Seems to Me: Scott Colom

To Stay or Not to Stay

Story Scott Colom | Photograph Birney Imes

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

I recently had lunch with a good friend from college. Veronica Elbashab was born and raised in Hattiesburg and we went to school together at Millsaps. After college, she stayed in Jackson and studied to be a dentist at University Medical Center. By then, she was exhausted with Mississippi and often talked about leaving. After so many years here she wanted to experience life in a bigger city, so I wasn’t surprised when she moved to Charlotte, N.C., with her husband.

She was back in Mississippi to visit friends and family and to show off her newborn. Over the course of lunch, she couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved Charlotte. She bragged about the interesting people she’d met and the friends she’d made. She loved the city so much she moved her mother and brother there to live with her. She, like many of my friends, had left Mississippi behind. 

Inevitably, the question of whether I intend to stay in Mississippi came up. Unlike Veronica, I had taught overseas for a year after college and had lived outside the state. I even pretend to have lived the “big city life” because I worked in D.C. for a summer. Like most former expatriates, I initially moved home to be close to my parents. Since coming back, though, I’ve developed another reason — I realized that I want to be a part of the next chapter in my state’s history.

There’s nothing like being from Mississippi. No place represents the history of race in America more, so no matter where you go in the world, no matter how far away or for how long, Mississippi follows you. It catches a stranger’s attention. It intrigues people. It’s the fact most people remember about you.

A lot of people view this as a burden, but it’s also a unique opportunity. In the coming decades, Mississippi has the chance to create a new history. Everywhere, new generations of Mississippians, along with newcomers, are working to make sure the next chapter in our state’s history is about overcoming our obstacles, about creating a positive perception, and about finally reaching our potential. This progress may be hard to see through the fog of sensational national news or with the distraction of the latest pointless political pandering, but it’s there; it’s happening.      

Consequently, many Mississippians face a choice similar to Veronica’s and mine. The dilemma of staying or going is a regular topic among my friends. Even the ones who’ve left, determined never to move back, acknowledge the special role Mississippi will always play in their lives; and they care about its future. On the other hand, however, a lot of the ones still living here ponder life in another state, in a bigger city. Many aren’t quite decided, yet. 

Many will stay because of the proximity to family. Charlotte has almost 650,000 more people than Columbus, but it doesn’t have the people closest to me, the people I love the most. I hope more people will recognize the potential here. I hope more will see those quietly working to make a positive difference. I hope more will stay or return to become a part of that difference. I even hope, one day, despite the amazing wonderfulness of Charlotte, Veronica and her entire family will pack right on up and move back to Mississippi. While far-fetched, underneath it all, I could sense Veronica missed Mississippi. And, therein lies a chance.