Maybe the ‘winning’ lies in simply being willing to try
Published 7:00 am Sunday, January 29, 2023
Years ago, my late father decided he wanted to get involved in his daughters’ education.
Recently relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from New Jersey, he was a veteran who believed in volunteering and helping his community in any way he could. With two elementary age girls and a third one still in diapers, he decided education would be his focus.
So, despite having lived less than a year in Gautier and bearing the stigma of being a “transplanted Yankee,” George Grantland Jr. decided he was going to run for the local school board.
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He gave that effort his full focus. He spent hours each evening knocking on doors, introducing himself and talking about the importance of education. I imagine he repeated the story of crisscrossing the railroad tracks a dozen times before learning that the “Go-Shay” he was seeking was actually spelled “Gautier,” and then talked about how he came to love the rhythms of the Gulf Coast, its lazy bayous and humid nights, sweet tea and grits, pecans and fresh seafood. He also loved his daughters and knew that in the late 1960s, schools were facing changes and challenges. He believed parents needed to speak up and be involved, to help bring about the necessary changes and to ensure the children received the best possible education they could. He didn’t care about perceptions of Mississippi and its lackluster educational systems at the time; he believed schools could, and should, compete with any across the nation.
This isn’t a story with a wrapped-up, happy ending though. My dad lost that election – terribly. He used to joke that he only received 27 votes (I never fact-checked him) but the education he gained was invaluable. My dad met his neighbors – the friendly ones and the ones who didn’t like Yankees – and he learned what was important to them. More important, he learned what was important to himself and his family: a willingness to step up, to speak out and to give something your best effort, win or lose.
Dad took the defeat in stride, and continued to volunteer and serve whenever asked, ultimately becoming a well-respected and well-known voice in the community.
I’ve been thinking about my Dad and that school board election lately, as I read through the daily updates on election qualifying here in our own community.
The men and women who have qualified to run for the Aug. 8 primary election have earned my appreciation and respect. It’s not an easy decision, and opening yourself to the public’s vetting and judgment that comes with politics in this age of social media can be downright terrifying.
But being willing to seek public office, whether motivated by the desire to improve your child’s life or a calling to serve, is admirable. And we need more men and women who are willing to do so.
While national politics may fan the flames of debate on social media and cable broadcasts, local politics wield the greatest power over our everyday lives. The men and women we elect to public office – whether the sheriff, supervisors or county clerk – will be responsible for keeping us safe; for providing infrastructure; for having fiscal responsibility over our hard-earned tax dollars; for choosing what gets funded, what gets built, what gets done in our county and our communities for the next four years.
And we need more men and women like that transplanted Yankee who are willing to step up and take the risk of running for office, knowing that win or lose the votes, you will have been able to raise the level of discourse and to build bridges in your community just by trying.
Stacy Graning is regional editor of The Democrat. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org