I'm a fan of the holiday season. I like the music, lights, decorations and schlocky movies. And one of the pleasures of the holidays is making a special effort to get out to a walkable urban environment and do some "shopping."
And, by "shopping" I mean slipping into a bar between excursions into local shops. On a winter night, that first sip from a tart, citrusy IPA—preferably brewed near where I'm drinking it—is divine. Most recently, Donna and I did that in Asheville, N.C., over Thanksgiving; before that, it was in Columbia, S.C., where we'd gone first for a conference.
And I pulled it off again this past week, during TeamJXN's Downtown Holiday event, a co-sponsored affair with Downtown Jackson Partners, Visit Jackson, The Westin Hotel, the King Edward Apartments, Pinnacle Building, Art Lofts and others. It was an excellent opportunity to get out in a wind jacket, stroll around, peruse the craftsy items for sale and, eventually, land at a bar for that IPA.
One of my companions on that downtown stroll was Dr. Mukesh Kumar, formerly the director of planning and development for the City of Jackson and currently (again) a professor at Jackson State University. Mukesh sat with me this week for the Let's Talk Jackson podcast (listen at www.letstalkjackson.com), and we talked a little about how planning affects a city's growth and prosperity.
So, in the past few weeks, I've been in southern cities, including Jackson, walking around (and drinking IPAs). In my travels, Jackson (while improving) lagged behind the other two cities, at least in my experience of them. In trying to noodle out why, the best I've come up with is this: enough of us have to want Jackson to do better, and then take action.
Sound simple? Obviously, it's not. But there's hope—the City of Jackson has had Mukesh and his team working for the past two years to grease those wheels. TeamJXN, Visit Jackson, Downtown Jackson Partners, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Art Center of Mississippi, Thalia Mara, the Community Foundation for Mississippi and others have taken an expressed interest in downtown redevelopment. All those groups have put money and/or human resources into encouraging engaging events and features downtown, where the Jackson Free Press sets up shop in the heart of state and local government.
As we go into 2020, I think two things could help downtown Jackson become more vibrant. First, interest and awareness in downtown need to be curated. Throwing regular. coordinated events, and advertising them widely, would definitely help.
Second, we as citizens and patrons need to participate in those events and make a point of heading downtown.
If you haven't spent some time in downtown Jackson this holiday season, get thee to Capitol, Congress, Lamar and Commerce. There are some great places to drop in for an IPA (or similar) on a chilly evening: Hal and Mal's, 4th Avenue, Parlor Market, the hotels' bars and restaurants, El Centro, the Iron Horse Grill, the Old Capitol Inn (check its hours).
The past few weeks have also given me occasion to meet with some remarkable old friends who are working to promote race equity in this country. The reason that Donna and I went to Columbia, S.C., was because we were invited to attend (and she was invited to speak at, alongside Rukia Lumumba) the Southern Equity Summit.
The Summit is organized by the South Carolina Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation, based out of the University of South Carolina and run by Dr. Jennifer Gunter. You may know her as Bingo Holman, whom we first met in Jackson when she was bar manager at Hal and Mal's. She was later the first assistant editor and writer for the Jackson Free Press in its early days.
Sitting with Bingo and Donna in the bar at the Graduate Hotel in Columbia (I was drinking an IPA) took me back to old times. But seeing her success now also served as a reminder of what one person can do when they decide just to do it—and not stop. Bingo switched careers, earned a doctorate, and has built an organization that just had a successful convening of people from around the Southeast (and beyond) to take on race equity.
Bingo modeled the South Carolina Collaborative somewhat on the work of Susan Glisson, who founded and directed the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation for its first decade or so. (The Winter Institute is going strong with offices in Jackson and a recent grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.)
As fate would have it, within 10 days, Donna and I were having dinner in Jackson with Susan Glisson and her partner, Chuck Tucker. Their work since leaving the Winter Institute has taken them all over the country helping groups address racial healing and other disparities.
Sitting with these old friends who are doing this work—as well as others in this space such as Von Gordon, Portia Espy, Jake McGraw and Dominic Deleo—reminds me that if we want progress in this state, we must intentionally pursue the solutions for Mississippi's race issues—politics, economics, justice and equity.
If you'd like to get your organization, business, church group or similar entity involved in structured dialogue on race, inequity or other disparities, email me and I'll get you in touch with the right people.
Which brings the two points together. This holiday season, while we enjoy friends and family and IPAs, remember that things only change when we show up and decide we're going to change them. Going into 2020, the Jackson Free Press will be working on more "solutions journalism" initiatives, where we seek not just to report on the problems in metro Jackson, but also to suss out the solutions—and to involve our readers in the process.
We hope you'll come along for that ride, as well as blazing your own path to help change Jackson, and Mississippi, for the better. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Bring on good cheer—preferably locally brewed!
Todd Stauffer is the co-founder, president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press. He is also the mastermind behind JFP
Digital Services (jfpdigitalservices.com). Email him at [email protected].