No Time to Fear | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

No Time to Fear

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Not many days after my last editor's note—about the determination of young Mississippians like the subSIPPI filmmakers to stay and build in Mississippi—I was staying in a hotel in Atlanta's midtown. I was there as a fellow in a journalism conference on school discipline that my graduate school hosted, and no small part of the conversation was about the problems that underfunded and, often, resegregated public schools face.

One speaker, a white parent and student advocate from the previously very-white Gwinnett County, Ga., talked about how discriminatory school discipline had followed black families from urban schools to the suburban ones in her district. I looked up an article on my iPad as she talked that explained that, in the Atlanta metro, many people of color are now moving into the suburbs even as many whites, especially younger ones, are beating a path back into Atlanta, including into booming neighborhoods like midtown where we were staying.

That fact has mixed blessings. Certainly, it's great for the city to see the reverse of the white flight that plagued it and cities such as Jackson after Jim Crow ended in the 1970s. But on issues such as school discipline, crime perceptions and school funding, the movement of more African Americans to suburbs sadly means that many whites either pull their kids out of the public schools or pick up and move farther out. It also means that discriminatory school discipline (or "zero tolerance" as the increase in suspensions and expulsions is often called, or the "cradle to prison pipeline") follows families of color, as our speaker illustrated.

Now before some of you wig out at that idea, as many did when I dared even mention our historic "white flight" in my last column, you should know that study after study (including a huge one in Texas coming in January and even supported by Texas conservatives) show that children of color are disciplined more harshly for the same or lesser offenses than white kids. It is simply not an issue of "black kids act up more," as many really want us to believe.

Put another way, just as white flight created larger problems for the areas left behind—problems that inevitably catch up with those who flee—the lack of resolution for discriminatory school discipline follows the flight path as well. When a school falls into the predictable, and often unintentional, pattern of using school discipline that has a disparate impact on kids of color, it tends to treat all kids, including white ones, harsher than before.

Because, in a twisted way, that is the only way to claim "equal" treatment.

As I was sitting in these fascinating sessions getting more educated about school discipline—one of my graduate-study focuses, but I was rusty on developments of the last decade—I couldn't help but think about how solutions to so many problems created by past discrimination are right beyond our fingertips. It's as if we just won't stretch another few inches and grasp them.

Watching the predictable string of angry comments under my subSIPPI column—all because I dared say "white flight" out loud—just makes me shake my head. Is there seriously anyone out there who honestly believes that the entire world doesn't know that our state handled race relations poorly? Saying the words "white flight" out loud, especially in a positive column about change, won't suddenly alert the world that Jackson (or Atlanta or Memphis or New Orleans) has been so challenged in recent years because so many families pulled up roots and moved before they would let their kids go to school with African Americans. This is a well-known fact already.

We can stipulate now that such a decision was shortsighted. But the key is to look at it, and at the problem of kicking vulnerable kids out of school and onto the streets to get into more trouble, and ask ourselves what we can do instead of continuing to make the kinds of decisions that created these problems in the first place.

Instead of selling and moving a bit closer to Vaiden if your block gets past the diversity "tipping point," how can you build new relationships that help all families?

Instead of, say, making it easier to suspend or expel more kids for increasingly lesser offenses to pretend that discipline disparities haven't existed for decades, why don't we join together as a community to figure out better solutions for all kids? And while we're at it, why don't we make the baseline the belief that all young people have potential and that their lives are valuable—even if and when they do something stupid?

While in midtown Atlanta, we walked around a lot and were astounded by the street activity day and night, with active sidewalk cafes and diverse people of all ages wandering the sidewalks, laughing, talking. That area has changed tremendously in a decade or so, and it's because people decided they wanted to live, play and enjoy life in their city, despite its problems.

Put another way, they decided to stop running and invest in their city.

It probably also doesn't hurt anything that about everywhere you look, you see a major thoroughfare named for Dr. King or Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. A while back, Atlanta made the decision that its city was "too busy to hate" and embraced its past, which has both helped its tourism industry and made it a better place to live for residents of all races. And make no mistake: There are people who still live in the past there, mired in hate and fear of "the other," who aren't happy about it. But it's not up to them.

Here in Jackson, and in Mississippi as a whole, we must make the decision that we are too busy to live in constant fear and start talking up our city and living its potential. Just as I said in my last editor's note about the zoo, it makes no sense to just pick it up and move it to a place where some white folks feel more comfortable—for the moment—until those same people decide to pick up and run away from diversity once again. That is a vicious cycle, and we lose every time it spins around again.

It's time to dig in here and now. The grass isn't greener, or safer, in another cow pasture or flood plain somebody wants to develop. Our strength as a city and state is in our shared history—just as in Atlanta—if we allow it to be. Go to the new civil rights museum when it opens, invite someone of another race or background over for dinner, open yourself up to frank conversations.

I've long believed Mississippi can be the most impressive state in the union if we decide to be. We had farther to come for greatness, and we've thus come farther than other states. Let's complete this journey.

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Comments

charleshooker 7 years, 1 month ago

Donna, 100% of what you say is absolutely true and SHOULD go without saying, but thank you for saying it and saying it so well!

Anne and I go where we want to go and refuse to be afraid to do so, day or night. This IS our city, and we love it! Anything one does requires using good sense, and good sense includes recognizing the beauty of diversity rather than fearing or avoiding it.

Charles Hooker

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donnaladd 7 years, 1 month ago

Thank you, Charles. I love you and Anne. Thank you for being two of the bright stars of Jackson. Big hug.

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stephenp 7 years, 1 month ago

i really have no clue why i'm commenting. but i just want you to clarify, do you honestly truly believe the area around the zoo, is safe?

yes, i know the zoo itself has security, and once inside the gates, it's perfectly safe.. but can you straight faced tell me, that the west capitol street area, is safe? i'm not trying to have the discussion, of why it is, or isn't, or what caused the situation, or how it can be fixed. simply, do you think it's as safe, for a young woman and child, to travel to the zoo, in it's current location, as it would be, if it were somewhere else?

yes, i know. viscous, cycle, the new area would eventually become the same way.. that's not the argument. i don't see anyone in their right mind, being okay, with their wife and children going to that area. that's not a good place to break down, or have a flat. you can't deny that.

you can say the solution, is to dig our heels in, and face it head on, embrace the city, and try to rebuild the area. that may well be true, but all bets are off, when personal safety is at risk. i'm not just some paranoid rankin county bible thumper. i have first hand experience with almost every area of the city. the danger is real. not "perceived" i have friends who live on west capitol, and they will tell you it's not the place to be. and with jobs i've had in the past, i've been in the area, many times.

chances are, if a young couple from the suburbs broke down in the area, people would be more than helpful.. but the chances of getting harmed are alot greater. it's absurd to think the zoo area is safe. that's idealism to the point of being annoying.

i don't make my assertion about it being dangerous, because the area is predominantly black! i say that, because there's violent crimes committed around that area, nightly. i could care less what ethnicity is committing those crimes.

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donnaladd 7 years, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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donnaladd 7 years, 1 month ago

I can straight-faced tell you that I've never had or witnessed a single problem on West Capitol Street in years of going to the zoo, holding and sponsoring events there, and doing stories and distributing papers in that part of town. Not one.

I've certainly never had someone chase after my car as I drove in the area! This whole conversation is patently absurd.

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kdavis 7 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for writing this. My wife and I married nearly 23 years ago and we chose to live in Jackson. We have never regretted our decision. When we married, I had to travel to Atlanta frequently and work in the Midtown area that you describe. Back then, the tide was starting to turn and the people that I worked with were clamoring to move back into the city after growing weary of unpredictable commutes into the city for work. I told my wife then that I felt like Jackson always lagged behind Atlanta's trends by 10-15 years and that one day, people would start moving back to Jackson. We love our "Brady Bunch" split level house and our street where our neighbors are the same people that welcomed us there 20 years ago. I kind of dig continuity and it has been fun to watch our neighbors' families grow as I'm sure they have enjoyed watching ours. Does Jackson have its problems? Sure like most other cities in the US. But I don't buy the idea that the suburbs are some Utopia with no problems either. There are a lot of exciting developments taking shape in Jackson like The District at Eastover, resurgent retail activity along I-55, Fondren, Belhaven and hopefully Downtown in my lifetime.

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JLucas 7 years, 1 month ago

I also think the idea of moving the zoo is ludicrous, both from a cost standpoint and because it sends the message that the city doesn't care about improving that end of town. But there are issues. For one, the stretch of West Capitol from I-220 isn't very scenic or memorable. It’s a raggedy street with many dilapidated and abandoned houses and businesses, and offers nothing of interest to families looking for something besides the zoo to visit. Perhaps it’s time the city looked at aggressively dealing with the blighted conditions along its main arterial between the zoo and I-220, and to partner with the neighboring communities to clean up the area physically (litter, blight) and to address drug dealing and other criminal activities.

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Scott1962 7 years ago

It seems to me that the idea of leaving the zoo where it's at is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. If it can be moved to another area of the city, I think Lakeland was mentioned, and is still in the city then why not? Attendance will triple immediately if for no other reason the perceived belief of safety. All the questionable crime statistics and name calling isn't going to change a perception that would appear to be grounded in fact given the area around it now. Or to put it simply, for whatever reason people believe that area of the city isn't safe and no one's going to waste a Sunday afternoon to prove otherwise. The infamous "white flight" would spend their money there so wouldn't that move in itself be a way of revitalizing the city? Or is that too much logic? If nothing else then getting the money from the evil suburbanites should constitute some kind of twisted victory in your constant "us versus them" mentality wouldn't it? But... then you'd have to go through that nationally recognized circus aka the city government so it will never happen.

On a different note, should the kid who killed the fisherman at the hotel a few weeks ago be released because of past discrimination pulling the trigger for him? That man isn't as dead as a man killed by a white kid so we can make excuses for whose fault it was can't we? Don't you just hate those pesky facts?

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