Within the first few days of the conference, I met a bus driver by the name of Brother Allen Muhammad. Striking up a conversation with this man led to one of the most eye opening portions of my trip. After explaining a little bit about my project, he and his colleague offered to give me a tour of Western Jackson; one of the more dilapidated areas in Jackson, Mississippi. Ironically, West Jackson borders the wealthy college town of Jackson State University. So when we passed from one area to the next, the contrast was that much more shocking. Derelict buildings stood next to shack shops and garbage littered the streets. And as we drove further they explained that crime, drug use, and prostitution were just a few repercussions of this poverty stricken area.
During the drive, Allen and his friend Abram Muhammad shared several stories. They explained to me that individuals from the more affluent neighborhoods regularly drive down to west Jackson in order to dump their garbage. At first I was a bit skeptical until he drove me past a common dumping area. A huge motorboat and other, once expensive items were thrown everywhere. “Now where could you see someone from this area affording that?” Abram explained to further prove his point. However the most disturbing thing I witnessed that day occurred when Abram showed me his daughter’s high school.
Jim Hill High School is one of the best high schools in Jackson. They are known for providing students with wonderful college opportunities after graduating. However when we drove past Jim Hill, my jaw nearly hit the ground. A graveyard the size of half a football field flanked the entrance of the school. There was even a broken pavement pathway leading through the graveyard and up to the school. Keep in mind that this one of the best high schools in the area.Here students are not just faced with the pressure of academic success, but they are literally faced with the idea of mortality every single day on their way to school. I could hardly believe it. But for many students of West Jackson this is just another aspect of daily life. After all crime and gun violence are all too common in this neighborhood.
The meaning of this article is not to pity the people of Jackson, or the condition that they live in. After all it takes a strong and tenacious people to live in such rough conditions and be as kind and hospitable as the majority were. Rather this is meant to express the idea that injustice is very real. Seeing this side of Mississippi not only shook me, but it opened my eyes and broke my heart. The reality is that there is a HUGE struggle and amount of social poverty in Jackson. And this all stems from factors that I probably still don’t even fully understand. But now that the problem is apparent, the question becomes: what can be done to help heal this part of Mississippi?
Video by Andrea Freeman