The listicles are often embarrassing. Some of the bills our politicians pass are often gawked at by literally everyone: national media outlets, celebrities, tourists, and even some of its own residents. Mississippi always seems to be the butt of everyone's joke.
Spoiler alert: Not everyone is laughing
Lately, Mississippi has made headlines for the passing of the 'religious freedom' bill, HB 1523, that allows business owners to deny service to anyone on the grounds of religious freedom. Opponents of the bill say it's oppressive and is particularly harmful towards the LGBT community. The bill already has affected film production in the state, and many celebrities have already pledged to not film or perform in the state. Locally, many shops, schools, and local businesses joined SunHerald's list of South Mississippi businesses and municipalities who opposed the bill.
Additionally, the passing of this year's budget underfunded education by hundreds of millions of dollars. For a state that typically ranks low in education, the criticism was widespread for that decision as well.
But what people around the world -- and even some people at home -- don't realize are that there are classrooms of young people who transcend all of these negative lists. Some are their voices are captivating while others are a little quieter, but they are all making an impact.
Bay Waveland Middle School students Amaya Clark and Gabrielle Barbino pitched a bill to ban workplace discrimination against LGBT employees in mock legislative session that junior high school students attended in Jackson for three days. The girls wrote the bill before Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law. Clark told the SunHerald that she would argue that the fight for equality was ongoing and "we're supposed to separate the church and state." The bill failed in the mock session.
Pearl River Central pitcher Hailee Buras wouldn't let a degenerative eye disease stop her from keeping an eye on the softball. The 18-year-old is a key player on the school's championship softball team -- even though she's nearly legally blind.
Jenna Robinson's parents hope the death of their 17-year-old daughter who loved to dance would bring awareness to epilepsy and also the importance of the arts. Casey Hild, who is an instructor and co-owner of Island School of Performing Arts said her sister loved to dance, and that many of the other dancers who take classes at her studio are often overlooked as athletes. There's plenty of opportunity -- and money -- for high schoolers looking to further their career in dance. Just look at Nyah Duckworth, an 18-year-old who landed a scholarship with University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The school hosted its own signing day for Duckworth.
Trevor Ladner, a Hancock High top scholar, activist, and draq queen who goes by Miss Annie Thang, tackled gender roles in a video scholarship application for Tulane University. It landed him an academic scholarship, but Ladner's sights didn't stop there. Harvard University caught wind of his video, and he was accepted there as well and took a tour in April. He learned he also landed a scholarship there, and Ladner's mother announced on Facebook on April 21 that the teen, who for the first time went to school as Miss Annie Thang earlier this year after a few trials and tribulations, enrolled at the Ivy League school. Who knows, maybe Ladner will run into Malia Obama in a year.
Ocean Springs High School Junior Eric Cleckner introduced Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden at Escambia High School in Pensacola on Friday as part of Biden's "Joining Forces" initiative that seeks support for allowing children of service members and veterans access to the National Math and Science Initiative's college readiness program for Military Families.
Pierson Feeney, 11, does not care that fellow students at D'Iberville Middle School make fun of him for dancing. With his sights on Hollywood, the pre-teen told us dance helped him overcome severe ADHD.
These Millennials are changing the world by starting at home. They aren't making national headlines because why would anyone want to see all of the awesome things Mississippi has going for it? They're artists, they're athletes, they're activists and they're LGBT community members. The youth in South Mississippi are living proof that we are a state of progress despite what headlines and the political leaders say.