Dr. Jennie L. Stephens, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation™
Tell us about why you are participating in this initiative and what you hope it will achieve.
The Center for Heirs' Property Preservation™, has been a 501c3 non-profit organization in South Carolina since 2005. The Center’s mission from day one has been to protect heirs' property and promote the sustainable use of land to provide increased economic benefit to historically underserved families, through legal and forestry education and services.
Property matters to people. It’s far more than just a parcel of land. It can be a window to the past that tells the story of a family, a community, or a way of life. Knowing about your family’s history and culture creates a sense of place and belonging. The loss of heirs’ property has impact on the community, not just one family.
At the heart of the Center’s work is the building of trust in the rural, African American communities where distrust and fear of authority and the legal system is still pervasive. Once trust is established, these communities are open to receiving the education and services that the Center provides. Across that bridge of trust, the Center has seen firsthand how knowledge increases confidence, self-determination, better decision-making, and an ability to take action to positively change a family’s circumstances.
We have been very successful with our mission here in South Carolina, and as part of our long-term strategic plan we have wanted to replicate the model of our organization and take it elsewhere, so other landowners outside of our state can receive the heirs’ property services they often seek from us. We believe that with our proven expertise and with the help of our friends at the Mississippi Center for Justice, and support from partners Kimberly-Clark and World Wildlife Fund, we can achieve similar success in the Mobile Basin.