Our New Executive Director Shares Her Vision

March 20, 2019

Please join us in welcoming our new Executive Director, Jessica L. Carter. Her story and experience make her the ideal person to lead us into the next phase of our work. Read on for an introduction from Jessica and her vision for Ours To Change.

“That’s too ambitious.” That’s the response I heard from my second-grade teacher when I shared that I wanted to attend an Ivy League university then go on to law school. This was the first time I chose to share my dreams of leaving Mississippi – at seven years old. I had big dreams of traveling and living in New York, California, or some other city I saw on television, thinking it was the only way I would be successful – to leave home behind. 

Fast forward twenty years and I’ve accomplished an Ivy League education at Cornell University, and law degree at Louisiana State University (LSU), but realized what I really wanted was to come home to create change. The place I have always called home is Mississippi. While I was in school, everyone asked where I would end up – expecting me to say New York, D.C., or California, and I always said “home.”

It wasn’t easy, though; after college each position I found was several states away, then after law school I was determined to get home no matter what. I’ve organized and advocated for underrepresented communities, workers, and youth – and one day realized my skills and experiences would best serve the place that raised me. It’s time for us to have bigger dreams for this place – to believe in a Mississippi that gives every child a chance to achieve their dreams.

My biggest excitement comes from continuing to hold the torch for those that came before me engaging Mississippi residents in how decisions are made at the State Capitol, especially Fannie Lou Hamer, my third cousin. As a child I was told stories of the great things she did leading, advocating, and organizing and I hope I’m making her proud.

During my public school education, I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged and supported my dreams by providing a successful learning environment. One of them, Mrs. Games, taught me Algebra II when I was a freshman in a class full of seniors. Math was my least favorite subject, and after I received the first progress report I was not happy with my grade and didn’t think I understood the subject. After that, Mrs. Games met me before school at 7:30am and stayed after class sometimes, too. When the semester finished, I was excited to receive an award for having one of two highest averages for the year in Algebra II. I remember that experience because it taught me to love math, and because Mrs. Games was just as committed to teaching as I was to learning. This kind of support and excitement for learning are what all Mississippi students should experience as a part of their public education.

My vision for Ours To Change includes three main themes:

1) Growth.

Our team presence will grow to cover the entire state. So much happens here that everyone should be aware of what’s going on from North Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. We want to keep everyone informed and engaged – why fully funding public education matters to you, and what’s happening at the state capitol, no matter where you live. We will be intentionally asking more young folks, parents of public school kids, and African American folks in all corners of our state to engage with us to fight for our kids and schools. 

 2) Connection.

Growing up, I witnessed family and friends become frustrated when candidates canvassed our neighborhoods, only connecting to voters around election time. Ours To Change will be a catalyst for residents to become involved in holding our elected officials accountable, and making sure they represent the most pressing issues in our everyday lives. The biggest issue facing our state right now is public education, and investing in this chronically underfunded system is a foundational necessity for Mississippi.

3) Together.

Finally, we will do this together…”Ours To Change” means it is truly up to us.  We are committed to moving Mississippi forward by providing all students with a quality public education. By listening, engaging, and taking organized action with each other we can, and will, make Mississippi’s public education system the best it can be! Not one more seven-year-old needs to hear “that’s too ambitious” when voicing their dreams. We know there are many Mrs. Games in the state – and they need our support in order to help Mississippi’s children thrive.

Finally, thank you to our Founding Executive Director, Terry Hunt, for her foundational work on Ours To Change. This work is critical.  Our diverse student population is black, white, Choctaw Indian, and has rapidly growing populations of Hispanic, and Asian children.  It is truly visionary to recognize that Mississippi’s children need all of us – regardless of age, race, ethnicity or political persuasion – to stand up for them and provide quality public education in every community in this great state. As we move forward, we do so in appreciation of Terry and the entire Ours To Change team that came before us.

Jessica L. Carter
Executive Director
Ours to Change

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