Mississippi Today this week will launch a reporting project aimed at asking why young Mississippians are leaving in droves and why others are staying. Sam Kapoor, a 28-year-old attorney in Jackson, joins Mississippi Today Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau to discuss why she decided to stay in Mississippi.
Stream the episode here, or read a complete transcript of the interview below.
Mississippi Today: So if you’re listening to this podcast in the early part of the week of May 17th, you’re getting a sneak peek of something we’re really excited to roll out. Later this week, we’re launching a reporting project called NextGen Mississippi, focused all on young Mississippians. I’m not sure anyone would disagree that one of the biggest long term problems facing our state is that our young people are either leaving in droves or want to leave to start their lives and careers elsewhere. We, millennials and Gen Z in particular, are the next generations that will help decide Mississippi’s future and trajectory. The problems, the ones we all know so well, have long gone unacknowledged by all of our state’s leaders, really, and we’ve decided we want to do something about that. This reporting project will feature the voices of young Mississippians, and through boosting their perspectives and lived experiences, we will strive to hold our state’s leaders to account. We’ll ask those leaders tough questions, and we’ll work to make it impossible for them to continue to ignore these problems that we all know exist in the state. Anyways, we’re really excited about it. It’s going to be, I think, a really cool thing, and be on the lookout on our website later this week for more information about it. Like I said, you’ll see the roll out and you’ll also see some information about how you can get involved.
Mississippi Today: With all that being said, I’m excited about our guest today. Joining us is Sam Kapoor, a 28 year old attorney at Forman Watkins & Krutz here in Jackson. She grew up in Ridgeland, went to college at Ole Miss, and law school at Ole Miss. Sam, first off, thank you for being here. I guess, first question, just to kick us off, why did you decide to stay in Mississippi?
Sam Kapoor: Okay, well, thank you for having me here, Adam. I guess, the reason I decided to stay sort of stems from how I got here in the first place. I’m a child of immigrants. My parents moved to America with me and my brother when we were about 12. I was 12, he was 14, and I remember when we first moved to Mississippi, it was not exactly what I imagined it would be like, so I was not super enthused. I wasn’t a big fan of Mississippi.
Mississippi Today: As like so many of us were, even if we were here from birth.
Sam Kapoor: Right, yeah. Also, 12 is a hard age, I think, in general.
Mississippi Today: For real.
Sam Kapoor: I remember thinking, “Oh, I can’t wait to get out of here,” when I first moved here, but I think, with age and maturity and time, I realized that there was so much more that Mississippi had to offer, and there’s so much that we can do to change Mississippi. I think the impact can be felt through young people in Mississippi a lot better.
Mississippi Today: Sure. I think a lot about, I grew up in Hazlehurst, so a little bit more rural than Ridgeland, but it is still a suburb of Jackson, technically. Jackson was obviously the hub for everything that we wanted to do, and entertainment, shopping, all that. I think a lot about my classmates growing up and people my age, really, for as long as I can remember, making comments about, like, “Oh, yeah, as soon as I graduate from high school I’m out of here. I’m going to move to a big city or I’m going to go to college out of state.” Was that your experience, too? Were your circles growing up, was that the common thread of the conversations and thinking about the future?
Sam Kapoor: Yeah, I would say yes. I noticed that most people that I’m friends with, that I grew up with here in Mississippi, they’ve gone. They’ve left. They went to take jobs in other states, pretty much right out of college. I kind of knew that I wanted to stay when I was in high school, so I was starting to apply for colleges, and as you know, college is extremely expensive.
Mississippi Today: Of course.
Sam Kapoor: That was one of the biggest considerations I had.
Mississippi Today: In-state tuition?
Sam Kapoor: In-state tuition, exactly. Honestly, our family did not have a lot of money, so I don’t think my parents could really even have afforded to send me to college, so staying here really changed my future, because otherwise, I don’t even qualify for student loans, so I couldn’t have gone anywhere but where I went. I could have only gone in state, so I really appreciate that I had that opportunity to do that. Even with law school, I applied to other law schools, but something just told me I need to stay here in Mississippi.
Mississippi Today: I think a lot about my college experience, too, because, like you, I went to Ole Miss, and for a lot of the same reasons. It was, obviously, the most affordable option. They had a couple programs that I thought I was interested when I was in high school. I didn’t end up sticking with those programs, but it just made the most sense. It was easy. The in-state tuition obviously was a huge factor there, but I think a lot about a lot of the native Mississippians who I met there, who I didn’t know in high school. I didn’t have that shared perspective of same upbringings or same region of the state or whatever, backgrounds, anything, but I just remember the thread being the same, just that high school that I just talked about. I don’t know. It would be great if we could stay in Mississippi after we graduate from college, but what are our chances of getting as good a job anywhere in Mississippi, Jackson in particular, maybe, versus Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans. You name the big city, that seemed to just be the drive for people. I don’t know. I think a lot about my high school graduating class being … It was a smaller school, so there were several people who obviously decided to stay behind and they’re probably still living where we grew up, and that’s great, but most of the people who did go to college, either in state or out of state, are gone now. Then, I look at my college class and it’s the same. Most of my best friends who were from Mississippi, who grew up in Mississippi, no longer live here. Was that something you saw when you were in college and law school, too?
Sam Kapoor: Yes. I remember talking to a lot of my friends about this, because we all wanted to leave. I went back and forth with wanting to leave and wanting to stay. By the time I was already in law school, though, I was like, “Okay, I’m staying. I’m here, I’m invested,” but I remember noticing all the friends trickle away and move away. A lot of it is an economic consideration. They’re just trying to find the best job in the best city that they can live in, and try to put their education to good use, so they’re just trying to pursue whatever field they’re in and whatever opportunities they can get, but I think it just worked out for me in a really great way, I think. I was in law school when I had these interviews with law firms. This is how typically law firms will interview law students when they’re still in law school, and then hire them as interns, and then they eventually will get an offer, sometimes, for a job. Things just sort of worked out for me where I got picked up by a regional firm, by a Jackson firm, and I was given the economic opportunity that I wanted right here in Jackson. Not to be tacky, but sometimes I compare my economic situation with that of my peers who left, and I think I’m still doing a little bit better off, based on the fact that I stayed and that I don’t have massive student loans or anything.
Mississippi Today: Sure. Yeah, I was going to ask you next, just sort of the appeal of Mississippi. We could talk all day about the problems and the issues that face young people in particular in this state, but I also think that if you can find it, there’s room to find a lane and succeed in it and do well. You just mentioned this kind of worked well for you. Some people, it doesn’t work for. There are many people who I know who tried to stay, who wanted to stay, and they couldn’t because of, it comes down to jobs, like you said. I think, for most people, it really is just an economic factor, but it doesn’t work, but it for you, Sam, outside of just the economics, what about Mississippi keeps you here?
Sam Kapoor: Several things keep me here, but one of the biggest things is family. My family lives in Jackson. I’m incredibly close to them, so that’s something that … I wish I could be more, I guess, modern, where I wouldn’t mind living on the opposite end of the continent from my parents, but I knew people who do that, I just wish I could be like that, but I guess I’m just not like that. That’s one thing, and another thing that I’ve really been thinking about lately is the community impact and how staying in Mississippi as a young professional, if you’re young, you’re educated, you have resources, you can actually do a lot more by staying than you could by leaving. Being able to stay, for instance, our law firm launched a program recently, it was a pro bono kind of deal, called the Diversity Pipeline Project, through Tougaloo College, and so we would take under represented pre-law students and give them the opportunity to shadow attorneys within the firm. I think that the kind of, I guess, information we were able to give them, the kind of training we were able to give them, over the course of three days, was really, I wouldn’t say life changing, because I don’t know if it changed their lives, but I think it’s really important. If I had something like that, that would have completely changed my law school perspective.
Mississippi Today: Yeah.
Sam Kapoor: I think that we can do a lot more, just because everything in Mississippi is smaller. Everyone knows each other.
Mississippi Today: That community really is important here, too. It’s like, community is sort of the thing that makes Mississippi work, in a way, and everyone looks out for each other. There’s times, obviously, where the community isn’t there, and we could go through the many examples of the problems in that regard, but you’re right. I think the community aspect of this place is unlike a lot of other places where we could move or we could choose to start our lives or build our careers or whatever. I think you’re exactly right. I call Mississippi a blank canvas, because it’s true. There are so few people, like you said, if you have some resources, if you’re young and educated and eager and have the ability and the means to do it, you can really, I think, do important work in a place that really needs that important work, and you can do it early. I’m a 28 year old journalist, and there aren’t many 28 year old journalists in America who have been able to write some of the impactful things that I’ve done. I could go down my list and I know you could go down your list and that’s the case for all of us, but then there’s this other dark side that I want to ask you about, where, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine last week, actually, about Mississippi and what she thinks about all these things that we tell ourselves, basically.
Mississippi Today: It’s like, we tell ourselves that it’s a blank canvas or that there’s an opportunity to do really important community-oriented work and make an impact, but is that just something we’re telling ourselves to make ourselves feel better about being miserable in this place? That’s kind of an exaggeration for some people. For other people, I know it’s not. I’m interested in this reporting project that we’re launching and to tapping into some of that, for some of us who are here, who have decided to stay and do this work here, do our work here, start our lives, is there this sort of underlying feeling of regret or guilt about not trying to go elsewhere? My question for you, do you ever think about leaving?
Sam Kapoor: I do think about leaving. I’ve thought about it. I kind of go back and forth about it. There’s no way I can say that I just don’t think about it at all, but I just think that the good outweighs the bad, for me, at least. Every person’s situation is different, but I’ve found that my life is massively privileged and, this question is just making me think about my dad a lot and what he has to say about moving to Mississippi. He grew up incredibly poor and his, I guess, lesson, or his mantra that he’s always telling me and my brother is that we are so privileged to live here, and that even living in Mississippi is 100 million times better than living anywhere else in the world, because we have things here that we take so much for granted, that maybe people don’t consider Mississippi to be the best state to live in, but if you look at the world in general, Mississippi is actually …
Sam Kapoor: We have roads here. We’ve got running water. I don’t know. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I think that we’re massively privileged just to be here, and that it’s a gold mine. There’s so much that we can do in Mississippi. First of all, there’s just so much land. There’s so few people. Any idea you have for anything that you want to launch, the possibilities are endless, I think, if you have the resources. Something that my dad is always saying is that we’re just so privileged just to be here. I guess, I just don’t really see the … There’s no part of me that feels miserable about staying. I like it here. I know that if I had the opportunity to go somewhere else, I’m a young, educated attorney, if I really wanted to I could leave, but I don’t think IN would find the community that I love somewhere else.
Sam Kapoor: I don’t think I would find the family connection, obviously, and I honestly don’t know if I would make as much if I left, and considering with prices going up when you live somewhere else, so I guess I just don’t see …
Mississippi Today: Yeah, yeah. I think you made a really good point just know about positions of privilege and, as we’re thinking through our reporting series that I just talked about a little bit, we understand that everybody has different outlooks on life and different lived experiences, and we’re going to make sure to center not only the voices of people like me and you, Sam, who had the privilege of having enough resources to go to college and get our education and start our careers early, but also the many, many, many thousands of young Mississippians who hadn’t had any of that, and they didn’t have an opportunity to have any of that, and they may want to leave Mississippi more than anyone else, but they might not have the resources to do so.
Mississippi Today: Again, talking about young Mississippians, obviously, you can’t lump all young Mississippians in the same bucket, but we’re going to dig into a lot of that. I guess, thinking about something else you touched on is, you mentioned a gold mine, that’s another good illustration of what it could be. One question that I’ve been asking a lot of my friends is, if you were asked by a group of Mississippi high school kids, what is your pitch for staying in Mississippi? What would yours be? I’m just curious.
Sam Kapoor: Gosh, that’s really hard.
Mississippi Today: I know. I’m putting you on the spot here.
Sam Kapoor: I don’t know what my pitch would be. I guess, my biggest thing is that everything looks really exciting in other places, I’m sure, but if you really work at it and you stay here, the possibilities are so endless, because I look at what my parents had when they first moved to America, and what they have now, and they haven’t been here that long and it’s like we’ve basically changed an entire generation, wealth-wise. When I see that illustration in front of me, it’s really hard for me to say that that’s not possible for everyone, because, I know everyone’s got different experiences and different backgrounds and different set of circumstances, but when I see how my parents basically turned their life around with nothing, really, I just know that anyone can do it. If you just stay here and you work hard, there’s just so many opportunities.
Sam Kapoor: For instance, I don’t want to say this like a brag. I went to college at Ole Miss and I applied for a scholarship, and I was able to get a full ride to Ole Miss. After I finished college, I applied for scholarships when I went to law school, which, most people might not know, you can actually get scholarships for law school, and I was able to get a full ride to law school, as well. That, I guess, financial benefit, I just don’t think I could have gotten that if I’d gone to another state. Something I would tell high schoolers is, hey, you want to go to college, you don’t want to be saddled with student debt, try here first, and if you really hate it then consider leaving, but there’s so much more if you just stay and work at it, and there’s so many opportunities that, I wouldn’t say land in your lap, but if you work hard, people will notice, and because the community here is so small, you will get connected with the type of people that you want to be connected to.
Sam Kapoor: If you’re a journalist or you’re a lawyer, someone will know somebody and will help you, or you can ask for help and use that community network, and you can get a lot further with that than you could if you went to some random college on the other side of the country.
Mississippi Today: Sure. Well, it’s a great perspective. I think your story is a unique one in Mississippi, but also, I think, it’s a valuable one for a lot of people to hear. Sam, I couldn’t thank you enough for coming on and sharing a little bit of that with us. I could sit here and talk with you all day about this stuff. Our stories are two of tens, hundreds of thousands in Mississippi, and I’m just excited about this project we’re launching, and I can’t wait to share the perspectives of so many other people who are thinking about a lot of these same questions, but thank you for being our first. Really, really excited about what’s to come, but thank you for your time, Sam.
Sam Kapoor: Thank you, Adam. Thank you for having me.