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PHIL HARDWICK: When will Mississippi change its culture?


Phil Hardwick


“Where are you going?” yelled the fisherman still in the boat. “We have to save these children?”

“I’m going upstream, and find out who’s throwing these babies in the water,” he replied.

Perhaps it is time to talk about something that we in Mississippi do not want to discuss publicly, but which we lament privately. And that is our culture, more specifically the things that we have come to accept as being socially acceptable or ways of life. For example, there was a time when a female student who got pregnant had to leave school. Today there are schools in Mississippi that provide day care for their students who bring their children to school. Now that is a cultural change.

So what is culture anyway? It is simply the accepted way of doing things in a society. It is also something that is constantly changing.

Society is changing really fast. Marriage and religion illustrate this change. For example, the number of marriages peaked in Mississippi in 1956 at 66,223, then fell drastically during the “60’s. Marriages totaled 23,476 in 1966, then really begin dropping in the 2000’s. In 2011 there were only 14,515 marriages in Mississippi. Divorces as a percent of marriages went from 27 percent in 1966 to 83 percent. Although Mississippi is still considered the buckle of the Bible Belt, attitudes and issues are changing. Gay marriage, women clergy and growth of megachurches are just a few of the changes.

Unfortunately, Mississippi does not seem to be changing fast enough to make real progress. As we are reminded often, we continue to stay on the top of the worst lists. Yes, progress is being made in some areas. For example, The prevalence of current cigarette use in middle and high school significantly decreased in the period 2000-2012. Other areas are not showing much improvement. In 2012, Mississippi had the highest rate of gonorrhea chlamydia infections, the second highest rate of Early Latent Syphilis infections and the 10th highest rate of HIV diagnosis in the country.

Some would point to the above metaphor about the fishermen in the boat to say that our real problem is that we do not want to address the real problem, i.e. couples bringing children into the world who are not ready to be parents. They have a lot of evidence to support their case. Of the 4,868 teenage births in 2012 in Mississippi, 4,392 were illegitimate births, according to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health. That makes it extremely difficult, especially when added to the fact that the best predictors of success in school are parental involvement, parental income and parents educational level. Ask any educator about the readiness of their students when they come to school.

Speaking of education culture in Mississippi, an education official said that many children drop out of school during the third grade, but they do not leave until after after the seventh grade grade. This official followed that up by saying that many teachers have retired, but they just have not left yet.

Mississippi is a collection of subcultures. While that can be one of the state’s strengths it can also be something that divides us. Some point to the age differences in our population to explain cultural divide. Those who are over 60 years of age (18.7 percent of Mississippians) often do not relate to those under 34 years of age (28 percent of the state). For example, many white seniors citizens did not understand why the key to the capital city of Mississippi was presented to T.I. Harris, a highly successful rapper who was in town appearing at schools and gatherings giving presentations on positive living. “The City of Jackson, in partnership with the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office, has committed to support T.I.’s message not only to raise awareness about safe living and productivity, but through a collective mission to eliminate crime in our communities.” Harris’ accomplishments are extremely impressive. If music, television, movies and even a novel are indicators of success he certainly fits the bill. But then the cultural divide kicks in when one reads the lyrics of some of his music. Below is a partial verse from “About the Money,” off his latest and bestselling album, “Paperwork.”

If it ain’t about the money

Don’t be blowin’ me up, n**** I ain’t gettin’ up

If it ain’t about the money

Ain’t no use in you ringin’ my line, stop wastin’ my time

If it ain’t about the money

Nah I can’t even hear what you say, I ain’t finna do s***

If it ain’t about the money

B***h, you can miss me with it, b***h n**** miss me with it

Socially acceptable?

What I do know is this: Mississippi is perfectly structured for the outcomes it is getting.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and CEO of The Hardwick Company, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.


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