Wednesday, December 20, 2017
On Saturday, Dec. 9, I was lucky enough to attend the historic opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. These museums offer an honest, courageous look back at our state's storied and sometimes troubled past. As Sen. John Horhn aptly said on Friday evening, it's high time that Mississippi tells our own story, rather than letting others tell it for us.
I echo the sentiments of many of the speakers at the ceremonies, including being proud to be a Mississippian. But while these celebrations filled us with civic pride, something was missing. Frankly, I needed to hear one white celebrant say four simple words: We are not done.
The focus on the fact that we no longer live in a legally segregated society left me longing to hear a proclamation of the fact that we still have a long road ahead of us to realize the vision of our civil-rights heroes—a society where the opportunity to succeed and thrive does not depend on race, creed or religious beliefs.
Segregation is no longer the law of the land; however, "separate but unequal" is still very much the experience that most of our communities live out daily. For me, this reality plays out as I think about the fact that both of my boys and all their classmates in the Madison County Schools received new MacBook Airs as part of the "One Student Many Devices" initiative, while the dedicated teachers and administrators at our neighboring Jackson Public Schools struggle to find the resources to provide basic instructional needs such as desks, chalkboards and textbooks. It's also hard to fully enjoy the sporting events at the amazing facilities at Madison Central when I recognize that the JPS sports teams share fields that need some pretty serious attention. I've never worried about the funds for the show choir or the band, much less feared that those programs might be cancelled.
I am proud of my boys, and I am grateful for the teachers, coaches and directors that have helped them along the way. They've worked hard, and they've earned their success. But I'm heartbroken when I think about many of my neighbors whose kids may never get to fully tap into their potential, not because of any lack of talent, drive or willingness to work, but because we have failed to provide them with the resources and the opportunities they need to thrive. Those kids deserve the same support, programs and chances at success as mine, and we can give that to them.
If we really want to realize the dream of providing all Mississippians with the opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder, let's find a way to properly fund all our public schools, not just those in districts where the family incomes provide the local tax base to do so.
It's time to conquer the fear of losing what's mine with the courage to claim what's ours: equal opportunity for all Mississippians regardless of race, color or religion. As we celebrated the progress we've made at the historic opening of our two great museums, Myrlie Evers-Williams reminded us, freedom is not free. Let's remember, we are not done.
Keith Dunn is the provost and dean at Millsaps College, and also a chemistry professor. This column does not necessarily represent the opinions of either Millsaps College or the Jackson Free Press.