Values Storying Spotlight: Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Values Storying Spotlight: Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Yes, we DO have shoes in Mississippi. We might not wear them all of the time…but we do have them!
Patricia Neely-Dorsey has been clearing up misconceptions about her home state of Mississippi as far back as she can remember. Recently named an official goodwill ambassador for the state of Mississippi, she laughs at her memories from her college years at Boston University–where she was known as Tupelo (her hometown) or simply Mississippi. “Whenever my friends saw me coming, they knew that there would be some type of discourse about Mississippi and the South soon to follow. They had some of the craziest ideas ( for the 1980’s ) about Mississippi, like people living in huts or shacks with dirt floors and farm animals sleeping in the house. I couldn’t believe it! So, clearing up misconceptions about the South and about Mississippi has been an ongoing thing for me. For as long as I can remember, it has been my soap box topic!”
I am hopeful that recent efforts to recognize one of her poems as the official state poem will pick up momentum in the next legislative session. Because of her consistency in promoting a positive Mississippi and passing down her best stories to the next generation, I am pleased to shine the values storying spotlight on Patricia Neely-Dorsey.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey: Poetic Storyteller
Patricia Neely-Dorsey has written two volumes of poetry about Mississippi and the South. The title of her first book–Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems, published in 2007–was partially inspired by a co-worker in Memphis who often called her “one of those Mississippi magnolias.” One of the things that immediately struck me about Neely-Dorsey’s poetry was her purpose in writing it; she calls her work a “poetic autobiography.” As a fellow Mississippian, part of her story is my story. But whether I am enjoying a purple-stained memory of “Shelling Peas” or being educated on a familiar-but-never-personally-experienced event like “Making Cracklings,” I can relate to the poems in Reflections.
My Magnolia Memories and Musings in Poems was published in 2012 and contains much of what you need to know about the South. Want to know how we talk? “Talkin’ Southern” has got you covered. How we eat? There’s “Southern Comfort” for that. Neely-Dorsey even takes you to the headquarters of Southern hospitality in “Front Porch.” She tells me that one of her biggest audiences for both books is people who grew up in the South but moved away. They can go to “You Ain’t Country” to find out if they still qualify.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey: The Goodwill Ambassador
Numerous speaking engagements in the near-decade since her first book’s publication, Patricia Neely-Dorsey’s clarion call for a positive view of Mississippi has met with a variety of reactions. Most of the response to her “only positive Mississippi spoken here” has been supportive. She says that many native Mississippians, especially, thank her for being so vocal in expressing the positive aspects of their home state.
Others, though, accuse her of looking through rose-colored glasses, of glossing over the problems so widely expressed by other writers. Her response? “That is not the case at all. I don’t ignore the negatives that do exist; it’s just that there is so much more to the story. And no one seems to want to tell that part of the story AT ALL! That is where I come in!”
State representative Randy Boyd became familiar with Neely-Dorsey’s work on behalf of Mississippi and the South. He felt she should be recognized for the work that she was doing in spreading positive messages about Mississippi and sponsored a resolution on her behalf in February of 2015. It read, in part:
WHEREAS, it is the policy of the House of Representatives to commend the success of talented, humble, hardworking , Mississippians, such as Mrs. Neely-Dorsey, who have earned positive recognition and who claim their Mississippi heritage proudly with a badge of honor throughout this great nation:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, that we do hereby commend and congratulate Mrs. Neely-Dorsey for her many accomplishments and extend best wishes to our native daughter for many more years of tremendous success.
On that day, Neely-Dorsey was honored to be able to read some of her poems before the House and to meet with Governor Phil Bryant. After that meeting the governor signed a proclamation presenting her as an official goodwill ambassador for Mississippi. She has since continued to do the work that brought her that recognition in the first place, promoting a positive Mississippi through speaking engagements at libraries, churches, schools, and civic organizations all over the state.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey’s poem “Meet My Mississippi” received some consideration as Mississippi’s first official state poem, but like so many other bills, never made it out of committee. She remains hopeful that her poem that celebrates Mississippi’s natural beauty, cultural accomplishments, and hospitable people will come to the floor of the both legislative branches and become one of only a handful of official state poems.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey: A Values Storyteller
Whether or not Patricia Neely-Dorsey’s work is recognized by state officials or not, her track record says that she will continue to fight against negative connotations of the South. She will keep writing her “love letters to the South” and doing her part to make sure that both sides of the Mississippi story are told to succeeding generations.
At the end of our lengthy conversation, I asked PND (as she often refers to herself) what she would have my readers do to help “Meet My Mississippi” get to the finish line as the state poem. Her response: I need for as many Mississippians as possible to contact their representatives asking for supporting the poem being passed through committee and to vote for it when it does get introduced for a vote. Last session, the poem was assigned to the Tourism Committee. The chairperson of the Tourism committee in the House is Representative Becky Currie. It would more that likely be assigned again to that committee. It would be very helpful for voters to send e-mails to Ms. Currie asking that the poem be passed in committee to be released for a vote. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Neely-Dorsey has spent the better part of her life standing up against the negative connotations of her home state, and she has done so with style and with grace. I would encourage you–if you are a registered Mississippi voter–to get on board with me in supporting a fellow writer and a friend to all Mississippians.
Check out more of her works here:
About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.