Hope in Mississippi

Hope in Mississippi

June 10, 2015 | Nsombi Lambright, One Voice

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Mississippi Goddam. I grew up hearing this reference to a Nina Simone song as a description of the state in which I was born. Sadly, those two words ring true in many ways. We are at the bottom of the list for education and economic growth, while at the top of the list in a laundry list of health disparities: heart disease, sexually transmitted infections, infant mortality, and more. We also compete for the number two and three positions for the number of people that we incarcerate. It’s very difficult to be positive and hopeful given those stats; however, some recent events have made me very proud as a 5th generation Mississippian.  

In March, a sheriff’s deputy in Bolivar County, Mississippi, was indicted on manslaughter charges after he shot and killed unarmed Willie Bingham in the back as he ran. This is significant considering the current national climate of black lives not mattering much to many. In another victorious moment, seven white teenagers involved in the 2012 death of a black man, James Craig Anderson, were prosecuted and sentenced on federal hate crime charges. James was run over by the teens, who made a sport of leaving their home in Rankin County, MS, and traveling to “Jafrica,” a nickname given to the mostly black Jackson, MS, and targeting vulnerable African Americans to taunt and beat. In both of these cases, Hinds County’s African American District Attorney, Robert Smith led a comprehensive investigation that led to prosecution. Robert Smith is one of a handful of accountable, progressive leaders in Mississippi. When a man was found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, MS, the African American sheriff, who is a former NAACP branch president, immediately called the FBI to lead the investigation.  

Mississippi boasts one of the largest numbers of African American elected officials at the local and state levels—there are hope and opportunity here. Mississippi’s African American population is 37% and in cities like Jackson, over 70% of the population is African American. In most places, the problem is not how to get power; it is what to do with the power we now have.   

The needs and the hope in Mississippi are why I work with One Voice. One Voice formed in 2006 in response to housing, education, and related policy advocacy needs facing Mississippi’s historically disadvantaged communities in the wake of the 2005 hurricanes. One Voice is a regional organization that seeks to impact the formation of public policy by building grassroots leadership and by serving as a think tank for social justice issues that impact disenfranchised communities.   

I am a proud fifth-generation Mississippian who will probably die here. I am committed to making this state better for my son and future generations. If you’re looking for fertile ground for growth and opportunity, Mississippi is your state. 

Nsombi Lambright is the director of programs/development at One Voice. In that position, she is responsible for grassroots fundraising and program coordination at One Voice. Working closely with the MS State Conference NAACP, Nsombi coordinates work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, to reduce the mass incarceration of people of color and coordinates the organization’s election protection work. Prior to joining the One Voice staff, Nsombi spent eight years as executive director of the ACLU of MS. Nsombi sits on the boards of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative.