If you missed the Best of Jackson party this past Sunday, you missed an event that perfectly exemplifies why the city is so awesome. It's full of hidden gems, and as the overwhelming number of nominations that came in for more than 600 people, places, and organizations proved, our citizens care deeply about this city that we call home.
The flaws in our city mean nothing if we can't take a moment to appreciate the great parts of it and look for solutions to fix the grimy problems. That is what the Best of Jackson awards and the party mean to me: this overwhelming love for our people, our local businesses, artists and urban warriors—people who work hard and give a damn about this city.
As a first-year staffer and former super intern here at the Jackson Free Press, I was part of the team that planned the whole event. While it wasn't stressful because of the tricks we've learned along the way (and having such a great team to share the planning and the duties), the joy in seeing everyone having a wonderful night overshadowed any fear I had about not pulling off a great party.
One thing I think a lot of people—myself included—overlook is how much Jackson has to offer. Until I started working at the office downtown, I could barely maneuver a one-way street, let alone knew where any museums or restaurants were. Now, I can tell you a dozen different ways to get to Fondren and other areas without even hopping onto main roads such as State Street. It's this willingness to learn something new about this city that keeps interest fresh, which lends to the healthy competition among our finalists.
Year after year, y'all submit your ballots, vote like crazy and pick who you trust to represent Jackson in various categories. The JFP has been around for nearly 14 years, and since the very first issue (which had the city's first Best of Jackson ballot in it), you've trusted us with your opinions and have even suggested changes to the ballot. You visit restaurants and museums and other businesses and organizations, you build friendships with your favorite baristas and bartenders and other folks, and one night a year, you show up and show out at our Best of Jackson party.
This year, we wanted to keep everything downtown, but also try something retro/funk, as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' hit, "Uptown Funk," inspired the whole thing. As always, you guys showed up in your best threads, some vintage, some theatrical, but it all worked. The giant Best of Jackson marquee showed up in the background of plenty of selfies I've seen, (keep sharing if you've got them: #BOJ2016), and the super-talented Jackson State University Drum Line surprised us all and shut it down with its perfect performance to "Uptown Funk."
As someone who tries her hardest to show love and kindness to everyone she meets, walking around the party and being hugged and pulled to the dance floor and congratulated for doing a wonderful job touched me in a way that I can't adequately fit into words. And obviously, this event wouldn't have been possible without the wonderful team that we have here.
First, I would like to thank Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd for trusting my abilities to fulfill her vision, and for feeding me peanut-butter bars when I got caught up in the excitement and forgot to eat. The JFP is her baby, and while I'm new at this, I didn't feel one ounce of doubt from her that I couldn't take care of everything. Her organizational skills as well as experience in throwing the BOJ party kept everything on track, and her standard for excellence meant that we had to hit the mark, and hit it hard.
Our publisher, Todd Stauffer, did his thing organizing the amazing tech and lighting effects (with the help of Stephen Barnette of Davaine Lighting, of course), keeping the issues and the website flowing, and figuring out that silly Google Chromecast thing. Kimberly Griffin, the advertising director, kept everyone on task and stress free, and Sales Assistant Mary Osborne was my ace in getting everything done, from half a million labels to adding sparkle and glitz to everything she touched. Myron Cathey, under Kimberly's guidance, made sure our award-winning local restaurants had the chance to sample their wares and meet our readers.
Assistant Editor Amber Helsel kept me on pace with my assignments, was gracious in helping Sunday night before a 4:30 a.m. CrossFit class the next morning and never once complained about not being tall enough for the ladder (in jest). Music Editor Micah Smith and his wife, Jeana, held down the fort while our winners and finalists scrambled for awards, and Imani Khayyam took wonderful photos of our winners, finalists and everything in between, helped by his mentor Mitch Davis. The design team, comprised of Art Director Kristin Brenemen and Ad Designer Zilpha Young, created all of the ads, helped stuff awards, and designed the cover of the Best of Jackson issue, which probably inspired all the hats I saw bobbing around the dance floor. Melanie Collins collected and wrote checks, helping pay for the whole thing, along with our gracious sponsors, of course.
Adria, Arielle, Inga, Sierra, Ryan and all of my volunteers who showed up really made a difference. To Duane Smith and his awesome team of bartenders, thank you for keeping the drinks flowing and graciously putting out small fires. Cathead Vodka made The Plaza cocktail that I'm still getting texts about (seriously, what is the recipe?), and Capital City Beverages kept the taps flowing. And Wendy Putt of the Railroad District provided a perfect venue and helpful staff for the event.
All of you are so wonderful and made this experience so enjoyable and low-stress that I'm already in the process of planning for the JFP Chick Ball for this July.
Thank you to everyone who came out to support the Best of Jackson. Every year, y'all keep us going. If you have any ideas or suggestions for next year's blowout, be sure to send them our way. I've got a feeling 2017 will be bigger and better.
Don't believe me? Just watch.
Editorial Assistant Maya Miller is a Jackson State University graduate. Write her at [email protected] to volunteer for JFP Chick Ball or to become a sponsor, or to suggest new Best of Jackson categories.