Before moving to Mississippi in 2001, my wife and I lived in the state of New York for five years where we both taught at Nyack College, overlooking the Hudson River’s three-mile-wide Tappan Zee. The word “beauty” does no justice.
I was a fresh-out-of-grad-school English instructor, and my wife was director of a nationally recognized program for first-year student success. She’s always been smarter than me, but I still try not to hold it against her.
That is neither here nor there, except that we were newly married "ex-pat" Southerners trying to find our way in a cosmopolitan world of hand-rolled bagels (if it ain’t boiled first, it ain’t a bagel); Amici-family prepared chicken piccata and gnocchi bolognese; and Chinese take-out that still makes my mouth water from 1,221 miles away. In retrospect, I guess we aimed to eat our way through New York. Which, frankly, we did pretty well.
But that too is neither here nor there. As Georgia- and Virginia-raised fish-out-of-water, we began to notice a certain bias in Northern news coverage about the South. Apparently, somewhere around newspaper page A-20 you could always expect a story about floods, snakes and floating caskets, or about an Alabama family who chained their son to a pine tree and fed him scraps.
Don’t get me wrong—I had a few cousins who probably should’ve been chained to pine trees (for their own good). And in 2005 Hurricane Dennis did keep us from burying my 90-year-old uncle for a week because his grave was full of water.
Given that the South’s quirks, crimes and injustices are well documented—and many ARE terrible racial and social injustices—the Northern editors of pages A-1 through A-20 often missed some important grace-full facts about their southern neighbors.
They still miss them.
1. At this very moment, writer Angie Thomas (Jackson, Miss. native) holds the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list for young-adult hardcover. The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, an African-American teen who witnesses the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer. With wit, genius and empathy-for-all, Angie foregrounds the disparate ways that black and white cultures respond to police shootings. And, through empathy and understanding, she charts a shared way forward.
2. Nestled in the heart of Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood is Belhaven University—one of the most ethnically diverse Christian liberal arts colleges in the country (only 34.6% of students identify as white). Belhaven is also the home of one of the few BFA Programs in Creative Writing in the country. Angie Thomas is an alum.
3. On the northern extremity of Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood sits Redeemer Church, a multi-racial church (in the Presbyterian Church in America denomination) with an African-American pastor, Elbert McGowan, Jr., who is hands down one of the best pastors and preachers in the country. Redeemer’s mission statement says it all: “A multi-ethnic community of Christians committed to glorifying…Christ and proclaiming the Good News of His Kingdom in both word and deed.”
Often the places with the greatest hurts and "dis-graces" are the finest foothills and fields ripe for hope and healing. Think of Golgotha, Christ and the Cross.
Now that’s A-1 page material—some “good news" about justice, mercy and grace.