Dear Leadership Mississippi Alumni,
This has been an emotional week...month...year! Sunday, June 28, 2020 was worth every tear I have cried. There is no possible way that MEC could have done all that we have done to support our state's retirement of the flag without the grassroots efforts of all those who came before us. MEC simply leveraged its resources and helped share with those in power what so many people, for so long, have been trying to say.
Yesterday, the Confederate flag was retired in a ceremonious occasion that took place at the Two Mississippi Museums. It is now property of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and will be an artifact on display in the Museum of Mississippi History. This historic event is taking place right on the heels of Juneteenth.
Imagine all the unknowns of Juneteeth that were before our ancestors back then. I can't even imagine what it was like for them.
I challenge you, as I challenged myself, to let your mind go back there just for a minute. It's just another unbearably hot, humid day on June 19, 1865
and you have been in the scorching southern sun picking cotton or chopping sugar cane like you've done every day of your life. Finally, someone comes and tells you that you don't have to do that anymore. They say you no longer work for your master and you have a choice to stay or you may leave. If you stay and work, you will now be paid for your once free and gruesome labor.
NOW what? THEN what? What would you say? What would you do? How would you feel? What on earth would you do with yourself? How would you approach...freedom?
Of course you've never been in physical bondage or shackles. However, at times, you may feel or have felt that you are bound at points in your career. In a similar way, you awake each day to new opportunities that weren't there the day before. Each morning you rise, you face new challenges that you didn't face yesterday and you must decide which approach you'll take to manage them. Every decision you make in life sets you on a path to a different destination.
I can remember crying to my grandmother, who we fondly call "GrandFlorida", years ago about questioning my role at the Mississippi Economic Council. I felt I wasn't doing enough. There was so much I wanted to say; so many times I felt like I wasn't making the impact I wanted to and she said in her calm and sincere voice, "Cathy, it's not all about you. It's so much bigger than you. The blessing is in how you can help others." These words came shortly before her health started to decline. I didn't visit her much because it pained me to see my hero in that condition. After she passed, that very conversation and others like it got me through some of my toughest times. "You are surviving off of the prayers of your ancestors and the people before you." she would say.
After hearing Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams speak at the opening of the Two Mississippi Museums, I remember walking away with that same feeling of not doing enough. Recently, I was reading an article headlining Senator Henry Kirksey, former elected official, who joined the state senate in 1979 and led the fight in the late 1970s to 1980s to establish the single-member legislative districts that we know of today.
Kirksey was said to have lost as many battles as he won. He never succeeded in persuading the state to remove the Confederate battle flag from the upper left corner of the Mississippi flag, however it was said he gave it his best shot.
Over the past few days, in light of recent events, I didn't have the strength to go to the Capitol. I needed to be by myself; I wanted to be by myself. I listened to the arguments regarding the removal of the Mississippi Flag from both sides as I worked in my garden--my green thumb has become a source of my sanity. After hearing the final vote Sunday, I froze. I could not breathe. "Was this really happening? Did this really happen?" I thought. My phone rang and rang, text messages came through like a flood. I couldn't answer the phone to respond right away. I needed to soak it all in.
That night, in prayer, I thought about Senator Frazier's plea on the senate floor. "Pray First; Aim High, and Stay Focused". I still feel that there is more to do. I now feel empowered to do more. I need your help in doing so--help from leaders like you, who believe in the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of ideas and diversity of opportunities.
Leadership Mississippi alumnus Haley Barbour once said "Mississippi's greatest asset is our people." Our people voted our elected officials into office to act in the best interest of Mississippi and that is what I witnessed on Sunday. Lt. Governor said that day, "We wanted Mississippi to have a heart and soul. Today, she had one." The driving force of the final decision to retire the state flag is not attributed to just one person but also to the many people who helped along the way.
The nation is preparing to celebrate July 4th, also known as Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, America proclaimed its independence from Great Britain. Thirteen colonies became a new nation. This is a day where fireworks illuminate the night sky. Everyone is wearing their favorite combination of red, white and blue and life is good.
Technically, African-Americans weren't free on July 4th.
On June 19th, 1865, 89 years after Independence Day, General Gordon Granger of Galveston, TX announced to slaves that they were formally granted freedom. This celebration is known today as Juneteenth. It wasn't until Juneteenth that freedom existed for all people in this country. This is why Juneteenth is such an important celebration, particularly for the African-American community.
What has happened in this nation, at this present moment, the removal of the state flag, has opened the door for us to have conversations around freedom- to better understand what it truly means for all Mississippians. We must begin this process of collective healing.
This is only the beginning of all of the tough but necessary conversations that are yet to come.
Leadership Mississippi is still, now more than ever, committed to bring together a diverse group of leaders that share the common goal of bettering Mississippi. Sunday was proof that we are making strides towards a better future for ourselves, for our children and for many more generations to come. We owe it to the prayers of our ancestors, the encouraging words of those in our family that mean the most to us, the work of those who believe in a better Mississippi and the leaders of this great state who work towards and imagine freedom.
I encourage dialogue around the retirement of the state flag and would love to hear from you.
Please send me your thoughts and any questions you may have. Email me at