield, MO 65806)

The Ozarks is a complex place that’s defined by the people who exist within its borders. For our closing event, Ozarks Alive’s Kaitlyn McConnell taught about the opportunities to experience the region on a new level through its places and traditions. From annual cultural events to longstanding businesses, we heard how to meaningfully connect with the region and truly experience the “Roots & Routes of the Ozarks”!

Hosted in coordination with Ozarks Alive and in partnership with Mother’s Brewing Company. 

Meet The Presenter: 

Kaitlyn McConnell began writing about the Ozarks when she was 17 years old. The “Landmarks” columnist for The Marshfield Mail, Kaitlyn tracked down nearly 80 different historic sites in Webster County for the newspaper’s readers. The column resulted in her selection as The History Channel’s Student of the Year in 2007.

After graduating with a degree in Integrated Media from Drury University, she soon moved to Norway — where she realized an even deeper desire to write about the Ozarks. Upon moving home, she decided not to wait for someone to give her that job. Instead, she launched Ozarks Alive. 

Kaitlyn formerly served as chair of Springfield’s Landmarks Board and president of the Webster County Historical Society. She authored a pictorial book on the history of Marshfield in 2011, which was chosen as a Best Book by Missouri Life magazine, and published “Passport to the Ozarks,” a guidebook to the region, in 2019. A second volume, “Passport to the Ozarks: Volume 2,” was released in 2022.