Pascagoula community using conversation to ease racial tension

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The Jackson County Civic Action Center filled with friendly conversation Saturday morning, but the topic was no laughing matter.

"They were middle school kids," Samuel Mitchell remembered. "And we went to this white neighborhood, these white guys jumped on those students.  And we had to fight just to get to school."

Two races were talking openly about things that might normally be left behind closed doors. It was Pascagoula's Day of Dialogue, led by Mission Mississippi. Mission Mississippi is a Christian-based group that works to break through the racial barriers they say still exist.

"We're trying to get two races to have a conversation," said Mission Mississippi's Dan Hall.  "Conversations they are having about each other that they need to have with each other."

Everyone of every color, had a story about racism, whether they be memories from Mississippi's past or more recent encounters.

"It's your story," Hall told the crowd.  "And own your story, but don't try to own anyone else's."

Mission Mississippi hosts dialogues like this one across the state to help heal the racial divide, one conversation at a time.

"Every once in a while I'd hear someone say 'what Mississippi did she grow up in?'" said Hall.  "And I wanted to say 'same Mississippi you grew up in.'"

Hall said that equality under the law isn't enough to reduce racial tension.  He said that now is the time to start building relationships between races.  Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters said the dialogues help people of different colors understand each other's perspectives.

"These kinds of dialogues really get us to the point of really knowing each other," said Winters.  "We do a lot of things together- black and white folks do. But when it's over with, we really don't know each other any better than when we started those things."

They hope this dialogue will build understanding and respect across racial lines.

"We believe that relationships will trump all other issues once relationships are there," Winters said.  "It doesn't matter if you're black or white. It's a matter of whether or not I trust you."

Organizers hope the dialogues will continue outside Mission Mississippi's planned events, and set the stage for a more unified tomorrow.