by Jeffrey Caliedo
"The Mississippi Youth Media Project is a safe space for promoting diverse ideas and encouraging a creative environment where every student feels and is respected and accepted regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religious background."
As the words echoed throughout the focused room, I felt a smile creep upon my lips.
"...regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religious background."
Quietly repeating the words to myself, I looked up and through the open spacious window. Staring out past the vast city into what became a gray abyss, I reached an epiphany. I realized that this was the moment in which I would finally find a place where I was truly accepted for me.Spending my summer in an office space was an idea that both excited and terrified me. Walking toward the towering building that greeted me proved to be a task that would be more challenging than I thought. Eventually, I managed to muster enough courage to move my feet and find my way to my destination on the 13th floor. As I entered the YMP office, I immediately noticed a common sense of anxiety and nervousness in the room.
"Hi! Good morning!" said an energetic lady whom I had known as Donna Ladd, the founder of this entire project. She directed me toward the other kids who I would spend the next nine weeks with.
I heard nervous chattering and awkward small talk as I sat down at a wooden table filled with unknown people and anxious faces. Everyone shared the same feeling of uneasy yet hopeful anticipation about the upcoming summer that awaited us.
More people entered through the door, and I saw a familiar face. It was Chloe Bishop, a close friend of mine for years. As we made eye contact, a sigh of relief came from both of us. I was glad to find someone who I knew was just as lost as I was. As the day continued, the tension in the room grew less and less. I felt more comfortable, saw more people I knew, and even became friends with new and previously intimidating faces.
Then, standing proudly in the middle of the office was Emily Henderson of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Excitedly, she stated that we were going to end our busy day with an overview of this project and what to expect. I sat back and sighed with relief.
Today was an eventful day to say the least, and plenty of interesting experiences happened. I thought back on the day and remembered warm smiles greeting me at the door. I recalled the deep, hard-hitting topics that we were discussing on the very first day. The sense of community we had already formed was present in the air as we continued to have open discussion about topics we found relevant.
Emily began speaking on the project again. Following her thought from before, she discussed equality and acceptance of everyone. She stressed that this was an idea that was important to her and necessary for this project. "Basically, all I'm is saying is that we don't discriminate here. YMP is a welcoming place, and here we accept everyone," Emily said eagerly.
Hearing those words hit me with a sense of disbelief. There were few places in which I truly felt I was able to be myself without the need of hiding my sexuality or my race. I couldn't help but smile as I thought of the summer that awaited me. I began to realize that this summer was going to be one in which I would be able to proudly be myself, and that feeling was truly a magical feeling.