JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Governor Phil Bryant announced October is Racial Reconciliation Celebration month.
It’s an effort to bring people together across Mississippi using faith but for many the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem still stands as a symbol of division.
Governor Bryant announced this month long celebration alongside leaders with Mission Mississippi, an organization that promotes race relations.
They hope the month will encourage neighbors, local churches and others to build stronger relationships with those of different races.
But is our flag a stumbling block?
“Well, I think the reality is that we have got a lot of work to do.”
Reverend Margaret Ayers ministers to an African -American congregation at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Vicksburg.
She and other river city leaders organize an annual racial reconciliation picnic every year.
They’re also working on other events for the month of October.
Ayers says there are always lots of race issues to talk about but Wednesday, WJTV asked her about the state flag.
Ayers says the Episcopal Church no longer flies the state flag on its property, hoping to welcome more people to the church.
“At this point, we feel that it has hurt a lot of people and it’s an instrument that divides people and pushes people away,” said Reverend Ayers.
The flag has been criticized as a symbol of racial oppression.
But voters strongly supported keeping it in 2001.
Governor Phil Bryant says that a lot of people want to use the flag as a wedge but he doesn’t see it that way.
Governor Bryant: “And we got to be able to sit down and have a dialogue about that, carry on a conversation, without feeling frightened that you might say the wrong thing.”
WJTV’s Beth Alexander: “Do you think the flag is stumbling block that would prevent someone from having a conversation?”
Governor Bryant: “Oh, I don’t think so. It may be the thing that begins a conversation. There are good people of faith that are in church every day, that are loving caring people that believe in the Mississippi state flag, that voted for it and support it. There are people of the same condition that are loving and caring and go to church; it may not support the flag. They can sit down and talk about that.”
No matter which side you fall on, Mission Mississippi is challenging everyone to form a new relationship outside of your race by engaging in activities like choir and pastor swaps.
President Neddie Winters also hopes cities in the state will proclaim their own month long celebrations.
“Take somebody out to lunch. Sit down at a table and build a relationship. And were really encouraging people to get beyond October and get beyond an event and get to building a lifestyle of reconciliation,” said Winters.