Diversity makes good business and good sense. With companies like Toyota and Nissan coming into our state making major investments and bringing with them other companies which value the importance of inclusiveness, openness and the concept of embracing cultural, racial, socioeconomic and gender differences, it is important that we Mississippians send the correct message to those coming into our state that we, too, value diversity. That’s where the Mississippi Trailblazers Awards Ceremony and Black Tie Gala has tried to do its part.
Since 2003, a group of North Mississippians have united under the banner of the Mississippi Trailblazers organization and has done something few other organizations or individuals in Mississippi have done: recognize and celebrate diversity.
At its simplest, “diversity” has two meanings. First, it means inclusion. Second, it means differences. For those who make up the Mississippi Trailblazers organization, diversity means, making sure that people of different races, cultures, genders, socioeconomic status, political affiliations, and philosophical persuasions are recognized for their personal and professional endeavors, despite their differences.
Unfortunately, for far too many of us, diversity only pertains to race, and even in that regard some have a hard time accepting or embracing others of different races and ethnic groups. Too many will only associate and assimilate with those of their own race, excluding from their lives the blessings and benefits of getting to know people who don’t look like or live like them.
But if we would only recognize that diversity is a good thing, and come to the reckoning that we all should not be the same, we would understand that – in the final analysis – we have more in common that we have differences: the desires for economic prosperity, educational excellence, safe communities and good, efficient government.
That’s why the motto of the Mississippi Trailblazers is “Diversity is the Strength of Mississippi,” because it is in recognizing our many differences that has made us move forward as one people.
Consider some of our past and present Mississippi Trailblazers and the contributions they have made to diversity:
n Federal District Judge Sharion Aycock from Fulton, the first female federal judge in Mississippi, a major stride for a female in a male-dominated judiciary.
n Tupelo businessman V.M. Cleveland, who has contributed countless amounts of his personal resources to help those who are less fortunate and far less resourceful.
n 2011 Mississippi Trailblazer of the Year Blake Wilson, who is president of the Mississippi Economic Council. Wilson has successfully facilitated the convergence of Mississippi’s business dollars with support of public education.
n 2011 Mississippi Trailblazer Legacy Award recipient Constance Slaughter Harvey from Morton, who was the first black woman, and only the second African-American in the history of the institution, to graduate from the University of Mississippi Law School. Attorney Harvey went on to become the first female and first African-American to serve as an Assistant Secretary of State of Mississippi.
n Former Mississippi Trailblazer of the Year, Dr. Dolphus Weary of Mission Mississippi, who has crusaded for racial reconciliation, not through politics or social advocacy, but through the body of Christ.
n 2005 Mississippi Trailblazers Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and Tupelo businessman Jack Reed and his son, 2011 Tupelo Trailblazer, Jack Reed Jr. Both men have used their success in business to affect public policy.
n And then there is Kilmichael’s Country Doctor of the Year, Dr. Katrina Poe; Mississippi National Guard’s first black general, Brig. Gen. Augustus Collins, who led the 155th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq; and Blue Mountain College’s retiring president, Dr. Bettye Coward, the first woman to hold that post in the colleges’s history.
n All of these individuals represent the many faces, shades and backgrounds of Mississippi’s diversity. On Saturday evening, May 14, The Mississippi Trailblazers hold the 9th annual Mississippi Trailblazers Awards Ceremony and Black Tie Gala at the Bancorpsouth Conference Center.
This is more than just a “feel good” event. It is an event where people from all walks of life, all social statuses, and all sorts of different backgrounds come together to honor fellow Mississippians. And it is a testament that there are Mississippians who believe that everybody, has something to bring to the table to help move our state forward … together … despite our differences.
James Hull, an award-winning journalist and political consultant, is president of Mississippi Trailblazers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.