Mississippi Turning for urban faithThe state of Mississippi has a new civil and human rights curriculum for its public school students. It’s the first of its kind in the nation. Not bad for a state that Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said was “sweltering with the heat of injustice.”

In the 1960s, Mississippi was known as the poorest state in the Union. Where there is poverty, there are people wanting to get out of poverty. They scrimp. They toil. They strive. Unfortunately there are those that want the poor to stay in poverty. By any means possible. For personal gain. For hate. For fear.

So it should be no surprise that Mississippi produced Medgar Evers, Freedom Summer, and James Meredith, just as sure as it produced desegregation riots and the violent events that inspired the film Mississippi Burning.

The refrain of Sam Cooke’s 1964 classic hit, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” speaks volumes about this situation. “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

According to Greenwood, Mississippi, lawyer, Hiram Eastland Jr., his friend the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver was expecting change out of Mississippi. A change that would not only affect the Magnolia State, but the State of the Union.

In a recent rememberance of Kennedy Shriver, Eastland recalled a memory of a conversation he had with her regarding Mississippi, during the 1996 Democratic Convention:

She recalled the huge impact the James Meredith integration crisis at Ole Miss had on her brothers. And she recalled the very powerful and emotional impact her brother Bobby’s 1967 trip to the Mississippi Delta had on his determination to help those in need in the Mississippi Delta and around the country. She said she had always felt that Mississippi was a special place and was constantly amazed by the enormously talented writers, singers, songwriters, athletes and leaders in many fields that Mississippi had produced over the years. She also indicated that she knew there had been tremendous progress in race relations in Mississippi and improved circumstances for the impoverished people of the Mississippi Delta that had so moved her brother Bobby. But she admonished that “like everywhere, Hiram, we can do better, and there is still much more progress to be made and much more to be done.”

Though mandated by the state, the Mississippi public school curriculum has the potential to blow us all away. Mississippi continues where the Amistad Commissions of states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York stop short. For too long we’ve been in the dark about history. Forget the debate about the usefulness of Black History Month. History is history. True poverty is measured in our lack of knowledge about our collective American past as a whole, for better or for worse.

Education is key. And education, for education’s sake, has a funny way of breeding accountability and fostering relationships. If done correctly the ripple effect of this cultural change will reach us all. We each can be a part of social change.

One by one. Very soon.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just a little excited.

This is the kind of reparations I like to see. What’s going on down in Mississippi has the potential to turn us all. It’s something we can all do. Teach your kids today. Strive to go beyond the cursory lessons on Martin, Malcolm, and Rosa.

The good thing is, we don’t have to wait for a state mandate.

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