Rickey Thigpen has a few words of advice for Jackson's young people: It's better to be great than to be successful. "Set your goals and aspirations high," he says. "... I use the word 'success' tentatively, but I like the word 'great.'"
Success has boundaries, such as money, titles and notoriety. But when you're great, you transcend those boundaries. There's nothing wrong with being financially well off, Thigpen says, but being really great means having a positive impact on other people's lives. "I try to encourage young people, when I talk to them, to look on the inside of themselves and discover their passion for life," he says.
Thigpen, 46, is executive vice president at the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he has worked for 26 years. Through the JCVB, he has helped with special events, tours, festivals and exhibits that bring visitors and their spending power to the city.
"It's not really as hard as you think it is, because people from all over the world come to Jackson to experience our tourism products. Here in Jackson, we take them for granted," he says. The city draws people with its blues music, culinary offerings and architecture, as well as its civil rights and Civil War history. Jackson also hosts the International Ballet Competition every four years.
"So many of us go every day and pass those things and don't know they exist," Thigpen says. "I did a family reunion here several years ago, and we did a tour of Jackson, and they thought it was going to be a complete waste of time.
"They got off the bus and were just completely flabbergasted."
After graduating from Jim Hill High School in 1983, Thigpen earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Mississippi Valley State University in 1987. "I came into the tourism industry through the side door--I was the computer guy," he says.
Thigpen is also as a mentor and lecturer to high school and college students, and he judges high-school speech contests. He is pursuing his master's degree in leadership from Belhaven University.
When it comes to his personal life, Thigpen's family takes priority. His parents, Beray and Dora Thigpen, live in Jackson, and his sister, Sharon Thigpen, is a physical therapist in Texas. Thigpen also has a chocolate labrador retriever named Hershey.
"Family keeps me grounded," he says. "I'm blessed to have them."
Thigpen challenges the residents of Jackson to develop and build up their city.
"I don't like for people to put down our state," he says. "If you're going to be here, don't complain about it. Be a part of the improvement. If everyone whined about the problems in Jackson, we wouldn't get anywhere."