After years of advising world and congressional leaders on humanitarian and development issues, veteran educator and former United Nations World Food Program official Dr. Judy Lewis is now focused on what she considers one of the state's best kept secrets: Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB).

"I have vowed to make MPB relevant to every person in Mississippi," said Lewis, who, in July, was named executive director of the state agency that oversees a statewide network of commercial-free public radio, television, learning and community outreach services.

Lewis was guest speaker at Tuesday's East Mississippi Business Development Corporation's Business Before Hours event. Her presentation highlighted MPB's many unknown contributions to the state, and included strategic priorities for the agency.

Since 2007, Lewis has served as an associate professor of communication and theatre at Mississippi College. She previously served as director of the United Nations World Food Program’s U.S. Relations Office in Washington. She also served in several executive capacities for the World Food Program, overseeing complex emergency operations in 10 African country offices with an international staff providing assistance to more than 12 million people suffering from hunger.

"I've lived in Italy, Africa and came back to Washington, doing a lot of things that many times we take for granted here in the United States. We're so blessed, we have freedoms that in many countries do not exist," Lewis said.

Six months after her retirement, Lewis began teaching again and dabbled in politics. Impressed by MPB's legacy and challenged by its mission to take the agency to the next level, Lewis applied for the executive director's position but said she did not expect to get it.

"I am humbled to have been selected to be part of MPB's future," she said.

Through her research of MPB, Lewis said she found that not much had changed (about the agency) since she left Mississippi.

"It's time to put Mississippi Public Broadcasting on the Mississippi map," she said. "When I've asked different people what MPB meant to them, some have said they thought it was a football team and many didn't know what MPB was."

Lewis cited three strategic priorities that have been developed to help MPB and its staff to rise to the next level:

• To provide emergency assistance and First Responder status to the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, MPB provided broadcasting 24/7 statewide.

"We were the only broadcast entity on the air across the state; we were able to be a part of MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) in providing updates and information for the residents of this state during this crucial time," she said.

• To look at the state's economic culture all through Mississippi.

"We want to do more production, we want to tell the Mississippi story – not just about Sela Ward, Morgan Freeman, Elvis Presley and Charlie Pride. Mississippi is way more than that, and we want to look at everything interesting – from agriculture to the zoo," Lewis said.

"We want to look at how we can be a partner with you in advertising jobs, areas of Mississippi that are being developed ... We want to produce lots of material to export to other locations. Europe is fascinated with the Blues Trail and we are producing material to showcase that."

• To continue our focus on education. In the past, MPB has been very involved with early childhood literacy, and last year received two Emmys for its production of the children's television program "Between the Lions."

"We beat 'Sesame Street' on its 40th anniversary, can you believe that?" Lewis said. "We want to continue to work with our literacy effort, but we also want to add an education overlay so that everything that we produce here in Mississippi will have an education component."

MPB has a very bold agenda for the next 18 months and like many companies, the agency is facing budget cuts.

"We had a one-half million budget cut; but we did not have any layoffs or furloughs," she said. "Early next year if we have another round of cuts it's going to be more serious. But we are going to ratchet up our underwriting; we will be turning to businesses, people who will be interested in the work that we are doing for sponsorships."

The state Legislature and the governor have been approached to ask Mississippi agencies to use MPB as their production house.

"It only makes sense; the state owns us, why not use us?" Lewis said.

MPB is also reaching out to communities to "tell their stories."

"There's so many opportunities out there to do 15- or 30-second promos to tell Mississippi stories – sort of a 'Did you know ... ?'" she said. "If there's an exceptional person in your community, we want to tell that story."

Lewis concluded by encouraging everyone to support Mississippi Public Broadcasting and to look to the future.

"We want to be relative to all Mississippians, and we want you to be part of our cause to keep Mississippi moving," she said.

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