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Those who keep us safe: Jeff Merritt



Jeff Merritt (photo courtesy VPD)

With 27 years in law enforcement, Jeff Merritt comes from a long line of law enforcement officers.

“I had family that worked in Wildlife and Fishery for the state of Louisiana and the local Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Merrit said. “I’ve just always been around law enforcement.”

Merritt was born in Natchez, but was raised in the tiny town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, in Tensas Parish.

The family traits ran deep in Merritt in his choice to enter law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana University, with a degree in criminal justice.

“When I graduated, I was doing little odd jobs around Monroe,” Merritt said. “My dad actually came across an ad in the Tensas Parish Newspaper that the Vicksburg Police Department was hiring. I applied and was hired.”

The department hired Merritt in 1993 and appointed him to the Narcotics Division in 1997 where he currently serves as lieutenant. His nearly three-decade career has revolved around one goal.

“I strive to get drugs off the streets,” Merritt said. “I know people think you arrest somebody today, somebody takes their place tomorrow, but you just feel like you’re making it a little better for society each arrest you make.”

One big arrest in Merritt’s career happened in 2015. A group of officers were recognized by the State of Mississippi for a yearlong drug investigation that involved the Vicksburg Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The investigation, which resulted in 23 arrests, netted Merritt the Top Cop award that year, but he stressed that his job can never be done alone.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” he said. “Everything I do, I do with a team. I can’t think of any drug arrest I’ve made that has not had other officers there with me. It’s a team effort, and you’re with your team pretty much more than you are with your family.”

Being away from family in a stressful job could cause some conflict, but Merritt seems to handle the stress well.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I really don’t get stressed at work. The hours we work can interfere with family time, and you can miss out on a lot of things, but stress wise, I don’t think it causes me to be too stressed.”

Merritt went into detail how the hours of his jobs are very unpredictable.

“This past week we worked Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then the rest of the week we worked 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Merritt has one adult daughter and is engaged. He said his fiance knows and accepts the crazy hours.

He said you have to have passion to be in law enforcement.

“You have to do it because it’s something you really want to do,” he said. “It’s not for the money, and with everything going on across the country these days you have to want to do it and do it the right way.”

Merritt has been nominated more than any other first responder in this story series. His passion and “by the book” mentality has separated him from the rest.

“I just try to do my job and treat everybody the same,” Merritt said. “To me it’s a job. It’s not personal. I do my job. I do it right. I do it fair, and I’m honest to everyone.” 


Reverend Trollars Moore’s birthday and anniversary parade



Photo by Thomas Parker

Vicksburg Daily News was invited to join in the celebration for Reverend Trollars Moore’s birthday and anniversary at Jackson Street M.B. Church.


Reverend Moore recently turned 30 and is celebrating 5 years as pastor of the historic church.  His congregation has come together to honor him on this special day, which is even more touching as they have been attending services virtually since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Congratulations and Happy Birthday from your friends at Vicksburg Daily News.

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Facebook key in launching local crafter’s business



a customizable ornament

one of Steele’s handmade boutique outfits

a Steele Designs creation


Eight years ago Nikki Steele was a happy, young working mother married to the love of her life, Mark. She had a six-year-old daughter with another one on the way. Life was happy and comfortable and the family’s future was promising with two incomes…until it suddenly wasn’t. 

Steele arrived at work one morning and learned that she no longer had a job. No warning. No explanations. No severance package. 

“I was angry and very hurt at first. I was pregnant and we relied on both incomes,” Steele said. “My husband is so positive and kept reminding me of  the benefits of being unemployed. He wanted me to stay home with the girls and kept reassuring me that he could support us just fine, but I wanted more than ‘just fine’ for them.”

Steele laughed and explained, “It really is silly and trivial, but I just loved dressing my girls up in big bows and boutique outfits. Those things can be expensive! So I got busy figuring out how to make things myself.”

Steele said she began with hair bows for her girls and posted a few pictures to her Facebook. Suddenly she had strangers contacting her about purchasing them for their own children. 

And just like that, Steele Designs was born. 

“The bows were a hit and I realized I really enjoyed the work. So I started teaching myself how to make the cute boutique outfits that were so popular in the expensive children’s stores. Every time I took my girls out people commented about how cute they looked,” Steele said. 

She soon began selling those as well. 

As her girls grew and no longer wanted the boutique clothes as much, Steele began making other products. She has taught herself how to make t-shirts, blankets, mugs, cups, keychains, and car decals among many other items. 

She credits her husband for allowing her to pursue crafting.  “Mark has always been my number one supporter. He just goes along with all of my ideas and happily does anything I need him to. Even when my crafting supplies took over every room in our house, he never complained.” 

The Steeles have recently purchased a larger home to accommodate Nikki’s growing business with Mark turning a large room into Steele Designs’ headquarters. 

Steele took a break from many of her products when the Coronavirus hit. “I focused on just making masks for a few months in the beginning of the pandemic. I probably made over 2,000 masks.” 

She donated most of those. 

“A profit margin is not even a concern when something like Covid-19 happens. Those are the times that the most important thing is neighbors taking care of neighbors.”

That kind of thinking is a large part of the reason Steele Designs is thriving in a time when many small, locally owned businesses are in trouble. 

As a member of the PTO, Brandi Boyd was tasked with choosing and ordering the yearly school spirit t-shirts for the faculty, staff, and students of Agape Montessori Christian Academy. 

“I’d already been admiring these cute, colorful  t-shirts I was seeing everyone on Facebook wearing and we (members of the PTO) knew we wanted to buy locally if we could. I asked around and was put in touch with Nikki Steele. She met with us, helped us put our motto into a cute design, and then shocked us all with an incredible price. She even donated cute, matching  face masks for all of our faculty and staff.”

As far as employees go, Steele Designs may soon have its first new hire.  Steele’s younger daughter, Hannah Claire, has begun taking an interest in mom’s business. 

“She loves helping me and, of course, I love spending that quality time with her. She’s even been coming up with her own ideas for products. She was on Pinterest or YouTube and saw someone making these hollow, edible balls that people were using to make hot chocolate. She keeps me hopping coming up with different ideas for flavors. We’ve pretty much perfected them now, so I’m going to let her begin selling those.”

Steele’s next goal is completing a website to showcase all of her products. “The problem is I’m always coming up with new ideas and I get sidetracked working to perfect my techniques. I call it ‘crafter’s brain’. It never stops.”

For now, Steele’s products and designs can be seen and ordered via her Facebook pages, Nikki Steele and Steele Designs. 


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Eric Lawson: Change agent at River City Early College



Eric Lawson (photo by Kelda Bailess)

If you ask students at River City Early College what Eric Lawson teaches, you’re not likely to hear about specific subjects. What you will hear is, “Mr. Lawson doesn’t do average.”

If you ask faculty and staff members what Eric Lawson teaches, you’ll likely hear “Mr. Lawson teaches kids that they matter.”

When Lawson himself was asked what he teaches, he said, “I teach Leadership. I teach students to apply life habits through the Leader In Me program.”

The Leader in Me initiative is a product of Franklin Covey Education and is centered around ingraining eight specific life habits in students to ensure each person’s future success. All students in the Vicksburg Warren School District are educated in the habits by a certified leadership instructor. The pinnacle of the program’s success for schools is being named a Lighthouse School. In March of this year, with Lawson at the helm of the program, River City Early College was the first high school in the world to earn that distinction.

For those reasons and more, Eric Lawson was chosen as RCEC’s Teacher of the Year for 2020-2021.

“Mr. Lawson was a natural choice for this honor,” said Kelda Bailess, lead teacher at RCEC. “He doesn’t just teach. He builds genuine relationships with our students. His lessons go beyond the walls of a classroom.”

Lawson has also been named one of the top five leadership teachers in the nation.

“The students of RCEC are fortunate to learn from Mr. Lawson’s modeling and leadership,” said Lonnie Moore, senior consultant with Franklin Covey Education. “His ‘butterfly effect’ will be felt for generations to come.”

Lawson was not always a teacher, but he has been an instrumental part of countless children’s lives. He owned Planet 4 Kidz, a local business aimed at caring for children in a safe, entertaining setting, from 2003 to 2016. In 2018, he returned to college and earned a master’s degree in teaching from Alcorn State University. He has been at RCEC since 2017.

Lawson said his favorite part of teaching is seeing his students conquer public and private victories as they mature as leaders.

“I love letting my students share their individual stories and learn about the uniqueness of their peers,” he said. “They need to be encouraged to see people as people. Everyone matters. Acceptance and kindness go a very long way.”

Lawson also teaches his students the importance of setting goals and working until they’re met. “I don’t believe in settling for average, and I don’t expect my students to, either,” he said.

“My ultimate goal is to be an agent of change in the lives of this generation,” he added.

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