SPEAKERS

Chesney Doyle

As a volunteer, Chesney Doyle is founder and president of the nonprofit group, F.O.R. NATCHEZ (Friends of the Riverfront), which aims to revitalize Downtown Natchez through consensus-building, city planning, and strategic action.  After gaining the unanimous support of the Natchez Board of Aldermen in 2015, the group raised private funds to contract a professional planning team to engage the community and the leadership, hone a common vision, and produce an action plan.  The resulting Downtown Master Plan, officially adopted by the City in 2018, is currently being implemented pursuant to the strategy outlined in the Plan. In 2018, the Downtown Natchez Master Plan received the highest honor given by the American Planning Association (MS Chapter) for “The Year’s Most Outstanding Plan.”  

In 1997, Chesney and her husband Marc co-founded the television production company, ECHO PICTURES in Atlanta. She is the creator of their award-winning series GREAT MUSEUMS, which airs on PBS and  has featured museums across the U.S., in Havana, Cuba, and at the Louvre in Paris. She is currently working on a new film featuring the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture. As producer and senior writer, Chesney is the recipient of more than 40 international television awards, including CINE Golden Eagle Awards, national Telly Awards, Aurora Awards, and three Emmy nominations. She was a finalist in the New York Festivals and the recipient of the 2015 Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in Film Production. Chesney has a BA degree in English from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.  Prior to her TV career, she practiced law in Atlanta and was director of advancement for the College of Arts & Sciences at Georgia State University. In 2008, Chesney and Marc moved to Natchez to rear their twin children in Chesney’s hometown, Natchez. They live Downtown. 



Rachael Carter

Dr. Rachael Carter is an economist for the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Government & Community Development. Her work focuses on economic development, natural resource policy, tourism and local foods marketing through her Extension program, Growing Your Brand. She has worked for over 15 years in community and economic development and she provides analysis and education for elected officials at the city, county, state, and national level. She has led multiple national, statewide and regional economic development initiatives.




Laura Jane Giacagglia

Laura Jane Giaccaglia received her B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences from Delta State University in 1996. She majored in Child Development and minored in Special Education. She later received her M.S. in 2002 from Mississippi State University in Health Education and Health Promotion. Her career with Mississippi State University Extension Service began in 1999 where she started as a 4-H Agent in Coahoma County. She currently serves as the Extension Coordinator and Extension Agent for Bolivar County and her focus area is in Family and Consumer Sciences and Community Resource Development. She is a six time Congressional Award winner including both the Governor and Lt. Governor Award for various 4-H conservation projects. She received the Excellence in Promoting Rice Award from USA Rice Federation. She was filmed by Canadian Food Network cooking show Pitchin’ In with Chef Lyn Crawford that featured rice. She was also named Delta State University 2011-2012 Outstanding Alumnus for the College of Education. She has been featured in and also written for Delta Wildlife magazine.



Ann Tackett



Lauren-Colby Nickels

Lauren Colby Nickels is an Instructor for the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Technology Outreach. During her two years with MSU-ES CTO, she has specialized in digital technology outreach and online marketing using web and social media outlets. She is one of 3 Instructors in Mississippi who teach nontraditional workshops on the importance of digital technology. She has been selected for numerous public speaking opportunities to engage business owners and organization leaders on the importance of digital marketing, outreach and cyber security.






James Barnes

Dr. James Barnes is an Extension economist. His work largely focuses on business development in communities using three Extension programs, including: 1) Bricks-To-Clicks™; 2) Local Food System Economies; and 3) Local Flavor. He is a certified marketing guide and copywriter for StoryBrand, an online marketing framework used to help businesses clarify their marketing messages so customers will listen. He teaches online marketing using StoryBrand's framework to businesses throughout Mississippi communities. His research focuses on branding, online and social media marketing, agribusiness management, local food system economics, and rural development issues.







Regina Charboneau

Regina is a Mississippi maven. Born and raised in Natchez, Mississippi, the River runs through her veins. Chef Charboneau has worked as a camp cook in the bush of Alaska, created and owned restaurants in San Francisco, been chef de cuisine on a set of luxurious vintage railway cars, served as the culinary director of the American Queen Riverboat, and written cookbooks. It did not matter if Regina was living in Alaska, Paris, or San Francisco because she brought the South and Southern Cooking with her. A key figure in the American food scene in California that happened in the 80’s, she opened the eponymous Regina's at the Regis in 1985. In 1995, Regina created Biscuits & Blues nightclub in San Francisco. Featuring classic southern cuisine and live music nightly, Biscuits & Blues has won multiple WC Handy awards for Best Blues Club in America. Biscuits & Blues is still going strong today, having celebrated its 24th year in February of 2019.

Regina returned to her native Natchez in 2001 and purchased the historic home Twin Oaks, circa 1832, where she has six guest rooms on the property. She offers cooking classes at Twin Oaks and some of the best hospitality in the South. Her latest venture in Natchez was the restoration of King’s Tavern, circa 1789. King’s Tavern showcases a menu of wood-fired flatbreads, sustainable fish and meats, and handcrafted cocktails. Her husband, Doug, and son, Jean-Luc, operate Charboneau Rum Distillery on the property as well. Regina has appeared on The Today Show, NBC NY, she has been a regular guest chef on the television show P. Allen Smith Gardens. Regina’s latest book is “Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journey down America’s Greatest River.” This marvelous 323-page book contains 200 recipes, 30 menus, 150 gorgeous photographs by Ben Fink, and a slew of fun stories and informational tidbits. The Atlantic named it one of the best food books of 2014.



Senator Lydia Chassaniol

Senator Chassaniol has served since 2007 and is Chairwoman of the Senate Tourism Committee, where she has shown considerable leadership in helping to develop tourist markets within individual communities throughout the state. Chassaniol also serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee.  In addition, Senator Chassaniol serves on the committees for Agriculture, Drug Policy, Elections, Ethics, Finance, Investigate State Offices and Municipalities.  She is a former art teacher who worked in public and private schools, in addition to serving as Director of the Communities in Schools program in Greenwood and Leflore County Schools for two years.  Still active in the community, Senator Chassaniol currently serves on the Mississippi Blues Commission and on the board of Cottonlandia Museum.  She is a long serving Rotarian and has participated in a literacy project with the local schools for many years.

Senator Chassaniol was integral in gathering support for Senate Bill 2336, which she co-authored, creating a “Country Music Trail” that highlights to tourists, each community’s role in the development of country music and its Mississippi-born mega-stars like Charley Pride, Marty Stuart, Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette.  To her credit, Senator Chassaniol was the force behind Senate Bill 2333, the “2012 Cotesworth Culture and Heritage Center Fund," that secured a whopping $4 million in bond money for repair, renovation and refurbishing of the historic facility as well as purchasing five acres for the center.  Senator Chassaniol’s forward-thinking approach to tourism development was recognized by the Mississippi Tourism Association in 2008 when they presented her the MTA Legislative Friend of Tourism Award for outstanding leadership and support of the industry.  Senator Chassaniol is a graduate of University of Mississippi.  She is a lifelong resident of Winona, MS where she is a member of Moore Memorial United Methodist Church.  She is married to Emmett Chassaniol and has two daughters Mary Rae Cawood and Mimi Taylor.



Senator Chris Massey










Representative Becky Currie

Becky Currie has been in the Legislature for 3 terms and will be starting her fourth term in January 2020. She is a Registered Nurse of 40 years. Becky Currie serves as Chair of the House Tourism Committee and also Chair of PEER Committee. She is also the first President of the Ms House Conservative Coalition. Other committees that she serves on are Elections and Reapportionment, Medicaid, Education and Ways and Means.







Webster Franklin

Webster Franklin grew up in the Mississippi Delta and now calls Tunica, the northernmost county of the Delta, his home.   He attended the University of Mississippi and graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Upon graduation he was employed in the White House for the George Bush administration where he served as an advance representative for Vice President Dan Quayle and executive assistant and personal aide to Mrs. Marilyn Tucker Quayle.  In 1994, Mr. Franklin became the first paid Executive Director of the Tunica County, Mississippi, Chamber of Commerce.  He was responsible for drafting and lobbying for passage of the special legislation creating and funding the Tunica County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In January 1997, he became the first President and CEO of the new Convention & Visitors Bureau.  In 2004, he was inducted into the Mississippi Tourism Hall of Fame and the Tunica Tourism Hall of Fame.  Recently named by Memphis Magazine as a “Power Player in the Gaming Industry,” Franklin is President & CEO of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau.  He is responsible for administering an annual budget of 3.5 million dollars for promoting tourism and leading Tunica County, Mississippi, to its goal of becoming a major tourist destination resort community. Under his leadership, the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau was named the CVB of the Year for the Southeastern US in 2009.  He lives in the Town of Tunica with his wife and two children.  



Emily Havens

Emily Havens is the Executive Director of GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi and has served as the Director since January 2015. Prior to accepting the position, Emily served as on the Board of Directors for the Cleveland Music Foundation, that owns and operates the Museum, for more than 3 years. Emily comes to the museum from an 18-year career as an Executive with the Chickasaw Council, Boy Scouts of America.

Emily has a Master of Science in Community Development Degree from Delta State University. She is a member of Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce, Crosstie Arts, and the Cleveland Rotary Club and is a Paul Harris Fellow. Emily has served as President of the Rotary Club, President of the Cleveland Country Club, and on the Board of Directors for the GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi. She is a member of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cleveland. Emily and her husband, Lee, have a son, William and two daughters, Elizabeth Gray and Anna Patrick, and live in Cleveland, Mississippi.



Malika Polk-Lee

Malika Polk-Lee first came to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in 2012 as its chief administrative officer. Her strong background in corporate management was beneficial in her role of overseeing daily operations of the museum, which included financial reporting, personnel, purchasing, strategic planning, the development of education and outreach programs, and fundraising and donor development.  After the departure of the museum’s executive director in 2015, Malika was the choice to step into that position.   As the current executive director, she ensures local programming excellence while maintaining the high quality of exhibits that welcome visitors from all over the world.  She understands that service to the residents of the area is vital, and that it helps build a stronger community as well as offering guests a richer experience in the museum and the Mississippi Delta as a whole. 

Malika holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science from Mississippi State University and a Master of Business Administration from Delta State University.  She is currently serving on the board of AAAM and is in her second year as chair of the Governance Committee. She is also on the board of Mississippi Delta Tourism Association.  Malika is active in the Indianola community through service organizations including Rotary Club, where she is program chair. She also gives back through her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, having chaired several committees including Fundraising and Environmental Ownership.  She is married to Gerald Lee and they have one daughter, London.



Darrell S. White



Tami Reist 

During her more than three decade long career in the tourism and travel industry, Tami has lived by the theme expressed by the famous American heroine Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” This theme is carried forth in all of her speaking engagements across the country and has had proven results in her professional accomplishments.  Tami is the President/CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA). Her duties include planning, implementing, directing, and evaluating all promotional programs as well as overall development of the tourism and travel industry within the 16 northernmost counties of the State of Alabama. The region currently generates more than $2.5 billion in travel expenditures on an annual basis.  Tami’s responsibilities also include strengthening and expanding the membership base of AMLA, a not-for-profit organization that is supported by 500-plus members consisting of Chambers of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureaus, attractions, campgrounds, festivals, communities, counties, golf courses, restaurants, tour operators, accommodations, vendors, financial institutions, and individuals. 

Tami is a board member for a number of tourism and travel-related and civic organizations including: Governor Appointee to the Scenic Byways Committee, Alabama Tourism Chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission, Southeast Tourism Society Legislative Council, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, Alabama Travel Council, Alabama Council of Association Executives, Alabama Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, and numerous other local and state travel related groups. Tami is also an instructor at the Southeast Tourism Society’s Marketing College in Dahlonega, GA. and has been a contributing presenter to the tourism and travel field of study at Mississippi State University. Among her many recognitions are the Alabama Travel Council Partnership Award, the Southeast Tourism Society Dorothy Hardman Spirit Award, and This is Alabama and Birmingham magazine’s Women Who Shape the State honoree.  Tami’s interest include interior design, flying with her husband, traveling, and spending time with her grandchildren.



Kamel King

Kamel L. King was born and raised in Jackson, MS.  Kamel attended American University (Washington, D.C.) and Tougaloo College (Jackson, MS) and graduated with honors from Tougaloo College earning a bachelor’s degree in Political Science/International Relations.  Kamel was accepted and graduated from Mississippi College School of Law with a law degree with emphasis on intellectual property and entertainment law. 

Kamel spent 10 years as the Attorney on the Road for GRAMMY nominated group, was a Director of Operations for both Blackberry Records, Inc. and Terminal Recording Studios, a GRAMMY award winning studio, and has had many years of experience in booking and event production.  Kamel has since been Assistant Producer in the Recording Academy© endorsed “Mississippi…Celebrates Its GRAMMY© Legacy ” events, “Mississippi Night” at the L.A. GRAMMY© Museum and other tourism conferences.  Kamel also is a contributing author in the American Bar Association released book "Entertainment Law: For The General Practitioner".  He is a practicing entertainment attorney.  Kamel is most proud to currently be the Bureau Manager for the State of Mississippi's Tourism Development agency which manages the Mississippi Blues Trail, Country Music Trail, Freedom Trail, Writers Trail and the state’s rich music and cultural branding at many trade shows and festivals. 



Willy Bearden

Willy Bearden is a Memphis-based filmmaker, photographer, author and producer. His documentary films include: Visualizing the Blues, The Story of Cotton, A History of Memphis Garage Bands, Overton Park, Elmwood Cemetery, Horn Island Journal, Project 366, The Perea Project, 100 Years of Juvenile Court, and The View From Adams Avenue. His museum projects include The Blues Hall of Fame, The Tunica RiverPark, The Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum, Gateway to the Blues Museum, The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange, and the Memphis Wonders Series. He is the chairman and a founding member of the annual Delta Symposium held at the University of Memphis. He is the recipient of the 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award in the Creative and Performing Arts presented by the College of Communication and Fine Arts at the University of Memphis. Bearden regularly participates on film and writing panels, and presents at fifteen to twenty public speaking engagements each year. Other honors include the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award, and the Paul Coppock Award for Outstanding Contributions to West Tennessee History.


He is the author of three books: Cotton, From Southern Fields to the Memphis Market; Overton Park; and Memphis Blues, Birthplace of a Music Tradition. Bearden is also a 30 year veteran of the live event production business. He has produced the Blues Music Awards since 1998, the inaugural Memphis Music Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Salute to the Grammys since 2007. In the summer of 2010, Mr. Bearden released his first feature film, One Came Home. Bearden grew up in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in the Deep Delta.




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