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State Image: Reality is everyone’s duty

The Clarion-Ledger
Jackson, MS – As the front of the Perspective section today reflects, the state’s image is a matter of perception.
For some, such as New York U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel believed, Mississippi might be the last place on Earth they might want to live, or believe that others would want to live.
Yet, the list of famous, illustrious Mississippians in arts, letters, sports, virtually every category of achievement is legendary. A few would be: Oprah Winfrey, Faith Hill, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Sela Ward, William Faulkner, John Grisham, Walter Payton, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams . . . the list is virtually endless.
As far as individual achievement, each of us has a part to play – not only the Oprahs who have succeeded in leaving the state, but those who have returned, and those who stayed.
But individual achievement can only go so far in projecting an image.
As today’s “Sunday Morning With” feature details, image is based on promotion, as well. Rick Looser, president and chief operating officer of The Cirlot Agency, has launched a campaign: Mississippi, Believe It!™
Looser doesn’t pull any punches about the state’s segregationist past, or that national studies consistently put it near the bottom in education and near the top in poverty and obesity.
But through a Web site, posters, T-shirts and other merchandise, the campaign seeks to show a positive side.
As Looser tells The Clarion-Ledger, his campaign has garnered more than $15 million in media coverage, and found its way into school lesson plans – from kindergarten through college.
He also offers some good advice for public policymakers:

  • Mississippi can’t sit idly by and let others define who we are. We have to be aggressive in promoting ourselves. We must continue to break down old stereotypes, while embracing our heritage. For example, as the birthplace of the blues, Mississippi should be the No. 1 tourist destination in the world for fans to enjoy blues music.
  • Mississippi must continue to address those things that make us first on every bad list and last on every good list. Education, health care and other quality-of-life issues have to take priority.
  • Most tourism ads fall into a trap of trying to show a little bit of everything instead of honing in on one idea. The ads are a shotgun approach instead of a rifle. The shotgun approach is easier to get a large committee to approve; the rifle approach actually works.

Mississippi cannot change the past, but it can affect how the present has changed from the past, giving an idea of what the future holds.
In this vein, it’s noteworthy this week that The Clarion-Ledger also has launched a series “Forgotten Killings: The 1964 Slayings of Two Black Teens,” which shows that old civil rights cases can remain forgotten for decades, but be resurrected.
On Wednesday, James Ford Seale, 71, was arrested and charged with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He pleaded not guilty Thursday. His trial is set for April 2.
This marks the 28th arrest of a “forgotten” U.S. civil rights case since Byron De La Beckwith’s in 1990 for the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers.
Mississippi is the leader in prosecuting these old cases, which is a reality that’s good for the state’s image, too.