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When You’re a 20-Something in Mississippi, Staying Means Watching Friends Leave

Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and should not be assumed to reflect the views of Deep South Voice or its affiliates.
Blake Case

I had an awesome Fourth of July holiday with my family. We spent some quality time together loving on each other and reflecting on America. I had an awesome weekend, but there were a lot of people missing. The Fourth is like so many other holidays for me. My phone lights up throughout the day with text messages and calls and social media alerts.

It’s my friends! We’re communicating over digital waves because they reside in places all over the country — but not so much here — not so much in Mississippi, where we all grew up.

They’re in California and Baltimore and Manhattan and Atlanta and Nashville and D.C. and Charlotte. They had their own Fourth celebrations and parties with all the familiar summer staples. They BBQ’d and swam and played in the yard. But they’re gone from here.

The 20-somethings that are left in Mississippi can all tell this same story. Many of us have watched year-after-year as our childhood and college friends packed up and moved away from this state. Their reasons why – for the most part – sound chillingly similar: not enough job opportunities, oppressive political and cultural institutions, abhorrent race relations, disdain for the LGBT community, and a neglected public school system. Which factor was the ‘last straw’ for each of them is hard to say, but one thing is certain — so many of them are just gone.

I miss them like hell.

Some of us who are left have snagged some job that barely gets us by, and for many of us leaving our families behind is neither a desired nor financially possible option. But still we think and ponder. We do job searches in New York and L.A. and Boston, because we know that some anti-LGBT bill, or some absurd comment from an elected official, or another funding cut to any number of our public agencies is right around the corner. We know that other cities and states have their own public issues and problems, but still — it’s not this placethis place that just won’t change a lick.

We’ve heard the numbers and the data, but I wanted to make sure that you hear about the phone calls and text messages on holidays, too. Because those numbers represent real people. They represent too many of my dear friends. And I miss them like hell.

I hope Mississippi can bring them back home, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Editor’s Note: A review of Census data at reported that Mississippi leads every state in the U.S. in the number of millennials leaving, having lost 3.9% of its millennial population since 2010.

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