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Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi’

Freedom Summer Redux

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2014 at 7:58 am

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project or Freedom Summer, yesterday I was faced with showing my state issued identification to cast my ballot in the primaries. A flood of thoughts rushed my mind – from thoughts of listening to my grandmother speak about paying poll taxes to cast her vote to recalling many of the readings and audio and video images where Blacks and Whites alike stormed Mississippi so that people who looked like me could fully participate in this democratic society. And so, in the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, I dressed the part yesterday – put on my finest clothes and with my freedom in my hands (or in my pocket because that is where I keep my identification) – only to arrive at the precinct to be told I could not vote because the poll worker could not verify my residency – “can you show me your bills? Something that let me know you indeed live at this address?” As I recall, the state of Mississippi’s voter identification law is to verify that I am who I say I am – and that I am indeed listed on the books, so what’s the problem? The problem is the voter identification law can lead to voter suppression, can limit a people’s right to fully participate in democracy. Contrary to Fannie Lou Hamer, the law was on my side; he was corrected by an older white female poll worker…

We have indeed come a very long way in a very short period of time – 50 years – and there is still room to grow; still battles to fight, still hills to climb and victories to grab. The potential for voter suppression exists, and still we march, maybe not as before, but we march via social media, spreading the message through Twitter, Facebook, and any other media we can find. We march through the communities with information sessions, community and church meetings, we march, perhaps more behind the scenes, but the key is that we all continue to march toward freedom…

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Starting Over

In Uncategorized on May 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

Starting over sometimes require hard work; then again, it can be effortless. Starting over may come after a significant loss or unintended consequences or it can be carefully planned. Starting over inevitably suggests new beginnings and with these new beginnings come many emotions and even a few suitcases. Starting over for North Carolina’s Governor Beverly Perdue has come at a little expense: controversy. Following the passage of Amendment One, a ballot measure defining marriage between one man and one woman, Governor Perdue responded “It’s wrong for North Carolina, clearly, clearly and simply…People around the country are watching us, and they’re really confused. To have been such a progressive, forward-thinking, economically driven state that invested in education and that stood up for the civil rights of people, including the civil rights marches back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s — folks are saying, ‘What in the world is going on in North Carolina?’ We look like Mississippi.”

Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant did not hesitate to stand up for his state: “To be able to use Mississippi in a disparaging way on a popular vote in her own state is, I think, something that’s certainly petty and something I think she will reflect on and hopefully apologize for those types of remarks.” Governor Perdue, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election. And so starting over in this instance means for many starting over with the fight to recognize same-sex marriage as a civil right. For North Carolina, Governor Perdue was correct, they were a bit more progressive, especially compared to such states as Mississippi. Starting over comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes…

Starting over…we all do it, the seasons change and for North Carolina starting over, many argue that there will be unintended consequences to such a law. In starting over, opponents to Amendment One also argue that they will continue to fight. In starting over, proponents of Amendment One see the preservation of morality and a fundamental religious right, and no matter where you sit on this issue, the proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage alike will start over with the campaigns and slogans. And so it continues: is same-sex marriage or providing gays and lesbians with civil liberties the next civil rights movement? And so it continues…in another state, I think Minnesota, you are next.

“If Frederick…”

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2012 at 1:15 am

These two words started an interesting journey for Gwinnett County, Georgia parents and children. As one parent acknowledged, the word questions demonstrated that “racists” still exist. Gwinnett County schools spokesperson Sloan Roach stated that “the teachers were trying to do a cross-curricular activity…We understand that there are concerns about these questions, and we agree that these questions were not appropriate.” Teaching about race requires teaching about a subject that we, all of us, have yet to properly situate.

Race may make some of us uncomfortable, some of us may think we dwell on the topic too much, some of us may be apathetic toward race, and still, race, better yet racism, is implied or outright demonstrated almost daily. That being the case, how do we introduce notions of healing and inclusiveness without evoking the bad spirits of old? I think Mississippi may use Gwinnett County as a “what not to do” guide. In 2006 Mississippi passed a law that mandates every history course from K-12 to teach civil rights history year-round. William Winter Institute’s Director Dr. Susan Glisson acknowledged that students should learn more than the “‘savior narrative” of “Rosa (Parks) sat down, Martin stood up and now everyone is free.'”

Specifically, Glisson says the 2006 law focuses on the average citizen who used grassroots organizing to challenge the old status quo, the old guard, the old Mississippi. Vestiges of the old may still exist, but as former Governor William Winter noted at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast at Mississippi State University, civil rights pioneers like a Medgar Evers helped to release all of us from a cultural and social prison–segregation. When speaking to Myrlie Evers, Governor Winter recalled “I said to her, ‘We white folks owe as much to your husband as black folks do. He freed us…We were all prisoners of the system. We were not able to move freely or speak freely or do a lot of things we’d like to have done, because of an oppressive society and fanatical segregation.”

For Mississippi, when we see the future, what does it look like? Where are its children? Can we do more than “just get along,” as Rodney King famously called for, to actually getting along through healing, dialogues, and forgiveness?

“And for love’s sake, each mistake, ah, you forgave”

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2011 at 9:39 am

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household where music was used as entertainment, therapy, and as a way of expressing ourselves. I learned to play the piano by ear. My aunts Jackie, Joyce, Velma, and even Melissa and my uncle Terry were pretty good singers. But it was my uncle Earl who somehow consumed all of the musical talent for himself or so I thought. Now other relatives all share in this gift. Unfortunately, however, I could not carry a tune in a bucket and I attribute that wonderful gift to my mother. Odd isn’t it; I could play it by ear, but singing was never a strength! And a staple in our household were Ashford and Simpson. And so, Nick Ashford, one of the most talented artists I have come to follow passed away after a battle with throat cancer.

He and his wife, Valerie Simpson, seemingly knew how to touch many lives, but especially mine. “Solid” was my ultimate jam, then as a kid, and now as an adult. “The thrill is still hot, hot, hot, hot…” And when I marry my affinity for music with my affinity for politics, I am in heaven. The election thrill is still hot as Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree marched through town after town on a grassroots campaign “becoming the first African American in modern history to win a major-party nomination for Mississippi governor.”

DuPree will now face Republican candidate and Lt. Governor Phil Bryant on November 8. DuPree said that “What we’ve been trying to express to people is a message,” he said. “I don’t think I have to focus on (race).” After realizing defeat, Democratic challenger Bill Luckett stated “We’re gonna have a party tonight. We’re just not gonna be celebrating my victory, I’m afraid.” He continued that “We’re gonna celebrate changing Mississippi…(DuPree)’s a good man, an honorable man [and] he’s a whole lot better than we’ll ever get with Phil Bryant.”

Back in July 2009 rumor mills had Greenville’s Mayor Heather Hudson as a potential candidate for either the Governor’s or Lt. Governor’s race. While that did not come to fruition, it is DuPree and his supporters who have taken on the challenge in this election thrill. As Ashford in Simpson would say “and with that feeling we were willing to take a chance, so against all odds, we made a start.”

The start that DuPree has made, the start that Mississippi has made is worth mentioning, noting, and documenting. I am greatly anticipating seeing a great campaign from Bryant and DuPree, as politics takes center stage and I will be anxiously watching, taking it all in.

“My Mississippi”

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

Two versions of “My Mississippi.” One Black, one White. David Banner’s Mississippi Mixtap Vol. 1 or his album Mississippi. Jeff Bates’ song “My Mississippi.” Regardless of the point of view, regardless of the musical tastes one may have, these artists talk about Mississippi and how the state–or better yet, the people have made their experiences in Mississippi memorable.

Mississippi has been in the news quite a bit lately. Some coverage good, others not so good. From a highly controversial death of a Jackson man to the premiere of The Help, Mississippi is again commanding the spotlight around the issue that seemingly continue to be a sore spot, to say the least. Race. Mississippi is not the Mississippi my mother grew up in, definitely not the one my grandmother knew. My Mississippi has come to shape my life and experiences. My Mississippi continues to wear the shameful past of old…And yet, while stereotypes abound, I know that I have chosen to stay in My Mississippi because our pasts are so intertwined, our future is based on these intricate relationships, and to know that My Mississippi has matured so great that I fully participate without the shame of wearing separate and unequal.

No place is perfect, no state is without its very own regional, economic, or race issues; it is played out differently, but seemingly Mississippi is branded as the worst of the worst because of its past. While Mississippi sheds the skin of the old, it is leading the nation in the number of interracial marriages, according to the American Community Survey (click here for New York Times Article). Again, we are not perfect, yet, the largest number of gay couples who raise children raise them in the Deep South (Mississippi included).

So think twice when you think of the closed Mississippi of before; well, My Mississippi is a lot more…

Both Predictable and Unpredictable: That is the Face of Change

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2011 at 6:05 am

The old adage—the only guarantees in life are death and taxes—let’s add change to that as well. Change is constant, consistent, and guaranteed or it can reflect instability, it can be both planned and unexpected. No matter what may happen, even when we try to prevent it or when we least expect it, change is inevitable. Change can be good, bad, or just plain old indifferent. And so how we react is based on our perception of how that change could affect us; and all the while, change speaks to the character of who we are, were, and going to be. So when I look to Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, Smithville, or even Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast, all I see is that those areas will never be the same; they’ve changed in character and in form. Records rainfall, snowfall, tornadoes, floods, and so we are left with what happens afterwards.

Rebuilding will not be simple; and we truly do not know the future effects. Analysts can predict, but they can only do what humans typically do not like most—realizing that change requires us to be patient, even if said change was rapid, we have to wait, measure, and gauge what the herein now looks like and what does this mean for the future. Did I ever expect seeing a great flood? Nope. Read about the Great Flood in 1927, even seen pictures. Did I ever think that record numbers of tornadoes would slam Mississippi to the degree that they did? Nope. Neither did I anticipate tornadoes affecting 52 of Mississippi’s 82 counties; leaving a clear path of destruction behind. And so, through this change–many have lost material possessions, loved ones, jobs, but I pray they, better yet we, have not lost sight that even through destruction, with each step, each hour, each day, and on and on—we can inspire the other to regroup, donate, assist the best we know how, do what we can to change the worst we have ever seen for the better.

Where were You?

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2011 at 10:27 am

Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell? I was a child nestled on the couch with my mother and grandmother. Trying to understand the significance of the event, my mother, in her infinite wisdom and noticing that she had an unusually inquisitive child (especially about politics), simply said that it was designed to keep people away from each other. “Why would that happened?” I asked. She explained that it all came down to a difference of opinions and ideals. I thank my mother for explaining something to me. Explaining that historical moment.

Where were you when Nelson Mandela was released from prison? Somewhat older, yet still not quite able to grasp the significance, but I do remember it being a Sunday morning, my grandmother cooking and in a word, rejoicing. I knew we were getting ready for church, (it may have been a Sunday that I found a way to skip out). But she explained to me in a very delicate way that a man, who stood for freedom and was for many years locked away for believing in justice and equality, was released from prison. She proceeded to explain freedom to me. And so, back on that couch, where I watched the Berlin Wall fall, my grandmother allowed me to watch history.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? I was a junior in college and all I can remember is watching Peter Jennings, who was the voice of choice in my household to retell history, watch in horror and explain what the heck we were witnessing. Where were you on May 1, 2011? Osama Bin Laden has not only been captured but assassinated?!?!!! After traveling to Amory, Mississippi to drop off supplies for those affected by an EF-5 tornado in Smithville, Mississippi, a few friends of mine came back to debrief. This debriefing led to an interesting debate on religion, and after a good fellowship with friends, a media advisory came to my phone. I looked up and said “Osama is now dead!” Now Peter is not with us, my grandmother either and I need them here to explain what happened last night. And I’m sure my grandmother would have had an interesting perspective, a perspective that I miss hearing.

And so, I await my opportunity to discuss this with my mother–a lot like that child nestled on the couch, I am still trying to wrap my head around this one.

Advice to Live By

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 at 10:25 am

Terry McMillan’s Advice to Aspiring Writers can also be used for the non-writers alike.

Advice #2: “Try not to read, revise or rewrite what you’ve written until you’ve had a chance to let it simmer.” This can be applied to all of us: simply put, when the emotions run deep, think twice before you speak or communicate, for those words, no matter the medium, you have to stand by. I try my hardest to live by this, and I fall short because the emotions sometimes get in the way. And then I ask myself, do I really want to stand by the words that flew off my fingertips or tongue? Most likely not; or perhaps yes, but maybe the tone should have been checked prior to the words reaching the receiver. And before you know it, the proverbial line in the sand is drawn–how do you come back from that?

As Clarion Ledger’s Editorial Director David Hampton says, “Republican leaders made redistricting a line-in-the-sand issue. The GOP wants to control the House speaker’s position to put a lock on the legislative branch. The party also wants to be in control of the Legislature for congressional redistricting, which lawmakers will tackle next year.”

Advice #5: “Write about what frightens you. What you find perplexing. Disturbing. What breaks your heart. And what you wish you could change.” As Hampton says Democrats are to blame as well. And this leaves many nervous: from school districts to county supervisors and I could continue. The fear of the unknown, especially now, is perhaps too great a price for our legislators to take now because their political lives or elections are quickly approaching. A good friend of mine says, “they [legislators] punted to protect themselves.” So while redistricting may be fearful, frightening, or just difficult to deal with, the tough decisions in the end have to be made.

Advice #13: “You have to have conflict in your story. Even fairy tales and cartoons have them.” And so a little conflict and even complexity is what life is about. So when I speak those words out of fear, fright, or just plain ol’ rejection, let it simmer, think twice. But because a difference of opinions leads to a little conflict, that shouldn’t be the end of relationships. Hopefully, our legislators will recognize that as well. That a little conflict, which in my mind’s eye equates pluralism, leads to diversity of opinions and views. And yes, conflict will arise. But it is how we deal with that conflict that marks the courage of a woman or man. I am issuing a challenge to myself and to my legislators: the future is today, so let’s seize the moment.

What’s Your Legacy?

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2011 at 9:42 am

“I don’t know how to explain it, but I am blessed.” This came from my very precocious younger cousin when I asked how he was doing. Immediately my response was, “Wow, that was truly a mature look on life.” He has been through a little adversity as well as his family. He understands what struggle means, albeit a little early for my liking. But as another precocious friend of mine reminded me “that’s life.” And that is life indeed. While I was away on a business trip to my home county, Benton County, MS made news for having the highest STI (sexually transmitted infections) rates than any other county in the nation. Then a few days later, the Mississippi Department of Health released a statement saying the statistics were incorrectly reported. Memphis ABC 24 combined the statistics of Marshall and Benton Counties, “creating a false increase in Chlamydia cases and rates in Benton County. A coding mistake led to the
inaccurate submission of data to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was included in this year’s County Health Rankings Report for 2008 released last week by the RWJF [Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]. The MSDH has been working with the CDC to correct the report for 2008.”

While the statistics may have been inaccurate, the problem remains access to health care, lack of education, and poverty. The STI, obesity, high school dropout, and unemployment rates still hover over the small County like a dark cloud. And this life is the life I don’t want my precocious cousin to grow up in; this life is not the life I want my home to experience; this life is not the life I want anyone to have to realize. And I challenge myself and you to get up, speak up and out, and move to educate, make a difference, even if that may be one person then that one person’s life has been changed for the better—thus changing the course of life for that individual and future generations. And so, there’s joy, there’s a legacy to be set. Just as these statistics garnered national attention and have left a legacy (and a stigma) that will be difficult for the County to walk away from, then too can a positive benefit or legacy be made. And it starts with me, it starts with you, this affects us all. While this may be a Benton County problem, while this may be a Northeast Mississippi problem, while this may be a Mississippi problem, this is a national/global issue. And the fight to save the generations behind us is on. I have no choice but to sign up to reverse these trends, and I hope you will do the same.

The Trend

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2011 at 8:41 am

In October 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that the highest teen birth rates were found in the South. In Mississippi, for every 1,000 female teens, the teen birthrate is 65.7 (with the national average falling to 41.5 in 2008). More recently, teen parenting and out-of-wedlock births have come under more scrutiny with the birth of Bristol Palin’s son, the pregnancy pact in Massachusetts , and the MTV reality series Teen Mom.

In 2009 the New York Times reported that the out-of-wedlock birthrates for women in their 20s and 30s has dramatically increased. Specifically in 2007, 20-something year old women had “60 percent of all babies born out of wedlock, teenagers had 23 percent and women 30 and older had 17 percent.”

Sanford Johnson of Mississippi First says that the growing teen birthrates in Mississippi is one of major concern. While teen and out-of-wedlock birthrates are highest among Hispanics and African Americans, Johnson advises that these growing rates are everyone’s concern and if not addressed quickly, Meg O’Nan says “we will continue to lose a generation of children.” O’Nan, founder of the Mississippi based nonprofit O’Nan Project for Change, focuses on empowering children to make sound and healthy decisions. For O’Nan when we empower children early, it is highly likely they will make better choices when it comes to engaging in risky behaviors.

The goal for us moving forward is reaching those who are at risk of becoming parents too soon or even at risk of contracting an STI. Especially for teen parents, they are much more likely to seek higher education and babies born to teen mothers are much more likely to have health problems. We all are affected by these growing statistics. These statistics are much more than numbers; they affect the society around us.