By: Alyssah Morrison
Finding a Purpose in Community-Based Journalism
Christian Middleton believes that studying English and technical writing is perfect training for the inevitable drudgery of the task at hand, the task of being an attentive and active human in a flawed world. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Christian, an MSU alumnus and freelance writer living in Oxford, Mississippi. Christian grew up in the Ozarks and graduated from MSU in May of 2019.
In 2020, Christian has found himself combining his skills earned as an English major with an emphasis in literature and a minor in technical writing to report and write on events in his community. Christian emphasized that “Everyone needs to support community-based journalism” and Christian’s English courses at MSU allowed him to understand the connectedness between events, texts, and community members.
Christian has recently been working with Mississippi Free Press, a female-founded nonprofit journalism site that launched in March of 2020 and aims “to publish deep public-interest reporting into causes of and solutions to the social, political and structural challenges facing all Mississippians and their communities.”
Christian has written several pieces for MFP that focus on racial topics at University of Mississippi. The relocating of a Confederate soldier statue on University of Mississippi’s campus has drawn a lot of attention. Christian wrote: “The Confederate statue on the University of Mississippi campus now has a new home after 114 years in a prime spot on campus.”
Across the country, many people are considering the Confederate iconography present in public spaces and the tie between Southern heritage and the perpetuation of racism towards Black Americans. Christian shared that “the monument that was causing controversy has been moved by the school cemetery and the construction is ongoing.”
The relocation of the Confederate statue is timely as students and citizens across Mississippi rally for the removal and recreation of the current Mississippi state flag which contains the same rebel cross and stars as the Confederate flag.
University of Mississippi has a diverse student body and the population of Black students who come to campus every year are shocked by the presence of this looming, physical reminder of a haunting past. Christian shared, “I am privileged enough to not have it cross my mind, it’s just a piece of rock. But as a black person, that’s your ancestors suffering.” This conversation is emerging in Oxford, Jackson, throughout all of Mississippi, bleeding into other Southern states and up towards the Midwest.
“Reading is an empathy-building exercise and when you are out in the world speaking with people, they are upset, angry, sad, and you have to be able to relate to people and have differing conversations.”
Influence from MSU
I asked Christian how his English education at MSU contributed to his reporting and writing on such influential topics. He said that studying English at Missouri State helped him learn to understand extremely different viewpoints: “Reading is an empathy-building exercise and when you are out in the world speaking with people, they are upset, angry, sad, and you have to be able to relate to people and have differing conversations.”
For example, when writing the story on the statue, Christian said that some individuals “were 100% for moving the statue and wish it would turn to dust and others were outraged by the thought of even moving it.” Holding the complexity of people in all of their individual opinions and experiences with patience and care is an integral part of reporting and documenting.
A Piece of Advice
Christian’s advice for current MSU students is to be more involved in your community. “Reach out to people! After COVID and after the elections, we are still going to have problems. If we solidify our communities, we can work together to solve these problems.”
In a COVID-19 time of closed cinemas, cancelled concerts, and online education, the humanities are starved and strive to carry on in a time when the public most needs narrative and connection. During times of controversy, questioning, and crisis Christian claims that “writing and art are some of the best expressions of humanity, communicating things that may not otherwise be said.”
About the Author
Alyssah Morrison is a poet, English graduate student, and teaching assistant at Missouri State University. She is proudly from The Ozarks and will happily recommend rivers and/or restaurants to curious readers.