I remember the day: Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. My grandmother's Suburban was stuffed with college-room decor and my clothes. I felt electrified and nervous at the same time. I was officially moving from Pine Bluff, Ark., to Jackson, Miss., to begin my college career at Jackson State University. I had met so many of my classmates through Facebook, Twitter and video-calling that my level of comfort was pretty high.
I clearly recall when I arrived in Clinton with my mother, little sister and cousin. We grabbed food from a restaurant on Highway 80, and I admired the big and pretty campus down the street, Mississippi College.
The next day was freshman move-in day at Jackson State University. We took Interstate 55 north to Ellis Avenue, and my mother stopped to grab us breakfast from McDade's in Westland Plaza. Then we headed to campus and waited in our truck, like most of the families that made it before we did. It was 7 a.m., and other people were ready to sign papers and grab keys, meet the upperclassmen who volunteered their time and set up rooms while making mental lists of what items they still needed.
Once I was settled, I did not want to leave my bedroom. I was shy, but that next week was dedicated to making the entire freshmen class feel welcome. There was no way that I could really hide, and for that, I am thankful.
That week, I united with the classmates that I had met online and immediately loved them all, although I was careful with how much time I spent with some of them. It was kind of sad because I was learning and observing good things about some people and not-so-good things about others. It was OK, though, because I learned that I didn't have to befriend everybody and that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. At times, being alone allowed me to learn more about myself and about campus, although at first it didn't occur to me that there was life outside JSU.
I remember everything being so foreign to me, and how I actually thought Jackson would be boring. Some students who called Jackson home even looked at me crazy when they learned that I was an out-of-state student. All they could ask was, "Why would you come to Jackson out of all places?" My only response was that JSU accepted me.
As I pushed through the next few weeks in the first semester of my freshman year, I learned more about the campus ministry, Reformed University Fellowship. I hadn't decided my major, yet, so I was able to develop a consistent Christian community before really developing an academic one. That is where I would grow the most.
Being part of a body of believers is a big deal for me, and RUF taught me that it should be. I found people that I could easily call friends and who would share my struggles, and one of the challenges was deciding my major.
During my sophomore year, two close friends joined me in figuring out what field to pursue. I took tests, prayed and asked questions, and found myself in the English department, where I fell in love with the faculty and my classmates. I was not prepared for the amount of reading and analyzing I would have to do, but it made me love what I was studying even more.
At the time, I was not sure about where I'd take everything career wise, but it was obvious that English was something I loved and not a waste of time for me.
It helped that I did not feel pressured to choose an area of study before the proper time.
While I did not know exactly where to go with my major, the option to take creative writing came up, and I took it. By the end of the spring semester, I had a "coming to my passion" moment. You know like a "Coming to Jesus" moment? It was not because first lady Michelle Obama was my commencement speaker—although she did fire me up with great words of encouragement—but because I saw the power of creative writing and how it cultivates so much vision and work from all people. Never had I been so grateful for waiting to decide my major and graduating in five years.
Eventually, I got my car during college and explored Jackson and surrounding cities such as Clinton, Madison, Ridgeland, Flowood and Pearl. I came to love many neighborhoods including Fondren, Midtown, Belhaven and downtown.
I learned the art of loving and supporting local businesses and organizations, including restaurants such as Green Ghost Tacos, Rainbow Co-op and Steve's Deli, and shops Fondren Muse and Repeat Street.
I learned that they matter and that Jackson has crazy talent in just about every area of the arts. There is always something to do here, and while exploring, we all get a taste of the talent and vision that the people here have.
Jackson taught me that while issues such as race, education and civil rights still are prevalent, people of different backgrounds in life are coming together and actually getting their hands dirty to find solutions to our problems.
The food is wonderful, the cultures are meshing, the people are working and learning, and the city is growing. When I first saw Jackson, I wasn't the most excited, but constantly seeing the great things that are happening here have created a passion for the city in me.
You can feel that excitement, too, if you give the city a chance. It's got its dark spots, sure, but most places do. Remember that Jackson also has many bright spots. You won't find a city with more soul than Jackson (after all, it is called the City With Soul), and you won't find a city in Mississippi that celebrates diversity like we do here.
For more information about Jackson, see visitjackson.com. Find daily events at jfpevents.com and download the JFP's Jacktown app for event alerts.