Change is always discussed and planned during an election year. Right now, across the entire country, people are marching, demonstrating and protesting for change. Americans are laying out their demands on both sides of the aisle, and they are coming to the table with the potential leaders of tomorrow to exchange views.
But while we no longer see the plight of our state as "our" responsibility. We feel the responsibility now belongs to the shadowy figures that we all talk about. (We discuss them in terms of "them" and "they.") the rest of the country is erupting in loud public discourse, it seems apathy has gripped a large portion of our state. Where Mississippians once led at the forefront of the movement for change, it looks as if we have now become content and reliant upon others.
It appears that our memories of our great activists are fading. We are far removed from those great men and women who placed their lives on the line for what they believed in. We are over five decades removed from civil rights champions such asMedgar Evers, who gave his life for the cause of change. It's become increasingly difficult for us to clearly recall the trials of James Meredith, when he led the fight for the integration of Ole Miss.
Something inside us has vanished over the years; and we need to find it again.
Our political system is broken
In 2013, I traveled nearly three hours from my home in Jackson to the Mississippi Delta — particularly Clarksdale. My reason for this trip was to film the documentary "Clarksdale at the Crossroad."
While there, it brought tears to my eyes to see the level of poverty that still existed in Mississippi.
We have the highest poverty rate in the entire country. In 2015, The Clarion-Ledger reported that 246,000 Mississippi children live below the poverty line. Our state has the lowest median household income at $37,432. Mississippi finished last on Forbes’ magazine's list of “The Best States For Business and Careers.” The state ranks in the bottom three on both college and high school attainment rates.
It's time to ask ourselves: Why is this? Why is the level of poverty in small towns across Mississippi so high?
The blame for this, as well as other issues, rests squarely on the shoulders of our political leaders. Our educational system is suffering because of a lack of funding. Many corporations are now even refusing to do business in our state — all because of the decisions made by politicians.
The only way we can fix these problems that we face is not to be afraid to buck the norms and make bold, radical decisions in our voting booths.
A permanent fix for poverty will involve strong legislation; but strong legislation comes from a strong political leader.
We must be willing to critically examine our political leaders; and our political leaders must be willing to hold themselves wholly accountable to the people. After all, this is the driving force of our democracy. No one has the "right" to lead Americans. Instead, they are granted an incredible privilege by the people, whom they are elected to serve.
The residents of Mississippi have to realize that it is our right and our duty to demand a seat at the table. It is our duty to call for our political leaders to create initiatives and programs aimed at improving our communities, creating jobs, and enabling our children to receive a quality education. If the political leaders can't guarantee any of these things, then it is our duty to call them back home and put someone else in the position who will be able to effect change.
Where do we go from here?
When first lady Michelle Obama spoke at Jackson State University’s commencement, she detailed a lot of the history of the state of Mississippi. She talked about the murder of Emmett Till, and she discussed the shooting of Medgar Evers. She spoke about the blight on our state's history, but she also discussed how our state rose above its demons and became a gleam of hope for the entire country.
We can't depend on those who are not residents of Mississippi to lead our state forward. They can help, but for our state to make the progress it needs to make, we must take the reins. We can't lead from behind. Mississippians have to be the face of the change and the standard-bearers for progress.
But for any progress to happen, we must first start a conversation. We have to talk to one another and be willing to discuss the reality of our state.
I'm asking our leaders at all levels to get involved. It doesn't matter if you're a coach or a mentor: Mississippi needs your help. You must be willing to spread the message of progress and community. Let's appeal for an accord on our commonalities.
If you have anyone that looks up to you as a role model, then this is a position of influence that you must be willing to use in a positive way.
If you are in a position of leadership within the faith-based community, we need you. We need your help to move our state forward, and those of us who are in positions of corporate leadership must be willing to partner with our religious counterparts to help one another.
If you are a young leader, don't wait. It's time now for all of us to step up to the plate and get involved in moving Mississippi forward.
Sometimes the way forward means we must make hard decisions, but we can't run away from those decisions. We owe it to those who came before us, and we owe it to ourselves to vote for progress and to vote for positive change.
There is light at the end of our tunnel. Mississippi has come far, and I know we will go even further in the future.
Let's reclaim our seat at the table.
Duvalier Malone, a native of Fayette, now lives in Washington, D.C. He is CEO and founder of Duvalier Malone Enterprises.