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I’ve been thinking a lot about leaving lately; it’s been a theme of mine for a while now.

I turned 44 today, and I’ve lived in Jackson for every bit of those four and half decades. I’ve seen the steady growth of development in North Jackson and the recent explosion of change in midtown and downtown. I’ve heard the prognostications of the population increase that everyone seems to think is inevitable. I’ve felt the seismic shift of the migration of families to the northwest corner of Madison County and beyond to Medina. I’ve never felt part of any of that, though; I’ve been an observer, a recorder—a witness. 

From 2008-2021, I spent a lot of time in Texas – the Dallas area, specifically. I made friends; I built a community around myself because I assumed I’d live there one day. I was making a soft landing space for what I knew would be a challenging transition.  My friends there would always ask me what Jackson was like, and I found myself talking more about our struggles than our successes. My expected transitional move to Dallas never materialized when my daughter decided to live with me in Jackson full-time, but my time in Jackson still never felt quite permanent. 

Two years ago, I started spending two weekends a month (and some holidays) in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania – about 25 miles south of Philadelphia, to be exact. I had reconnected with an old friend, and we began dating. We’ve made plans for me to move there once my daughter graduates high school in a couple of years. Whenever I’m in Pennsylvania, people will ask me about Tennessee, about Nashville, and I’ll have to tell them I live in the flat part of the state, some would say the boring part. I’ll simply say Jackson is in between Memphis and Nashville and leave it at that. 

I’ve never been able to fully explain (appreciate?) Jackson because I had never been able to see the threads that make up the fabric of our community. Jackson isn’t stitched together by new builds, new industry, or better infrastructure. While those might be the exoskeleton of the city, the heart of Jackson is a tapestry of creators who weave culture and life into the mundane. They lead, they push, they fight, they create. And the one constant place they have been celebrated is through the publication of Our Jackson Home (OJH).

OJH started as a podcast created by Luke Pruett, Anthony Kirk, and a handful of others in 2014. By 2015, Katie Howerton had joined the team as the founding editor, and they were off to the races.

The impetus for OJH was to “celebrate the people and stories of Jackson.” In a city of nearly 70,000 people, the stories hidden just beneath the surface weren’t hard to find; they had always been there. They just needed some thought and care and a space to tell them.

The first journal for OJH was created and produced in 2015, and I started writing for them a few months after that. In fact, my origin story as a writer – and the evolution that followed – can be traced to my first article for OJH about my experience as an Airbnb host. I hadn’t entirely found my voice, and the piece reads more like an advertisement for Jackson or Airbnb – a little vapid, a little cliché. We all gotta start somewhere, though.

As a writer, OJH provided me a space to tell my story as someone who grew up in Jackson. Articles on Lions Field, the VFW Swimming Pool, JCM, and Magic Wheels dripped with nostalgia while also highlighting meaningful spaces in the community, but they were written from my perspective. I needed to grow as a writer, and the design of OJH wasn’t about what Jackson was to me but what Jackson was to everyone who lived here. 

I began to shape some of my writing around current events in Jackson – disastrous school board meetings, gentrification, and the systemic stranglehold that had been applied to some community members for a long time. While everything I wrote about those topics was true within those specific contexts, I always ended each piece with a message of hope, an idea that something better was attainable. In other words, I ripped a page out of Springsteen’s songwriting book – address the realities of what’s happening but offer a silver lining for the future because that’s what OJH was and is at its core: a curated library of the stories of Jackson sprinkled with the hope of potential.

Over the last few years, I shifted my writing for OJH once again. What started as my own nostalgic perspective on places in Jackson morphed into social commentaries about the city and evolved to spotlight people who were creating culture in Jackson. Cliff Martin and Devante Chaney were the first two culture creators I was able to highlight. Next came Obie Beard and the Jackson Boxing Club, followed by a piece on Ashley Kate Adams and LOLO. My most recent piece focused on Cody Stooksberry – brewmaster at Hub City Brewing. 

Last week, OJH dropped its most recent journal at a launch party at Hub City Brewing – “Made in Jackson.” The issue highlighted the creators in Jackson, the people who are changing our city through their understated style and work. They lead through local government, through local creativity, and through compassionate innovation. They believe in a city that can offer the best for every community member; they weave pieces of themselves into the tapestry of Jackson to make it a unique place to live. 

Like most of my adult life in Jackson, I was there but stationed at the back, removed from the seated audience, a witness to the event – inside and outside simultaneously. I saw people whose stories I had seen in previous journal issues; I saw people I had interviewed. I heard talks from friends and strangers, and each one told their story and highlighted other individuals in our community who make it unique. And that’s when it hit me; that’s when I realized what Jackson is.

I have long said that there is nothing like OJH in Jackson. There is no publication – journalistic or artistic – that tells the stories of our community with the style and skill of OJH. By now, OJH is its own brand; people know what it is, and I hope they appreciate its value, as well, because our city is so fortunate to have it. 

For all the times I’ve been asked about Jackson and hemmed and hawed about how to explain my city, I wish I would have had a copy of an OJH journal in my back pocket and simply handed it to whoever asked me and said, “This is Jackson. THIS is the best representation of who we are and what we can be.”

October 30, 2023

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