We’re launching a long-term reporting project called NextGen Mississippi, focused on why young people are leaving Mississippi. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

I held back tears last weekend as I said goodbye to two close friends who, after a few years of commitment to Mississippi, just couldn’t do it anymore. They’re moving to a large, vibrant city in the South, excited for the bigger and better opportunities ahead.

A couple days later, I had an emotional conversation with another friend who is saving up money to do the same thing. She doesn’t have a timeline, but she has a plan.

I’ve seen and heard it literally all my life: At first chance, so many young Mississippians run from their home state to start their lives and build their careers, never to return. Often, if they don’t have the opportunity to leave, they abide here and dream constantly about the day it can happen.

My friends are among tens of thousands who have done this in recent years. A month ago, we learned Mississippi was one of just three U.S. states to lose population over the past 10 years. Only twice before had Mississippi lost residents during a 10-year span: 1920 and 1960. Now, we add 2020 to the list.

More and more, other states reap the benefits of our minds, our energy, our passion. Meanwhile, Mississippi can’t get off the bottom. It’s a tragic cycle that certainly isn’t limited to just our young people. But as a member myself of the next large generation of Mississippi’s workers, voters and citizens, it’s become too hard to stomach.

On May 25, we’re launching a long-term reporting project called NextGen Mississippi. We’re hiring a full-time reporter for this, and we’re committing much of our existing newsroom’s energy to several things.

First, we want to clearly define the problem, working to answer questions like: How many young people are leaving? Why are they leaving? What could convince them to stay? Why have many young people stayed? What are they doing, and what are they sacrificing to stay? What more can we do for them?

Next, we want to examine the implications of the problem, answering questions like: What does this increasing exodus of young Mississippians mean for Mississippi? For the states they’re settling in? What are we missing out on because of it? How is our state’s future affected by the problem?

Finally, we want to engage Mississippians — everyone from the young people afflicted by the problem to our elected officials who have the responsibility to do something about it. We want to hear from anyone and everyone about how we can, together, keep more of our young people at home and create a better future for Mississippi.

All the while, we’ll make a concerted effort to regularly showcase the great things that so many young Mississippians are up to here. That’s as big a part of this story as anything.

I love my home state, and I can speak for everyone at Mississippi Today in saying the same. We choose to be here ourselves, committed to playing our small role in trying to make it better.

This new project isn’t about me or us, but it is personal. It’s personal in the way that it’s personal for every single Mississippian: We miss our friends who left. We miss our family members who left. We want our home to be better. We know something — anything — more has to be done, and we’re trying to do just that.

If you’re a young Mississippian who stayed, we’re happy you’re here. Too few people, especially those in leadership positions, understand that staying here requires sacrifices. Staying can be so difficult, and the refusal of people who have the ability to make things better to even acknowledge there is a problem takes a toll. We want to hear from you about all this.

If you’re a young Mississippian who left, we don’t blame you. You made the choice that was best for you, and we know it’s one you think about constantly. No matter why you left or how happy you might be elsewhere, we want to hear from you about all this.

If you’re a not-so-young Mississippian, we still want to hear from you. We understand you have seen this problem play out here longer, and these questions certainly transcend generations, races, regions and socioeconomic backgrounds.

To get involved immediately, spend some time with our survey here. We’ve already received hundreds of responses, and the more information and perspectives we have, the better informed our reporting will be. To follow our regular coverage, signup for our NextGen Mississippi email list here:

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Please reach out to me directly with any question, concerns or suggestions you may have (for real, please send any and all story ideas!). My email address is adam@mississippitoday.org, or you can fill out our “Letter to the Editor” form below.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.