A lot of what you hear about Mississippi is not all together positive. The climate can be stifling, metropolitan areas are few and far between, 22 percent of the population lives in poverty, and it has been struggling with crippling brain drain for decades. The most common response when I mention I’m traveling to Mississippi for work is “Why?”
Mississippi is constantly fighting to not be dead last in public education ratings. Less than a quarter of people over the age of 25 hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. That is why we do the work in Mississippi. Children born there deserve high quality education just as much as those born in the more urban, prosperous corners of our country. There is so much work to be done in Mississippi, but the people I met in my time there never once appeared defeated, jaded, or close to giving up. They were optimistic, urgent, persuasive, vibrant. Their pride and love for the state was palpable. I left thinking I could move to Mississippi and be every bit as happy there as I am in Massachusetts.
However, I saw a very special part of Mississippi, where champions of the state are determined to revitalize its economy and human capital through outstanding educational opportunities. There was the revered 80-year-old executive whose success in real estate catapulted him into a position of informal leadership and recognition in Jackson. His investment in projects that benefit the city’s most needy populations is invaluable to the community. His 30-something right hand man, who, with his degree from Harvard and promising career path, sets an example for the type of talent Mississippi needs to retain. The outstanding classroom teacher at ReImagine Prep, who commands the classroom with poise, verve, and joy. The school leader who relocated to Jackson for the opportunity to make a lasting impact, whose commitment and drive get her up at 4:00 am every day without fail.
It was eye-opening to see this crusade for Mississippi first hand. The determination in each of these people and others I met there is something I think of often and drives the work I do. They do not believe in impossible. They believe in opportunity, and it’s thrilling to see more BES Fellows working tirelessly to bring it there with their schools.
– Caity Sprague