For Jewish teens in the Deep South, Cotton States Region of BBYO is no more — the region has been renamed Delta Region.
The announcement was made by regional directors Zoe Goldberg and Skylar Haas on July 17, after several years of debate over perceived racial connotations of “cotton states.”
On June 1, the international Jewish high school fraternity and sorority issued a statement “in Solidarity with the Black Community and All Communities of Color,” pledging to “listen and learn” about racial injustice “so that we can become even better allies.”
The statement announcing the name change said after that first step, “we also wanted to engage in a profound introspection, examining long-held traditions and practices to be sure they aligned with our inclusive and anti-racist values.”
The decision was made in consultation among teens, alumni and parents to change the name and “ensure that BBYO remains a respectful and open home for all.”
The transformation makes the region “a racially progressive and inclusive space for all. This re-branding honors the impactful contribution of the Mississippi Delta and River Valley on our Southern culture,” said Grant Baxter of Memphis, regional s’gan (vice president of programming). “As the world continues to change around us, we are up to the task to dive into these changes and shape our region into the best it can be.”
“I’ve always been proud to say that one of the best things about BBYO is that it is teen-led. So, when our teens decided that it was time for CSR to have a new region name, I was fully behind them,” said Rhonda Feiler, Memphis BBYO advisor and alumna. “They discussed it in great detail and spent countless hours coming up with a name they believe best represents our region, and I am thrilled to support them in their endeavors.”
The change has been discussed and debated for several years. Student leaders brought forth a name change resolution at the 2015 regional convention, prompting some members of River City BBG in Memphis to start a Facebook page, to “Keep the Cotton in States.” The resolution failed at that convention.
Two years ago, the region started going by the initials CSR, rather than its full name.
As the region prepared the announcement of the new name, a change.org petition was started by Sigi Shure and Lilah Ephraim to change the name, saying it “perpetuates a racist history that BBYO should not memorialize.” The petition, which quickly became moot, had 65 signatures when it was closed.
The region consists of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. There are currently 13 chapters and over 400 members. In the SJL coverage area, there is Rocket City BBYO in Huntsville; Rabbi Abraham J. Mesch AZA and Magic City BBG in Birmingham; and Big Easy BBYO in New Orleans. There are no chapters in Mississippi or Arkansas.
The fraternity Aleph Zadik Aleph was formed in Omaha, Neb, in 1924 when Jewish high school students were barred from school fraternities. B’nai B’rith Girls was formed in 1944, and both groups were under the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization umbrella.
The groups adopted the B’nai B’rith district system, with smaller regions in each district. Cotton States was part of District 7, which also included Texas and Oklahoma. The New Orleans-based Jewish Children’s Regional Service also uses the old District 7 footprint. Districts were phased out following a 1977 vote at the international convention.
In 2001, the group was spun off from B’nai B’rith, becoming the renamed independent BBYO.
Today there are 700 chapters in 50 countries, and at the 2018 international convention in Orlando, there were over 3,000 teens from 35 countries.