By Mike Espy
I am a lifelong Mississippian. I remember Jim Crow, “colored” and “white” water fountains, and my mother’s inability to try on a dress in a store because no white woman would buy it if she put it back.
I remember my father’s funeral home, where the funeral director retrieved the body of Emmett Till — lynched here in Mississippi — and helped ship him home to his family in Chicago.
I remember integrating the all-white Yazoo City High School after my Black school closed its doors. Teachers sprayed me with fire extinguishers, and I carried a stick to fend off attacks from fellow students
All of those memories made me more determined to fight for my state, and to work with others to bring progress to Mississippi — both as a public official and as a private citizen.
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I reached across the aisle to write an economic development bill that addressed poverty in an area stretching from the Mississippi Delta northward all along the Mississippi River — where Americans suffered from low wages, high unemployment, generational poverty, and low educational attainment. President Reagan signed that bill into law.
As Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton, I led the effort to bring running water to every American home. Within a year, I held a little Black girl in my arms in a country shack outside Fayette, Mississippi, and watched the look on her face as she turned on a faucet in her home for the first time in her — or her grandmother’s — life.
Over the last 20 years, I helped lead a nonprofit that helps people in underserved rural areas buy homes and obtain business loans — and build badly needed banks, grocery stores and hospitals.
It is true that Mississippi is changing, but so much more remains to be done. Our state remains last in health outcomes, last in educational attainment, and last in job opportunities.
But I believe we can turn the page by working together. And that’s why I am running for U.S. Senate.
I am running because I want all Mississippians to have access to affordable health care. Today nearly 400,000 Mississippians are uninsured and many more suffer from unaffordable prescription drugs, surprise billing, and sky-high premiums. Over the last decade, five rural hospitals have closed in our state and hundreds of beds have been lost.
I am running to ensure all Mississippians have access to reliable high speed internet. I want them to be able to learn, teach and work from home during the pandemic and beyond. Fewer than one-third of Mississippians have access today.
I am running to reverse the brain drain in Mississippi, to close the income gap between our state and the rest of the nation, and to reverse the flight of our young professionals to other states in search of higher pay and better career opportunities.
We need to move Mississippi forward. But it has become clear over the past two years that my opponent — Sen. Hyde-Smith — is holding Mississippi back. With her jokes about public hangings, glorification of confederate symbols, and failure to support changing our state flag, Hyde-Smith shows she loves the Mississippi of the past.
She refuses to support the changes around us — like the mosaic of fearless young Mississippians who I joined in a peaceful march in our streets a few weeks ago.
At that march, I saw a sign of a young woman. And the sign was very interesting to me, because it was a quote from Angela Davis, which was a different take on the Serenity Prayer. You remember the Serenity Prayer?
“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Well hers said, “I am not here to accept the things I cannot change. I’m here to change the things that I cannot accept.”
And that is why I am running today. I believe we’re here to change the things that we cannot accept. And I cannot accept not moving forward.
It is time for Mississippi to turn the page on its history of being last in the country — last in health outcomes, last in education attainment and last in job opportunities.
We must write a new chapter for Mississippi, one that takes advantage of the full potential of our citizens — generous, hard-working and industrious people who want a better Mississippi for all Mississippians.
My aim is to be the best U.S. Senator Mississippi has ever elected. I will be an independent voice, and I will work across the aisle — as I always have — to improve the lives of all Mississippians. And we will get there by building the broadest, deepest, most diverse coalition of voters this state has ever seen.
So join us. And our progress will continue.