What It's Like Going To School In Mississippi
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Politics and Activism

To The Mississippi Student Who Can't Wait To Escape, Stay

Our state will never get better without people like you fighting for it.

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To The Mississippi Student Who Can't Wait To Escape, Stay

I know what's been racing through your mind, especially these last few days.

It's the same thing I once thought, too.

Why should I stay here in the state of Mississippi when its history is forever stained with the blood of those who were slaughtered for nothing other than their skin color? Why would I let the deeply rooted reputation of our state — incompetent, uneducated, dim — impede my career goals? How long do I have to keep hiding that I'm from Mississippi in hopes that I will be respected by my peers and not labeled with the stigma that enshrouds even its brightest citizens? Will a town in my state be the next epicenter of needless brutality?

I remember the first time I learned I should not be proud to come from Mississippi.

Even within the state of Mississippi, our most promising youth lift high the battle cry "I cannot wait to leave the south" when discussing their future plans, hoping this decision will erase our shame of being born in such a "backward" state. Despite the many Mississippians who have ceaselessly worked to better the next generation and fought for the resources we need to spark change, I know you and all Mississippi young people are weighed down by the stereotypes presented in the media about the intelligence, character, and morality of southern residents.

This undermining of Mississippi accomplishments and ambitions drives the free thinkers, problem solvers, and difference-makers away from the state that needs them most.

Leaving our state may be the default for bright students in Mississippi, but it is a cycle our generation must fight to break.

Although Mississippi is haunted by its past, many people who call it home are known for their hospitality, charity, and love for others — things that cannot be defined quantitatively and rarely garner national attention. In order to eradicate Mississippi's problems, we must first change our nation's — and our own — perception of the state of Mississippi.

Convince others, and ourselves, we are a cause worth fighting for.

My longing to leave has morphed into an intense longing to stay, a desire to uplift and empower the next generation of Mississippi as so many people have done for me. This new paradigm of success — aspiring to be a catalyst that sparks an uprising in Mississippi, to embolden the underrepresented to tell their stories, to use my privilege as a means to speak out against systemic injustice, to bring new perspectives back to Mississippi and transform it into a place of opportunity — has freed me from the burden I once thought my home was.

While the solution to our problems may not be straightforward, the medium through which change will come can be found in you, the bright and brilliant young people of Mississippi. We must cultivate the next generation of Mississippi youth to be the difference-makers the state desperately needs, pour into them the words of wisdom that shaped our own lives, and encourage them to discover and utilize their unique voices to speak out in hard times.

We, the dreamers of equality, the leaders of tomorrow, the Mississippi students, need to stay. We owe it to the people who gave their lives to combat injustice. We owe it to the parents who ensured we got an education. We owe it to the Creator who says every single one of us is made perfectly in His image, no matter who they are or what they look like.

Most of all, we owe it to each other.

Dear Mississippi student, I hope you stay.

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