By Marquez Sanders, Communications Strategist

The “Reclaiming Our Origins Through Story” (R.O.O.T.S.) exhibit takes you on an oral journey guided by 19 young men from Sunflower County, whose mission is to change the negative perceptions about young black men in their community as part of the Sunflower County Systems Change Project. The exhibit displays stories, quotes, and interviews conducted by the young men as well as a short documentary of their journey. The program takes the voices of these young men and amplifies them for not only Mississippians to hear, but the world.

The exhibit hits close to home. As a young black man growing up in Mississippi, I was perceived to become a thug or somewhere six feet under before the age of 25. I used that as motivation to go against what the world thought of me. R.O.O.T.S. of Sunflower County does just that for these 19 young men and boys of color across Mississippi. Kyle Purnell, a R.O.O.T.S. participant, said it best: “This project gives HOPE to the hopeless, SIGHT to those who are blind to their capabilities, SMELL to those who can’t smell their destiny, and FREEDOM to those who have been bound by poverty, shackled by oppression, and chained by low self-esteem.”

These young men, and Black youth in general, just want to be heard. “There aren’t any positive stories being told about us,” said Vonkerius Jackson, a 16-year-old high school student and R.O.O.T.S. participant. Jackson along with the R.O.O.T.S. team are changing that stigma through story.