Americans are nervously awaiting November in anticipation of what many feel may be the most consequential presidential election of our lifetime, whose outcome will likely divide our troubled nation to an even greater degree.
But here in our community, there is another reason to anticipate November, one that serves to unite rather than to divide, heal rather than wound, affirm rather than condemn.
From now until Nov. 1, the Oktibbeha County Unity Park committee will be accepting nominations of those who have worked to bring unity to the community. From those nominations, the committee will select one or two people to be memorialized at the park.
Unity Park was established in 2013 by the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, which donated the site of the park, located on Dr. Douglas L. Conner Drive, just north of Main Street.
The park has been expanded and improved during the intervening years as it became clear Unity Park had succeeded in its mission.
The first honorees at the park were A. Philip Randolph, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gov. William Winter. Since then, the focus has been on recognizing “home grown” honorees and, up until now, one event — the “Game of Change” story of the 1963 Mississippi State men’s basketball team, which defied the Governor to play against an integrated team in the NCAA Tournament.
While some memorial spaces are built only to fall into obscurity, Unity Park has remained a poignant gathering place at times when division, injustice and dissent have threatened our community. The Mississippi State football team had staged a Black Lives Matter rally at the park while a city-wide BLM march made the park its staging area and rallying point.
In these times of bitter division, we are served well to look to those enshrined there — the work they performed, the manner in which they performed it — for inspiration.
As noted 19th century theologian Charles Spurgeon observed, their contributions are often neglected.
“Fame is not an impartial judge; she has her favorites,” he wrote. “Some men she extols, exalts, and almost deifies; others, whose virtues are far greater, and whose characters are more deserving of commendation, she passes by unheeded, and puts the finger of silence on her lips.”
At Unity Park, those gentle voices are recognized and revered. Their words and deeds echo through the generations. They remind us of our shared values and bring us together.
As November approaches, we cannot be too often reminded of that.