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The six starting members of Mississippi Free Press
The six-member startup team members of the Mississippi Free Press are all Mississippi natives, and we're spread across the state. Our goal is to cover every part of Mississippi with solutions-based journalism in deep, contextual ways the state has never seen. We believe strongly that Mississippi's brightest days for all of its people are ahead of us.

Of Truth and Transformation: Mississippi Is Our Home, and We Are Fighting For It

On Thanksgiving morning, I propped up to read in bed and to apparently keep my crazy bobtail cat Bobby from eating my feet. Gratefulness is a vital part of my life, especially since my breast-cancer surgery two years ago, and my mind naturally wandered over the year 2020 as I sipped my coffee thinking about what I am thankful for despite difficult times.

It’s been a hard year in nearly every way with so much loss, much of it preventable, and a continual state of PTSD for so many Americans as we look at the news and the COVID-19 numbers every morning, hoping it’s at least better than the day before. It’s also been a remarkable year of progress within the pain—with people banding together to save our democracy, face our history, take on systemic racism and violent policing head-on and to even change the Mississippi flag. Like you, probably, I did not have all this on my 2020 Bingo card. But as Kimberly Griffin and I wrote for the Guardian, changing the flag was only a first step. 

MFP co-founders Kimberly Griffin and Donna Ladd assembled a brilliant board of directors from across Mississippi who are dedicated to finding and reporting solutions for the state’s future as well as the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Even, or maybe especially, within communities who have suffered the most from COVID-19—and with essential and perpetually strong Black women at the forefront—we have seen the kinds of resilience and determination we may never have thought possible during a pandemic most of us never imagined living through.

I’ve seen both pain and determination up close in family, friends and colleagues close to me from the day we all figured out that we had to stay home to help stop the spread of this ugly virus even if others refused to—to fight for our neighbors’ lives even if they wouldn’t do that for others. The last week symbolizes that determination as so many of us (and I suspect most reading this) had a different kind of Thanksgiving far from loved ones with many frantically dialing the Butterball hotline to cook your first turkey. 

Focused on Transformation

But what I’m thinking of most this holiday season is what so many of us together have done out of necessity: We’re focused on transformation and building amid a pandemic. Most of you know by now that Kimberly and I started planning the nonprofit Mississippi Free Press in 2019 to report not just problems, but solutions to them. Because we believe Mississippi’s best days are ahead of us, we wanted to report far beyond the typical partisan divide and problems-only journalism that frames much media coverage. We already had former Jackson Free Press super reporter Ashton Pittman lined up as our first reporter, but we didn’t even have a website yet when quarantine began.

You may not know that when we all decided to stay home to help flatten the curve starting March 12, we accelerated the MFP launch. We were desperate to help respond to this pandemic however we could, especially on the solutions and safety front. Ashton and I were texting about what to do by the second day of quarantine, and his husband Liam stepped up to do an infographic tracking the COVID-19 numbers that’s been on the front page of the MFP since then, updating daily. Ashton said he’d start reporting right away, and we threw together a starter website basically overnight.

Within days, Ashton did his now-famous comparison of the patchwork way Mississippi mayors were left to deal with COVID regulations around the state that went viral on a Saturday night, creating a statewide urgent dialogue (that was written about later in The New Yorker and other outlets). The MFP was immediately at the center of the conversation about COVID-19 safety, and we’ve never left that space, as you might’ve seen with Ashton’s story days ago on state health experts begging for people to stay home today, and with a headline used coast-to-coast including by the New Jersey governor to try to keep families safe during the holidays.

Reporter Ashton Pittman and his husband Liam Pittman, who creates infographics for the Mississippi Free Press. Courtesy Pittmans

That’s how the Mississippi Free Press was born—out of necessity and deep love for our home state. Our start-up team members—Kimberly, Ashton, Aliyah, Cristen, Azia and I—were all born here, and we are here now because we believe we can build a better Mississippi if we can all put our heads together to find and report solutions so Mississippians can implement them. Plus, we can help different parts of the state share what’s working and lessons they’ve learned, as well as investigate supposed solutions that aren’t working and why. Our mission is to build up a stellar team to produce real, rigorous solutions journalism at its best.

We all have to believe in our complicated state’s potential—and at the Mississippi Free Press we all do.

So do you. Some of you, including our remarkable board members, took an early leap of faith to support the Mississippi Free Press’ sudden emergence statewide here. Others of you saw the quality and depth of the work we produced, our focus on systemic problems and those tackling them across the state, our fearless inclusion of difficult history and context inside our investigations, and our journalism’s immediate impact and attention. You then joined the MFP solutions train in so many ways: story tips, sharing our stories in your networks, messages that keep us going daily—and with your donations.

We are so, so grateful for your trust in our vision for Mississippi and our abilities to take journalism to another level in our home state. You share the transformative vision for our state, which can be a model for other states if we stay the course.

The truth is that my MFP partner Kimberly Griffin and I have done exactly that with the Jackson Free Press for a combined 30 years between us. We are unusual in Mississippi as women journalism innovators, leaders and visionaries when it comes to Mississippi’s potential, but it is our home, and we will fight for it. 

The Vision to Believe that Solutions Are Possible in Mississippi

So many of you have shown that you will fight for our state, too, and increasingly foundations and organizations are lining up to support our work, such as the ongoing Mississippi Trusted Elections Project. You’ve stepped up precisely because so many of you have the vision to believe solutions are possible here once we investigate the causes and their legacies and start listening to our state’s own people’s ideas and voices through both print and now-virtual solutions circles.

Thank you for your support: Since Nov. 1, nearly 250 of you have donated in various ways (even book royalties and stock!) just since our NewsMatch campaign at midnight on Halloween.  Many of you, such as novelist and MFP Advisory Board member Angie Thomas and  Neshoba County hero Gloria Williamson, have put your name and face out there to challenge others to donate to the Mississippi Free Press because you believe in this vision. Like Gloria, several of you offered larger matches allowing us to double, triple and even quadruple everyone’s donations.

Novelist Angie Thomas is on the Mississippi Free Press advisory board. She challenges other Mississippians, and those who care about our people, to give what you can to build on her $10,000 donation to support what she calls “stirring up” truth and progress in the state.

You are helping make this dream for Mississippi real with your support and donations. You can give online to the nonprofit Mississippi Free Press in two different ways: through our current NewsMatch donor page (through Dec. 31) or our original and ongoing donor page, thanks to our fiscal sponsor Community Foundation for Mississippi, to whom we owe a special debt of gratitude while we wait for our 501c3 status approval.

You can also reach out to Director of Giving Cristen Hemmins at about becoming a donation match in upcoming weeks, to donate via stock transfer or other means, to join our Giving Circles or to discuss being an investor through our capital campaign to help us hire additional reporters and extend our reach even more throughout the state in 2021.

In these tough times, I believe both the U.S. and Mississippi are stronger today precisely because of all of you. It is impossible to overstate how grateful Kimberly, I and the whole MFP team are to you. Thank you for believing in and loving our state and what can lie ahead when we all work together.

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The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

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