SuperTalk Mississippi

Next Up: The courage to build — young residents creating a better Mississippi

I grew up in St. Martin, a small community between Ocean Springs and D’Iberville on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There’s something special about Mississippi; the state itself is a duality for being a creative haven while also harboring a complex and dark history.

At a young age, I started learning as much as I could about our state – its passionate artists, authors, and musicians, and the impacts of a place that is often only mentioned nationally for its economic disparities, lack of growth, and unfavorable soundbites.

I spent three weeks at Mississippi Governor’s School (MGS) in the summer of 2009, a program for rising juniors and seniors hosted at the Mississippi University for Women. It was there that I met students from throughout the state who all had passions and abilities that would make Mississippi better. The decision to attend that program changed my worldview and acted as a catalyst in my development as a leader.

After graduating high school, I attended Louisiana State University, where I saw firsthand how much talent was leaving not only Louisiana but also Mississippi. These were people with big ambitions and the drive to achieve their goals, but they never thought their home states could offer them the opportunities to realize those goals. The same was happening with the incredibly gifted friends I made at MGS. Most had already or were going to leave the state for job opportunities.

I was one of those people. I received the inaugural Ruth Edelman Award through the Public Relations Student Society of America, which allowed me to choose an Edelman Public Relations office in the U.S. for an internship. This is the largest PR firm in the world by revenue, and its Chicago office is where I started my career.

“You’re from where?”

“Why don’t you have an accent?”

“What’s it like to live in Mississippi?”

I’m used to these questions, and I was met with them on a regular basis living in Chicago, a world away from the quiet solitude of my backyard at home – my grandpa’s pasture. After working at Edelman for a year in corporate communications, I was ready to have a quality of life. The cold weather for more than half the year and the high cost of living just wasn’t for me.

It’s no secret that we’re losing Millennials and members of Gen Z every day to other markets that are thinking differently about growth and how to support their young workforce. A quick search shows that small and midsize cities throughout the U.S. are all struggling to find the answer.

The theme of this so far has been about young talent leaving the state. Now, I’m going to talk about those who have chosen to stay or have moved to Mississippi to make a difference. I’m one of those people.

Each day, living on the Coast, I see people my age and younger making a difference. They are challenging the narrative of our state, creating a Mississippi that will one day be a place that our talented young people want to stay and invest in. I’ve seen a resurgence of interest in the last five years, and my hope is that we will continue to support and encourage that entrepreneurial spirit so our entire state can benefit, not just the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I moved back to Mississippi because I’m passionate about shining a light on the good that’s coming from here. There’s much work to be done to change perceptions, and it’s going to take energy and commitment from our young, talented residents and natives who now live elsewhere. While moving to a new place and starting with a blank slate takes courage, I firmly believe it’s more courageous to make a place that most choose to leave better.

How do we do this? If you’re a business or community leader, challenge yourself to think differently about how you’re reaching Millennials and Gen Z. Are you offering an opportunity for this age group to give you thoughtful feedback on what they can contribute? Are they passionate about issues in your community, like homelessness, food insecurity, youth health, and wellness, or how to create a more inclusive place to live? Ask them what solutions they have in mind and explore ways that those solutions can be implemented.

Also, get comfortable being uncomfortable. The young people in my community who are making the biggest difference are business owners and community advocates who are working every day to provide unique experiences for our residents and our visitors, specifically those who are amplifying our diversity and ensuring all people feel welcome in our state. We should commit ourselves to this mission of acceptance and understanding if we want to see our state thrive.

My hope in writing this is that leaders throughout our state will start talking to us rather than about us. Oftentimes, we’re not invited to the conversations taking place about the “brain drain,” but let me assure you, we want to be. We want to help determine solutions to the nuanced problems that our state faces. We’re courageous, and we’re willing to think differently about how to make Mississippi better for all, not just for some.

The “Next Up” column series is a partnership between the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, Coast Young Professionals, and SuperTalk Mississippi. The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media. 

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