The season of black history remembrance in Meridian was kicked off at Meridian Community College Thursday by gospel singers, essay contest winners, and a politician — Hattiesburg Mayor Dr. Johnny DuPree, who is running for governor.
DuPree was the main speaker at the "Celebrating the Dream that Lives" event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at MCC's McCain Theater.
A native of Hattiesburg, DuPree has been mayor of that city for nine years, and previously served on the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the Hattiesburg Public School Board. At Thursday's program, he talked about the problems of poverty and hate, and Dr. King's fight to bring love to the forefront.
People in government and otherwise, DuPree said, should be "dedicating ourselves to no hate, working together to build communities instead of breaking each other down."
"We often talk about people we don't even know," he said. "We shoot people on the interstate. We cuss people out for bumping into us in the grocery store. Sounds like chaos. But there is hope ... We produce more missionaries in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and we give more in Mississippi than any other state."
After reading some of Dr. King's words on poverty, DuPree talked about the current situation of poverty in Mississippi and the way the government handles it.
"(Dr. King) acknowledged that no matter how much the economy changed ... that it won't and could not eliminate all poverty. But our current economy ... forces people into unemployment against their will," DuPree told the crowd, "Our goal should be a society where everyone can make a living for themselves. We can't do that when our governor and our lieutenant governor or any of those others cut unemployment benefits or reject federal funds (that could help people get on their feet)."
In an interview after the speech, DuPree said that, "Dr. King basically said that the way we reduce sub-standard housing and the plight of the people in America is you have to share the economic prosperity with everybody, and if you pull people out of poverty, the other things will take care of themselves."
DuPree said in the interview that he feels Mississippi should be focused on restructuring education, taking advantage of its "natural wealth," and growing small business, not large industry alone. He said that, if he's elected governor, he also wants to look at improvements to the Delta region, but also wants to look for projects that benefit the entire state rather than just certain regions.
"We (Mississippi) have an opportunity to lead and do other things," DuPree said. "This is a good place to live, and I think if we explore all the possibilities and give people choices, I think we can tap all the potential that we have."
DuPree said that, if he becomes governor, he also wants to try to improve the way the state's budget crisis is being dealt with.
"We're cutting the core to the core," he said. "You can go as far as you can go, and then you can't go much further (with budget cuts). We've got to look at other alternatives and other ways to make sure that our institutions are sustained to a level that will be beneficial to the people of the state."
DuPree is a Democrat, and will face Bill Luckett in the Democratic primary for governor in June.