Did you know that U.S. News & World Report ranks not only colleges but each of the fifty states using seventy metrics in categories like health care, education, crime, the economy, and governance?
I’ve included a link to the 2021 report below so you can check out your home state, but I mention it because one of my podcast guests this week, Grant Callen, is a resident of Mississippi, the state that has most frequently ranked 49th out of 50.
Second to last
Grant is a sixth-generation Mississippian and loves his home state, but he’s under no illusions about the state’s problems. He hopes his kids will choose to live in Mississippi when they grow up, yet he also knows that many people eventually choose to leave because of those problems. As he put it, “On the lists you don’t want to be on, Mississippi is at the top, and the lists you do want to be on, we’re at the bottom.”
He grew up in a safe community and had “every opportunity,” but as he looks around the state, he realizes he is in the minority. Two-thirds of Mississippians do not have a college degree and make less than $50,000 a year. Mississippi has a higher rate of incarceration than every other state (and many industrialized countries) except Louisiana.
Eight years ago, Grant decided that looking for solutions to these challenges would become his full-time job.
People of good will, coming together
You can hear more about Grant’s commitment to Mississippi on the podcast. He believes that “people of good will can come together, across the political spectrum, and get something done,” and he works with others, regardless of their political viewpoints, to achieve the shared outcomes they all desire, including better schools, healthy communities, and safe streets.
In the process, Grant has learned a lot and some of those lessons have changed his mind. While he used to believe that “jails are full of bad people” and “the longer they’re incarcerated, the better,” he now realizes that criminal justice is a lot more complicated. He wants people who return to their communities from prison to succeed, so he and his organization are working with others to help make that happen.
Grant is a conservative and describes his organization as conservative, but when it came to recent efforts to change parole laws in Mississippi, he found support from people on the other end of the ideological spectrum and challenges from conservatives. Instead of giving up, he learned how to work effectively with a diverse group of people who cared more about getting a problem solved than who received credit for solving it.
Connecting and learning
In addition to the state ranking report, our five links this week include more about Grant’s work and the story of a man whose life was changed because of the law that Grant and his collaborators helped change. We’ve also included a link to a report that shows how much we trust our neighbors and another link to a documentary that shows tough conversations between neighbors that lead to better understanding.
I hope you’ll find something that inspires you to look for solutions close to home!
5 links worth your time
- Mississippi ranks next to last, where is your state on U.S. News & World Report’s overall rankings?
- Mississippi’s new parole rules give man freedom after 19 years in prison.
- Building coalitions to address this state’s sky-high incarceration rate.
- Study shows that more community and less politics in our daily lives leads to greater life satisfaction.
- PURPLE, a short film, offers a vision for what a healthy public debate on fault-line issues might look like.
Photo from JEEPhade on Adobe Stock