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Mississippi’s uncommon spirit

Photo courtesy of American Red Cross.

In the aftermath of the deadly and destructive tornadoes that ripped across Mississippi bringing catastrophic damage to many places, especially Rolling Fork, I am struck by something that plays out in Mississippi time and time again after disasters.

Mississippi is an incredibly caring state. Such trials reveal our hearts and souls – the essence of the Mississippi spirit. It’s an unbelievably inspiring lesson about who we are and what we are to each other.

When the socioeconomic and political boundaries that too often divide us are blown down, we see in our people a sleepless and inspiring pace to serve others. It doesn’t matter what your politics are, you are loved.

What we see on the ground in our beloved Mississippi Delta is something that we’ve observed consistently after disasters in Mississippi. It’s something the outside world, for whatever reasons, doesn’t often note. It’s the inspiring, selfless spirit of Mississippians and their dogged determination to lend a helping hand. In this moment, we witness in our fellow Mississippians, even those who have lost everything, turn away the help of others – pointing volunteers to their neighbors who they believe have bigger needs.

Over the last week, we have seen local, state, and federal officials – political parties aside – all come together with the volunteer cavalry that tragedy creates when drawn to ground zero.

The volunteers represented nonprofits of all sorts with an array of services; city representatives from across the state brought emergency supplies plus police and fire support; church groups offered their prayers and their people; farmers came with their heavy equipment; utiltity companies provided power and water; restaurants were armed with food; and simple citizens brought strong backs and loving hearts.

I call them – as President George H.W. Bush once christened them – a thousand points of light.

Each is a separate beacon of help and hope. The caring aftermath of those sudden winds becomes a compelling reminder of the Mississippi spirit and what is actually in the hearts of Mississippians.

At times like these, the new Mississippi state song “One Mississippi” by Steve Azar should be played on loudspeakers across the United States. Amid the deaths, injuries, and terrible destruction, that ballad would be heard as celebrating who Mississippians are to their core.

We are one Mississippi.

There are prevailing false narratives about Mississippians that are often rooted in a sad and unforgettable history that the national media – and sadly, some media in this state – ignorantly want to repeat with seemingly daily regularity. They drive wedges and speak of us as not having changed – as if they really know and understand what is in our hearts and souls. 

But the helpful responses of Mississippians after tragedies obliterate those narratives. Myopic journalists, here and elsewhere, should all put away their wedges and work harder to see and understand who we really are as a people. And while more can always be done, we have made incredible progress as Mississippians toward creating a value that embraces each other as neighbors.

What we have seen in Mississippi should be a lesson to the world: when the going gets tough in Mississippi, this state gets small. We need each other. We are all human. And we will find ways to serve each other. 

It is long past time for others to take note that we are, in fact, one Mississippi.

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