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OPINION: Love Letter to Jackson: You Need My Grind, Sweat and Tears

Local artist Justin Ransburg’s “I Believe in Jackson” art piece hidden is plain sight off East Capitol Street. Azia Wiggins believes in it, too. Photo by Azia Wiggins

Local artist Justin Ransburg’s “I Believe in Jackson” art piece hidden is plain sight off East Capitol Street. Azia Wiggins believes in it, too. Photo by Azia Wiggins

Dear Jackson,

If people really took time to get to know the soul of you, truly taking in the good with the bad, loving you would come easy. Anybody who has heard of Jackson, even those not from here can immediately vomit out a list of negatives concerning you, a predominantly black capital city. We often hear: "Jackson? You mean Jacktown? Oh nooo, they're murderers, thieves, STD ridden, ratchet thugs." Or, "Capitol Street? Nah, I don't feel safe on that side of Jackson." Or, "There's nothing to do in Jackson. Don't make no sense for the taxes to be that high with that many potholes."

I'm not romanticizing away all your flaws. I see the displaced homeless community as I drive up and down the crater-ridden streets, cursing under my breath as my car's rear-end scrubs against the jagged potholes, many unmarked. I read the countless articles documenting the blood spilled from innocent children, young men and women doing everyday things like I do. They are murdered on a day that started like any other, only to end in wails and gut-wrenching screams from their loved ones haunted by the question, "Why my baby?"

The public schools are underfunded, understaffed and structurally compromised. I've sat in high-school classrooms, flipped through their battered textbooks, and talked to students with immature and negligent parents who only get hot meals when they decide to come to school. Many of our neighborhoods are unkempt, full of abandoned and condemned houses that reek of perpetuated brokenness.

I have family and friends with hearts of gold who have become hardened by racial disparity and poverty, and the only vision now is to do what it takes to survive, even if that includes robbing, selling drugs, scamming or selling their bodies for money. Jobs are scarce, and too many companies are ridden with discrimination and favoritism. As an educated, black woman millennial, I know the struggle of finding a job in your field and being paid your worth. Instead, we hustle three to four jobs of low pay just to make ends meet. On top of that, corruption has long defined capital-city politics.

That being said, I can't lie and say that I don't understand why you are so hard to love. If I didn't know better, I would do what most have already done—move to a more progressive city—but that's not how love works. When I think of you, Jackson, I think of how my siblings and I played up and down the Queens in the '90s, parking our bikes on the lawn of the candy ladies, roller skating, playing freeze tag early in the morning while waiting on the bus headed to Raines Elementary.

I think about the summers I spent at my grandma's house in the Bottom, helping her renovate the duplex next door, learning how to properly water her immaculate gardens and grocery shopping with her every Saturday at the Walmart on Ellis Avenue. She always bought us the big bag of Lifesaver Gummies. I think about the one-dollar movies I saw with my dad behind the Metrocenter and eating Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels at Auntie Annie's while shopping for school clothes with my mom.

I remember fondly coming back home to work my first 8-5 p.m. big-girl job at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2014. I would leave work and on the drive home through west Jackson, I'd see children outside playing, young men walking home with their friends, laughing, all sweaty from sports, and high schoolers with their instruments if they weren't still on the field practicing formations.

When I moved to West Capitol Street, I would witness the same things: parents getting up every day, pushing through the daily grind and monitoring their babies as they ran around with glee in the yard. It always warms my heart to see kids being kids and families doing what should be done to protect their children and ensure they are loved and free as they can be.

Each day I get to spend walking my puppy around downtown, I fall in love a little more with the hidden art murals, the architectural beauty of our historic buildings and the rich legacy I can almost taste with every breath. That's my reality of you, Jackson, my capital city, and just because many families are fighting disparity each day, and some of the communities are not as shiny and new as they once were, Jackson is building legacy with every generation and is now at a place of peak potential.

Most drive through you and see abandonment, emptiness, a shell of what used to be. I see a blank canvas, a fertile ground to plant seeds of innovation and progressive solutions. I see opportunity to not only rebuild, but build better.

I'll say it again: Jackson, Miss., is the new mecca for innovation and forward progress and will be an example for cities nationwide with similar back stories. I 
refuse to leave you right when you need my grind, sweat and tears to help set you on a hill where your light can shine. Despite those that hate you and can't see your heart, I know I'm not alone when I say I see you. I will fight for your integrity and freedom, and most importantly, I love you.

Azia Wiggins is the editorial assistant of the Jackson Free Press. Email her at [email protected].

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