History, Transition, and Introduction of New ED Jessica Carter

One of the greatest challenges of my life has been serving as the founding Executive Director of Ours To Change Mississippi. Having taught in classrooms for thirty-two years, I saw what the underfunding of our public schools meant to students.  We simply did not have the resources to provide our children with a first-rate public school experience…and my heart ached. 

In 2015, over 200,000 Mississippi citizens signed a petition to change our constitution to ensure that all schools offered at least a basic education to all. That petition became Initiative 42. Learn more here. 

We fought legislative trickery and saw our citizens misled at the ballot box by many of the legislators who represented them. I was so disheartened when a “fake” Initiative 42A was placed on the ballot with the sole purpose of confusing the electorate. 

Despite that fact, the real Initiative (42) overwhelmingly defeated the legislative sham initiative (42A) but ultimately barely lost because of another legislative hurdle. I was devastated by that narrow loss and stunned by the cynical trickery that was involved. Should we all just quit, give up, and be satisfied with being dead-last in our country on educational achievement? 

Looking at the election returns, we saw that millennial-age adults overwhelmingly wanted better schools as a quality of life issue. But their voting numbers were just too low. Hence, on November 11, 2017, Ours To Change Mississippi was founded to engage young voters and other school allies to become a vital force in the future of Mississippi policy. 

At our first convening, there was magic in the air as young people talked about their future.  They realized, however, that only twenty percent of their age group voted in the Initiative 42 election.  If voter turnout had been three percent higher, every school in Mississippi would be funded. Older voters turned out at a sixty percent or greater rate. Younger voters, the largest number of voters, had essentially given the discussion of their future away to a much older generation by not voting. 

Ours To Change Mississippi has evolved into a wonderful collection of young and young-at-heart voters who want us to stop dividing ourselves and focus on what it takes to lift every Mississippian up.  We welcome our diversity as a strength. All are welcome at Ours To Change, and they have come. 

The startup of any organization is a messy business with starts and stops.  This was no exception. As we go forward, I relish the spirited debates about how to achieve our lofty goals.  I have learned and I have grown with many of you since our founding. 

Our focus is steady.  It has been my joy to be your first Executive Director, and I will continue to be a part of this committed group of individuals. New leadership brings a new dynamic—and remember, it is still Ours To Change our beloved Mississippi. 

Six months ago we began the nationwide search for a multifaceted leader who could carry OTC to a new level.  We were looking for someone with a strong academic record, a history organizing others toward a common goal, a millennial with a vision of what our state could be, someone who shared the basic values of OTC and, most important, someone who understood the very unique and rich diversity of Mississippi’s citizens.  Well, we found her—right here at home! 

Please welcome Jessica Carter as the new Executive Director of Ours To Change Mississippi. Jessica grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and graduated from the Mississippi School of Math and Science in Columbus.  From Neshoba County, Mississippi, she journeyed to Ithaca, New York, where she enrolled at Cornell University, graduating in 2009. Her education continued when she received a law degree from Louisiana State University. 

Jessica has worked in advocacy, law, and politics across the United States and in Mississippi….all a training ground for her new role in leading a major transformation within this state. 

What is most important, however, is Jessica’s heart and her values.  As one can well imagine, with her academic pedigree and job experience, she was sought after to take high-profile jobs across this nation.  So why Mississippi? It is her calling to come back home, to do the transformative work and make the words “Ours To Change Mississippi” a reflection of her core beliefs.  I am convinced she will be a catalyst to make our state a more educated, humane, just, and inclusive society for everyone. We are with you, Jessica. 

Terry Hunt