The place I call home
Mississippi is voting on a new state flag on Nov. 3. The previous flag, which flew for 126 years, contained the Confederate battle emblem.
A young activist who co-organized Jackson’s historic Black Lives Matter protest in June discusses, in her own words, what the possibility of change means to her.
An essay by Taylor BreAnn Turnage | Oct. 27, 2020
Fear. Anger. Hopelessness. Shame. Embarrassment. Guilt. Hate.
These are all words describing the feelings of a beautiful Black girl growing up in Mississippi. As a state in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” why is it that so many people, just like that beautiful Black girl, feel hostage in our own “home?” Why did a bright-eyed 5-year-old have to ask her why the white kids wouldn’t play with her in class? Why did an optimistic 11-year-old have to be sent home from school because her Bantu knots were too “distracting” for the other students in class? Why did she have to publicly be shamed for trying to feel some sort of connection to her native land? A native land that is more foreign to her than the soil that she now walks upon was to Christopher Columbus when he stumbled upon it in 1492? Why did a brilliant 16-year-old girl have to be more afraid than excited when receiving her driver’s license? Why did a resilient 23-year-old woman have to fear for her life on June 6, 2020, simply for standing up against more than 400 years of murder, rape, torture, lies, deceit, and “heritage” in a place that she is supposed to be able to call home?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of home is “the social unit formed by a family living together.” Every day, I would wake up feeling refreshed and happy to smell the fresh Mississippi air that has a certain twang to it that I just can’t find anywhere else. I would think to myself, “Boy, am I proud to call this place home.”
Then, just as quickly as the sense of joy came, it vanished, being replaced by a feeling of disappointment. Disappointment because I had to remember that the same air that I had enjoyed, just moments ago, was the same air that was keeping a symbol of hate, prejudice, torture, and worst of all “heritage” alive. How can a place that made me into who I am as a young, unapologetic Black woman support and be represented by something that historically and currently goes against and despises everything that I am?
Passion. Purpose. Vision.
Passion and purpose. These two words are what drove me to want to push for change. Many people ask me how and why I got involved with planning the protest in June, and the truth is, I didn’t really have an answer until the night before it happened. As I sat down to write my speech for the following day, I could not find words to put on the paper. So what did I do? I closed my computer. I turned off everything and sat with myself for a moment. With the hustle and bustle of the week, I hadn’t had the time to sit down and reflect on the why. So after about twenty minutes, I opened up my computer and let my soul type. After about thirty minutes of typing I completed my speech. Although the words that were on that paper were written by me, when I read them I teared up because you never really know what is inside of you and what drives you until you sit back, let go, and let your soul do the speaking. This is where passion, purpose, and vision came from.
“Passion is what keeps you up at night, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what brought you here today.”
These are words from my speech given at the protest. To me, my passion in this instance was the state flag. The anger that a symbol of hate represented this beautiful state is what kept me up at night. The drive to change the flag is what woke me up in the morning. The hope that we, the youth, had the power to bring it down is what brought me to that protest that day. For a long time I had been struggling to find my purpose in life, but embarking on this journey showed me that purpose is not an individual aspect. For me, my passion for social justice and civil rights is what helped me find my purpose, and finding my purpose is what gave me the vision to find ways to change and better the world that I live in.
Hope. Faith. Light. Love. Optimism. Change.
If you would have told me last year, or even two days before it happened, that the Mississippi state flag would be removed, I would have argued why I believed that it could come down, but it most likely wouldn’t. Even after speaking to a crowd of more than 3,000 of my peers about how change was coming for Mississippi, I must admit that I still had my doubts deep down inside. I didn’t think that it would happen in my lifetime, let alone this year. Sometimes, I’m still so surprised by the fact that it’s gone that I get in my car and drive downtown to the state Capitol building just to stare at that empty flag pole. If the new flag is approved by the people of Mississippi on Nov. 3, 2020, I may finally be able to feel a glimmer of hope that the true meaning of home can be felt by Mississippians for centuries to come. One day, we will all be able to come together to create change for a better Mississippi.
Editor’s Note: We are sharing our platform with Mississippians to write essays about race. This essay is the third in the series. Read the first essay by Kiese Laymon, and the second by W. Ralph Eubanks. Click here to read our extended editor’s note about this decision.
About the Author: Taylor BreAnn Turnage is a native of Byram, Miss. Over the years she has served as executive director, treasurer, and fundraising chair for the Tougaloo College Chapter of the NAACP and currently serves as state president for the Mississippi State NAACP Youth and College Division. She is also an active member of the Gamma Psi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. on the campus of Tougaloo College. Taylor continues to strive everyday to make the lives of everyone better.