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Removing painful symbols helps Mississippi and our country heal

We are witnessing a moment of transformation across our country, and especially right now in Mississippi — one of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s priority places for work on behalf of children and the only state to have a confederate emblem on its flag.

 In the past few weeks, the call for removing that symbol has grown louder as individuals, their communities and leaders in many sectors are coming to grips with the cruelty of systemic racism and the inhumanity it reinforces in our society. 

 In recent days, a chorus of organizations — from the military, the Southeastern Conference, Nissan, NASCAR and the NCAA — have added their voices, demanding the removal of a symbol  that perpetuates the discrimination against people of color and amplifies a destructive narrative about human value. We stand with these courageous voices, along with our grantees, partners and allies in many sectors.

 This is a window of opportunity for us to recognize that symbols such as these have a negative, traumatizing effect on Black and Brown people — and add to the weight of inequities that are holding us back as a nation.

 In 2018, the Business Case for Racial Equity in Mississippi found the state could realize a $54 billion gain in economic output by 2050 just by closing the racial equity gap. As a country, the gain would be $8 trillion more in GDP. 

 The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the disparities elevated in the report. But the learning is clear: when everyone has an opportunity to participate in the economy and has equal access to opportunity, the economic and social benefits are wide ranging. Mississippi’s businesses recognize that. Just last week, the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Business for Flag Change Coalition both called for the state’s flag to change.

 Our perspective is more tightly focused on the human impact and the way symbols, stories and systems affect our children. To address the structural racism behind the inequities children of color encounter, we need to expose it, undo it and help communities heal from its wounds.

 Healing is at the heart of racial equity — and racial healing includes identifying and removing the harm from racism, including its painful symbols.

We have a great deal of work to do to make sure that children can face the future with confidence, as our founder envisioned. As we mark our 90th anniversary, we call for leaders in every state to leverage their positions on behalf of children and the equitable communities they deserve.

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