Mississippians are currently going through some self-reflection about our state's past and its part in the system of slavery and racial injustice that have plagued this country since its beginnings. Most recently, that self-reflection has led to the rejection by most of the 1894 flag because of its inclusion of the Confederate symbol. Come November, Mississippians will have a say in choosing our state's new flag.

One option that has wide support statewide is the Hospitality Flag, formerly known as the Stennis Flag. It has a ring of 19 blue stars surrounding a larger star in the center to represent Mississippi as the 20th state to join the Union. This is displayed on a white background with red bars on either side. There is discussion of displaying the words "In God We Trust" on the flag as well. Its new name also ties in with the state's slogan, "The Hospitality State."

Hospitality is defined as "the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers." Its synonyms include friendliness, generosity, warmth, affability, amiability, cheer, comradeship, consideration, conviviality, cordiality, entertainment, geniality, heartiness, hospitableness, obligingness, sociability, welcome and good cheer.

Mississippi, like the rest of the United States of America, is facing challenges on a few fronts these days. One challenge is the effort to reckon with the sin of slavery and the echoes of racism that exist today. And another challenge we face is how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state, The Hospitality State, has a unique opportunity to be the leader on both fronts.

One way for Mississippians to lead the way and show their hospitality while fighting the pandemic is to wear a face mask in public. Unfortunately, for many this is a hot-button issue that flies in the face of individual freedom. Some see the push for people to wear masks as politically motivated. In light of our state motto and the reputation we want to maintain, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

In recent weeks, we've seen several days where daily case numbers have topped 800 and at least two where the numbers spiked above 1,000. According to Dr. Thomas Dobbs, head of the State Department of Health, a large number of these cases are among young adults in their 20's and 30's. While a majority of them may have milder symptoms (which could still include pneumonia), the chances that they might infect a loved one, neighbor or coworker who will have a hard time with the virus are high.

I hear and understand the argument that we cannot sustain a shutdown similar to the one Mississippi and most states saw in April and early May. It caused great harm to our economic system. I would argue that simple things, like wearing a mask, will make it possible for us to avoid the need for further shutdowns. But if we keep going in the current direction, that will not only damage our economy, it will also put our health care systems in jeopardy.

Another way of being hospitable is to follow The Golden Rule. Yes, your freedoms are important, but not at the cost of someone else's life. The Hospitality State has the chance to live up to its name and lead the way in caring for our fellow citizens. I hope we take it.

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