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‘I know I’ll always dance.’ Natalie Clanton’s journey to the Hi-Steppers and beyond

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Natalie Clanton in two of many roles she danced with Debra Franco's competition team. (photos courtesy the Clanton family/Bruckner's School Photography)

Ginny and Scott Clanton were like many parents. They wanted to give their 4-year-old daughter, Natalie, as many experiences and opportunities as possible. They realized early that their precocious, energetic daughter needed to stay busy and active.

They had heard of a local dance teacher named Debra Franco who trained children Natalie’s age. They’d also heard she was the best.

The following week, Natalie walked into Franco’s studio for the first of countless times in August 2005. It did not take long for young Natalie to lose interest.

“Natalie did not like being told what to do, and she really didn’t like having to practice routines,” Ginny said. “She would rather run around the studio making up her own moves.”

Ginny recalled the numerous times Natalie wanted to give up.

“It would’ve been easier on everyone to let her quit,” she said, “but Debra and I agreed that she needed to learn discipline and perseverance. And Debra really is the best at teaching technique. I saw Natalie’s potential and just knew that with Debra’s tough training, she could grow into a very good dancer.”

It took a couple of years for Natalie to really find her strengths in dance.

“I am so glad we made her stick it out, because when Natalie finally found herself, she was unstoppable,” Ginny said.

“I enjoyed it a lot more when I made (Franco’s) competition team” at age 7, Natalie added. “We got to do a lot of traveling, and I got to do things other people would never get to do.”

Her favorite trip was in 2016 when she traveled to New York City and danced in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

“That was probably the best part when I knew the hard work had paid off,” she said.

Her father, Scott, disagrees.

“The best part is all of the awards and scholarships she won,” he said. “Dancing is not an inexpensive sport.”

As high school graduation neared and her time with Franco was almost over, Natalie was faced with the decision of whether to continue dancing or not.

“A lot of my friends stopped after high school,” she said. “It just gets brutal at the collegiate level.”

Natalie made her decision when she attended a clinic highlighting the Hi-Steppers, the award-winning dance team from Hinds Community College.

“When I saw them perform, I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

Natalie waits to dance with the Hinds CC Hi-Steppers. (photo courtesy Scott Clanton)

The little girl who begged her parents to let her quit dance class and hated being made to dance with a group auditioned and became an official member of the elite kick-line team in 2019.

The following year, that same little girl was selected as a captain.

“I am proud of myself,” she said. “A captain has to have a 3.0 GPA, letters of recommendation, choreograph an original routine and master some other tryout responsibilities.”

Natalie has been accepted to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and plans to study nursing. She attributes her desire to become a nurse to the memory of her little sister, Lauren, who died when Natalie was five.

Lauren was born with a chromosomal anomaly that caused her to have a very weak immune system. She contracted a fatal case of pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus when she was just 18 months old.

“My sister never even had the chance to hate dance class or not. Her body just wasn’t strong enough,” Natalie said. “I want to do something with my life to honor her somehow.”

As for her future in dance?

“I may not be dancing on a team or on a stage in front of an audience, but I know I’ll always dance,” Natalie said. “Dance taught me discipline. It taught me perseverance. I met people who will be in my life forever, and I’ve made memories that are priceless.

“Dancing makes me happy. It’s my therapy on bad days and a way to celebrate on good ones. Yeah,” she said. “I’m forever going to dance.”

People

Pastor Reginald Harris Celebrates 17 years at Bright Morning Star Church

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Photo by Thomas Parker

Vicksburg Daily News was on hand to celebrate a special day with Pastor Reginald Harris and his family.

Sunday, the congregation at Bright Morning Star Church honored Pastor Harris for 17 years of leading the church.

Churchgoers decorated their vehicles and took the opportunity to join in the drive-by celebration and show their appreciation to the Pastor and his family.

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People

Those who keep us safe: Sam Winchester

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Photo by David Day

For 30 years and counting, Samuel K. Winchester has been a public servant.

In 1990, prior to a career in law enforcement, Winchester enlisted in the United States Military.

“I’ve always been involved in that line of work,” he said. “I am a veteran. I was in the United States Army, so that work really centered around a career in law enforcement after that.”

After the army, he got his first start in law enforcement by working at Alcorn State University. After a brief stint with the college, he started at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department in 2000.

Winchester grew up in a tiny town in Jefferson County, northeast of Natchez, called Rodney, Miss.

His upbringing resulted in him seeing first hand what it means to be a public servant.

“The person I looked up to was my father,” Winchester said. “Ironically, we both mirrored each other’s occupations. He was in the military and also he worked at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department.”

Winchester saw that the Warren County Sheriff’s Department was hiring and he was hired in 2004.

With almost two decades with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, Winchester wears many hats.

Winchester has worked his way up the ranks and in 2006 was named detective for the Criminal Investigation Division. He also is a hostage crisis negotiator for the department. Winchester is also called on to investigate county fires as a county fire investigator. Lastly, one of the most notable positions Winchester serves is as the primary driving instructor at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer Training Academy for the State of Mississippi located in Pearl.

With all these responsibilities, Winchester is a mild mannered man who enjoys being there for his community.

“My favorite part of serving on the sheriff’s department is that I get to help people,” Winchester said. “In today’s society, our job is centered around the public, so we always want the public to know we are available to them and it’s very crucial that we help everybody. If you can just help one person and touch one person’s life you can consider that a successful day.”

The people of Warren County are not the only people who recognize Winchester’s hard work. In 2017, he was recognized by Hon. Bennie G. Thompson in the House of Representatives by a Congressional Record for his service.

In the record, Thompson wrote, “I ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing, Det. Sam Winchester for his hard work, dedication and a strong desire to serve his country and community.”

After all of this success in his career, Winchester was asked to define a community hero.

“When you serve the public you dont put alot of thought into it being an individual community hero because it has so many moving parts to it,” he said. “Its a team effort. It’s not an individual effort. I look at everyone who serves the public and in law enforcement as a hero. Everyone who wakes up and puts on the uniform and risk their life to save someone else’s life or touch someone else’s life, that’s a hero.”

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Education

Mississippi native elected as Harvard student body president

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(photo courtesy Noah Harris)

A Mississippi high school graduate has been elected as Harvard University’s student body president.

Noah Harris, a 2018 graduate of Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is the first African American to serve in the role at prestigious Harvard University in Massachusetts.

“I’m really grateful that the student body is entrusting me with such a historic and unprecedented moment,” Harris told WDAM. “To make the right moves and to really bring their voices to the forefront. I just never expected that I would be in a position to run for this.”

Harris is a junior and a political science major at Harvard. He served as treasurer on the finance committee in his first two years. His vice president and running mate is neuroscience major Jenny Gan. Both plan on making a difference at the university.

Harris and Gan will be sworn in Dec. 6.

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