By Carmen K. Sisson | Catfish Alley Magazine
Avani Poindexter is a talented actress, but even she is having a hard time staying in character for her running gig as an average pre-teen.
For a fleeting moment, the sixth grader’s words tumble one over the other as she confesses that she loves shopping for clothes, hair accessories, shoes, and purses. Then she slips back into the perfect, precise diction of a starlet on the rise.
The 12-year-old Columbus Middle School student attended a talent showcase in Birmingham, Ala., last year, and since then, her calendar has been even more hectic than usual. She quickly booked an agent, and in June 2014, she was an extra in Jurassic World, a Jurassic Park sequel scheduled for release this summer.
I want to be a beacon of light in their lives, because they might not have anyone who cares. ~ Avani Poindexter, teen actress
A few months ago, she auditioned for a Kraft commercial. At school, she tried out for a drama production, “Ophelia and Hamlet,” and landed a part as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. She attends multiple dance classes at Wherehouse Dance Company in Columbus, and she is an Amicette, a special membership in Zeta Phi Beta sorority for girls ages 9-12.
And, oh yeah, she’s a straight-A student, too.
Acting has helped her overcome shyness, she says, adding that teenagers try too hard to fit in, and they bottle their emotions. She encourages her friends to be themselves — not only around her but everywhere.
“If you are yourself and you are upbeat and fun, that’s the best thing in the world,” she says. “I want people to be the crazy people they are.”
Her burgeoning career gives her a unique platform to inspire her peers.
“I want people to be able to come to me and ask questions,” she says. “I want to be a beacon of light in their lives, because they might not have anyone who cares.”
Every once in a while, someone tells über-talented Scott Reed that he should leave his native West Point and move to a bigger city with more opportunities. Every time, his answer is the same: He feels fortunate to live in a community that makes the arts a way of life. He likes where he lives, and he has no intention of leaving.
Other cities may overlook their resident creatives, but here, creativity is nurtured — due in no small part to Reed, who is the current president of the West Point/Clay County Arts Council and owns a florist shop downtown.
West Point has seen hard times, but the arts hold the community together, Reed says. They are the great equalizer, the one thing that can never be taken. Friendships are forged. Bonds are made. There are no boundaries.
Art can reach anybody’s heart. That’s what it’s done for our town. ~ Scott Reed, arts council president
Reed is proud of what West Point and the arts council has achieved, from the 6,000-square-foot Louise Campbell Center for the Arts, which opened last September, to the free arts events available to people of all ages.
“The day we had the (arts center’s) dedication ceremony, it was standing room only,” Reed says. “There were people from every church, every school, every race, every religion. And I thought, ‘This is what the arts can do for a town.’”
People often believe they are not creative, he says, but everyone has a talent. The key to discovery is learning to set fear aside. Life itself becomes art when used to bless others.
“Art can reach anybody’s heart,” Reed says. “That’s what it’s done for our town. … The old ways may be done and gone, but we are not afraid to recreate ourselves.”
West Point, like most masterpieces, is a work in progress — and that’s just the way Reed likes it.
Dr. Roy Ruby
Dr. Roy Ruby likes to say he was raised on a front porch in the Mississippi Delta and retired to a back porch in Bulldog Country, but that’s a bit of a maroon and white lie. His roster is as full as ever, and he spends it as he has spent most of his life — serving Mississippi State University and the Starkville community.
People need to look for their niche — things they’re interested in — to fit the needs of society. I have not done enough. ~ Dr. Roy Ruby, retired educator
Ruby’s father played baseball for MSU Coach Dudy Noble, and his son followed in his footsteps, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science in the 1960’s. He received a doctorate in higher education from the University of Mississippi, but his heart was at the family alma mater, and that’s where he chose to spend the next 40 years, beginning as a program director for the student union and ascending to vice president of Student Affairs and dean of the College of Education. He retired in 2004, but by 2008 he was behind a desk again, serving as MSU’s interim president for three months until current president Dr. Mark Keenum took the helm.
Ruby, 76, says he was inspired by his father and uncle, who taught him the value of hard work, and from the four MSU presidents he served. He is currently collecting oral histories of past MSU administrators and faculty.
A residence hall bears Ruby’s name, but he credits his colleagues for his accomplishments.
“I want to keep doing what I’m doing to be of use whenever I possibly can be,” Ruby says. “People need to look for their niche — things they’re interested in — to fit the needs of society. I have not done enough. We all need to be more involved.”
So if you’re looking for Ruby, skip the back porch and head straight to campus. MSU will always be his second home.