By Barbara Harrington
ABERDEEN – The goal of Mission Mississippi is “To encourage and demonstrate unity in the body of Christ across racial and denominational lines.”
Neddie Winters, newly appointed president of Mission Mississippi, spoke at last week’s meeting of the Aberdeen Civitan Club. Members of the club in attendance were interested in getting a program started in Aberdeen. The organization started, Winters said, in Jackson when a group of Christian businessmen, all white, wanted to host a citywide crusade. Traditionally, though, black people go to events held by black people, and vice versa. This was not what they were wanting.
Intentionality is a focus of Mission Mississippi.
“If race relations are going to change in Mississippi, we’ve got to be very intentional about it,” he said. “Our goal is to get people to talk to each other. Our motto is changing Mississippi one relationship at a time.”
When groups get started, Winters said they are given three topics to discuss that center around what has changed over the years in race relations, what still needs to be changed and what each individual can do to facilitate change. People need to listen and learn, he said, not rebut, react or respond. There should be no agenda at these meetings, he said, other than getting to know each other. Creating a “safe” environment where people can talk about issues is one of the basics of Mission Mississippi. Sometimes these dialogues are uncomfortable. He said work is being done in colleges and high schools, where the younger generation gets “right to the issues.”
Sometimes, he said, if people can’t get along, communities dry up. He said opportunities have changed over the years, but race relations have not, and people feel they have to “protect their own,” because integration has not really worked.
Winters said the initial step in starting a Mission Mississippi group is to put together a steering committee.
“I would support this group as the beginning of the committee,” he said. “We’re not here to solve your issues, but to facilitate discussion so you can solve your own issues.”
Successful relationships require three things, according to Mission Mississippi. These are quality time, personal initiative and honest exchange.
Honest exchange was a subject Marsha Ballard brought up. She feels the facts of an issue should speak for themselves, without race getting in the way, and that people should be able to express their opinions of an issue without being afraid it will be found offensive because it might involve a person of another race. Winters said this goes back to relationship and trust.
“You’re right,” he said. “You ought to be able to articulate your opinion about an issue without it being a racial issue. There’s only one thing that will solve most of that. We’ve got to trust each other.”