OPINION: A Changing Culture in Jackson and Mississippi

The culture in Jackson and Mississippi is changing, and new ideas like the Stennis flag, instead of a flag representing slavery, are starting to take root. Photo courtesy Stennis Flag Flyers

The culture in Jackson and Mississippi is changing, and new ideas like the Stennis flag, instead of a flag representing slavery, are starting to take root. Photo courtesy Stennis Flag Flyers


D.J. Baker

Culture is the pattern in which we live as small family units, neighborhoods, cities, nations and a world. It's like a tidal wave, constantly changing how it moves and comes ashore; it's adaptive. In this adaptation, there are a few factors, which I learned about in my Sunday school class with Andy Sauerwein, a professor at Belhaven University, and Paul Rankin, an elder of our church, that contribute to the changes: participation, making things and exploration.

There is always an exchange in and out between each factor, one to another. These dictate how a culture breathes, grows and dies.

I like to think about it in the ways of baking. In kneading dough, as a person adds a new ingredient, that particular one is finding its place and seeking to balance itself with the other ingredients for optimal flavor and texture. Culture is a delicate kneading of making things, exploring and participating.

The three factors may seem self-explanatory, but let's look at them briefly. In the age of technology, people make new products just as fast as we can blink. You have those like Tesla, Gates, Jobs—they're constantly making new things and/or innovating them. If they're not making them, they're exploring new frontiers toward newer tech. Recently, there's the talk of the global race toward 5G technology that is supposed to be 20 times faster than 4G. This is a good example of exploration. The participation is the one way most people will contribute culturally. I believe it's the life and blood of culture.

As the song says, "People make the world go round." We, as the everyday people, are participants in local culture and beyond.

Let's look at Jackson and Mississippi. There's a new culture rising across our city and state. Because of my food and agriculture background, I believe there is no culture without agriculture. Around the Jackson area, we've seen our food culture and palate transforming with new food trucks popping up, a food hall, new bars and lounges, and 
restaurants bringing something fresh to our plates. In farming, we are seeing a rise in sustainable practices, and small farms growing and in turn 
bringing more to our food market. We are seeing our culture transform, and we're 
participating in it.

Just this past week, Jackson hosted ArtPlace America's 2019 annual 
ArtPlace Summit. The Mississippi 
Museum of Art and other organizations came together to invite hundreds of artists, creatives, thinkers and doers from across the nation and some 
islands, too. I had the pleasure to run into 
some of them.

The feedback I got from them about their experience at the summit and in the city was uplifting. They raved about the amazing things that are happening right now and historically. A few of them questioned me by 
asking, "Why isn't Jackson a hub for art?" I believed and hoped that they all left inspired and hopeful for Jackson and our greater Mississippi culture.

As we are in the midst of cultivation within our local culture, I must pose a few questions: How are we actively and intentionally exploring, participating and making things to contribute to our culture? What place does each of us have? What responsibility do we 
hold, here and now?

These questions we must answer ourselves and to no one else, but here's the opportunity to choose your role. Whatever your passion may be—your skill, your pastime—you contribute to our culture. Where you shop, live, go to church, whether you go to church at all or not. Who you choose to support through time, money, voting and work.

All of these things in our day-to-day patterns aren't just makeshifts but truly hold a place of permanence in the lives of our families, friends and 
neighbors in the city, and in our unique state. Jackson is changing. Mississippi is changing. New developments like the Fertile Grounds project, new flags like the Stennis flag, and new people like myself are taking root here and cultivating culture for today and tomorrow.

D.J. Baker, a native of Edmond, Okla., is a passionate gardener and farmer working to improve the access and quality of local food. He is the "Chief Gardener" of Esculent, a small consulting business centered around food. He loves good food, community and education.


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