Tuesday, July 20, 2021

My Tribe. My People. My Mississippi.


Get yourself some friends that will straighten your crown (or fix your hair). Where to begin? I’m beaming with pride over Chloe stepping way out of her comfort zone and competing in the Mississippi Miss Hospitality Compeition. And she did it all authentically "Chloe." Thank you to Katelyn Brown for seeing a spark in her and recommending Chloe to the most amazing Local Director ever.


Thank you, Mrs. Janet, for the love, advice, shopping trips, contestant gifts, interview prep, comic relief and much more. The skills and confidence you have gifted my daughter with will last a lifetime. Thank you to Kristen Brock, the Board of Directors, and all the volunteers that dedicate hours into a program that has helped shape young women since 1949. A big thank you to the house moms that took care of our girls. And especially to our earth angel, Pam, for being there for Chloe when she had to make a quick ER visit (She is fine, but that’s always a scary moment). 

How about all the support and love. Jackson County has shown out! Thankful for all the encouragement and financial support from businesses, leaders, friends, family, anonymous donors, community and church members.  In so many ways we are really “one coast.” Since there wasn’t a contestant from Harrison County, Chloe embraced this opportunity as representing “the” Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

While enjoying lunch at Keg and Barrel Saturday my Aunt Patty reminded me of the deep roots of hospitality that run through our veins. My great uncle Himbert Sinopoli was the very first Executive Director of Harrison County Tourism. He has many accolades for bolstering tourism during his time as commissioner. Of course “tourism and hospitality” is a Sinopoli family tradition. I have fond childhood memories of feeding the gators marshmallows at Popp’s Ferry restaurant, my favorite of many famous in a small town Sinopoli eateries.

One of the many Mississippi facts Chloe (and I) learned while interview prepping is that tourism is our 4th largest industry and continues to grow. Did you know 75 percent of visitors to the secret coast come back. So invite someone! 20-25 percent of visitors to Mississippi say they are here because of an invitation by a relative or friend. And it's working! Mississippi was the top travel spending market in the US for 2020. We are our very best source of advertising. How about share with others the good Made only in Mississippi stuff and there’s much good stuff to share about the Magnolia State.

Perhaps our greatest asset is how deeply we love our tribe: Thank you Tara for showing up to support Chloe. It meant so much to have Mr. Hospitality, Uncle Himbert’s, daughter there. Thank you Aunt Patty, Aunt Angie that flew in from Charlotte, Jill, Marty, Andrea and Grace. Thank you to Susan & Bob and Chloe’s chief benefactor Windy and Rob for being there. Thank you Margaret Ann & Ken. Last year's Miss Jackson County and others. And thank you to so many for sending cards, flowers, gifts, love and support. Countless supporters let us know they were tuning in via FB Live and sending their love from across the miles.  

In addition to deep roots and crazy over the top love, Mississippi means connections. It was a sweet surprise to see one of my favorite high school teachers involved in Miss Hospitality. Each year I spent two class periods learning from a master. I did not recognize at the time how “special” this was, but I am indebted to Mr. Michael Marks for teaching me the art of speech, debate and stage. Skills I use every week in my role as clergy. 


While at the Farewell Brunch it was another “connection” moment when Angie realized one of the past long time Executive Directors was her KD mom at USM. Ms. Bonnie Warren, Director Emeritus, immediately recognized Angie and they enjoyed a sweet reunion moment. 

The Chloe Kirby Fan Club claimed a local downtown hotspot, The Porter, as our pre-pageant hang out space. One night Mark Mann was there serenading the crowd. Many nights many moons ago I spent at Tal’s listening to Mark’s band, Eulogy of the Dog. This past Sunday I preached about “Finding God’s will for your life” where your talents/gifts intersect with your passion and then sharing this unique combo with the world. Happy to see my fellow classmate, Mark Mann, is (still) living the dream. 

Truth be told, it was not easy being back in Hattiesburg. Stopping by old haunts like Shipley Do-Nuts and the Hattiesburg (Kamper Park) Zoo  that we frequented with our parents. Driving through the old neighborhoods, past Thames Elementary and places where my mom spent untold hours working hard to make sure she found her clients the perfect place to raise their families. Knowing Chloe was touring Forrest General where my dad worked for years as a Clinical Pharmacist. Both gone too soon. Every time I would recall that mom would be giddy with excitement to see Chloe shining on the stage, I was overwhelmed with a flood of tears and deep sadness for a past that can not be reclaimed. 


Cherry, my best friend, lightened the heavy load and made the journey as sweet as can be. 
She is my person. And I thank God that my sister is also my best friend.

The aunts, Cherry, Bella and I had the best time exploring the new Pocket Museum, checking out an old fashion favorite, UAL, and dining at several new restaurants. Making new Hattiesburg memories, together. And we can't forget our beautiful Cinderella Barbie, Bella. What a doll. She graced the stage regally as Jaxco's Little Miss.

There are so many wonderful things that happened during the Mississippi Miss Hospitality competition, but one stands out. A true "God thing." During the Autograph Signing Party at Turtle Creek Mall, Cherry and I walked down to the Food Court to get a Coke Zero. I looked out into the sea of faces and was stunned to see our Camp Wesley Pines crew there munching on Chick-fil-A.  A last minute pit stop change had them in this "perfect spot" at the "perfect time." The kids were equally shocked to see me there. So many hugs, and "Pastor MJ why are you here?" Each one spilling out details of a week they will remember forever. We surprised Chloe with a visit from the GFUMC kiddos. Big tears welled up in her eyes.  It made her day! This reminded me (again) the Lord is faithful to provide what we need at just the right moment. 

Another “God thing” Chloe’s roommate, Miss Jackson, recently (sadly) lost her brother. As she was sharing her heartache with Chloe, what comfort must have came when Chloe was able to say, “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I know what it means to lose a brother.” You just never know what someone is going through. What unseen injuries they are nursing. God places people on your path for you to uplift and share their load. Be kind and gentle. We are all just trying to make it through this thing called life. 

Back to the crown fixing: In true Miss Hospitality fashion, McKay Lee Bray, last year’s winner offered to help the contestants with their hair, or anything really. Chloe took her up on that. The last night when Chloe hit the stage with a McKay Bray signature do, she looked like a movie star. Her hair flipped and swayed with her movements. This one magic moment I will remember forever. But more so, we will never forget the kindness shown in this simple act of love and service. Be that girl that will fix another's crown. 

Jackson County didn’t come away with the crown, but we left with a big smile and a heart filled with abiding gratitude. We will forever remember it as one of the best "times of our lives." Chloe has gained confidence, interview skills, made forever friends from every corner of our great state, and has learned so much about our home. The biggest take away is Mississippi is one big family with deep roots and strong connections. This entire experience has made me even more proud to be a Mississippian. Mississippi, You is kind. You is smart. You is important. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. 


My Tribe. My People. My Mississippi.