Jessica L. Carter is the executive director of Ours To Change – a Mississippi nonprofit focused on civic engagement and public education advocacy. Before returning to her home state to join Ours To Change, Carter worked as a Youth Advocate at the Southern Poverty Law Center and with Democracy for America as the National Organizing Manager.
We sat down to ask her a few questions about what organizing in Mississippi looks like. Ours To Change supports fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and increasing teacher pay to the Southeastern average.
Mississippi Today: At Ours To Change, your mission statement is to advocate for public education and promote civic engagement throughout Mississippi. What does that look like in practice?
Jessica L. Carter: I would say having a presence statewide. Also, having the conversations with folks who have traditionally felt that no one reached out to them. A lot of folks really, really feel like they only hear from people asking them what they think around election time. That’s not what we want people to feel, like all we want is a vote. We want them to be engaged in the political process, know how to get involved and what that process looks like. To know that they can look to us to be that source of information for education.
Mississippi Today: You’ve worked in community organizing at multiple levels within different agencies, so what sets your work with Ours To Change apart?
Jessica L. Carter: Being at Ours To Change has given me the opportunity to focus on an area (public education) that has been a passion of mine for a very long time. Because I am the product of the Mississippi public education system and I’ve seen … some of the triumphs and pitfalls of that system and always wanted to have a place there to where I could have an impact.
Mississippi Today: How has your earlier work informed what you’re doing now?
Jessica L. Carter: My work with the SPLC was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had as a professional. I was able to work in juvenile justice, a big part of which was tied to public education as well. I saw a lot of children who were basically forced out of their public education, their school system, based on a lot of ridiculous things that happened to them that they had no control over. Being a product of Mississippi’s public education system, I can definitely say that there were a lot of things that I wish could have been different for me.
DFA was a national perspective. It was looking at the civic engagement process on a national level. Being from Mississippi, I always wanted to focus more on Mississippi. I was focusing on other states during the Stacey Abrams election and different national campaigns. I really wanted to bring that type of excitement back to Mississippi.
Mississippi Today: What unforeseen obstacles have y’all faced while growing into a statewide organization?
Jessica L. Carter: Anyone would agree with me when I say, when you know there’s a lot of work there, when you get into it, you find out there’s a lot more work to do. We’re digging our hands deep into it. There’s still a lot to be learned and to experience as our team continues to grow. We are definitely up to the challenge and very excited about working on public education for all of the students that would benefit from a fully funded public education here in Mississippi.