After almost five years in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, we have moved back to the Pacific Northwest.
Northwesteners and southerners alike greeted our decision to move to Mississippi with skepticism. They clearly doubted the compatibility of cultures and lifestyles.
Despite perceived incompatibilities, we found you can be happy living anywhere if you have an open mindset.
Hattiesburg offered a welcoming hand and pulled us in. We witnessed southern hospitality at its finest and connected to a loving community.
Now, when asked what life was like in the south, we respond, “the people are awesome.”
These few anecdotes shaped our perception of Mississippi and permanently changed how we approach community.
Our time in Hattiesburg was bookended by tornados.
A few weeks before we left, a tornado ripped through Hattiesburg around 4 a.m. Locals quickly rallied to patch roofs and broken hearts.
The City of Hattiesburg organized a volunteer effort and dispersed people to work sites. The line for the volunteer signup never waned.
It was not a question of if someone would help. It was a question of where should we send all the volunteers.
Marshall Ramsey, a Mississippian famous for his political cartoons, illustrates this demeanor perfectly in his book, “Chainsaws and Casseroles.”
Ramsey explains, when natural disaster strikes, people grab their chainsaws and whip up casseroles to help those in need. There is no hesitation.
It easily could’ve been their house in rubble. Helping others is just what you do to be a good neighbor.
We quickly observed natural disasters are not a prerequisite for lending a helping hand.
Pregnancies, sickness and celebrations are all cause for empathy. Meal trains are swiftly activated and party invites quickly sent. A new mother told me her and her husband didn’t cook for two months after their baby was born.
The willingness to rally for others was incredible to witness. It wasn’t a duty call, it was a community mindset.
My experience with the professional community was defined by compassion rather than cut-throat competition.
When we first moved to Hattiesburg, I attended a local public relations networking event. I didn’t know a soul and was super intimidated. But, a member took me under her wing and helped set me on the career trajectory I’m on today. After one coffee chat and a resume, she advocated for me and offered advice.
Through this group, I met supportive peers I now consider close friends. To this day, we offer each other constructive criticism and career advice.
I have yet to pinpoint the roots of Hattiesburg’s community strength.
Is it a small town thing? A southern thing?
One thing I do know- its people believe their actions can make a difference.
There is an underlying current that is committed to helping Hattiesburg achieve its full potential.
T-Bones, a local record store and coffee shop, readily hosts benefit concerts and helps set a cultural tone. Hub City Spokes, a Hattiesburg area newspaper, is furiously dedicated to nurturing community and relationships. The Thirsty Hippo, a restaurant and music venue, organizes a running club and community concerts. Extra Table, “exists to end hunger” by providing food pantries and soup kitchens with healthy bulk food.
I could go on…
Like many of Hattiesburg’s community members, these businesses look out their doors and serve a need they see in the area.
Invest in Your Community
To wrap up our life in the south with a big bow- Hattiesburg taught me about the importance of investing in your community.
When you invest your time, your sense of belonging and pride deepens.
Sure, every place has faults and room for improvement. But by taking action, instead of complaining, you can make positive change for others and yourself.
You are not entitled to community. You have the opportunity to invest in and help create community.
For a few weeks now, Corvallis, Oregon has been home. I am excited to invest in our new community and infuse some southern hospitality.