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Mississippi-based podcast aims to educate, impact local ears

October 14, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When Beau York enters his studio in downtown Jackson each day, a shadow is cast on the sidewalk near him.

It isn’t from a building or a tree, but from a nearby flagpole located across the street — on the grounds of the Mississippi State Capitol.

“I see our state flag flying every single day,” said York, executive producer of Podastery, a company based in the state’s capital city that produces podcasts. “As an entrepreneur working in new media, I’ve had the opportunity to go and speak at a lot of different conferences around the world. Whenever I go somewhere and I tell them I’m from Mississippi, there’s always this bracing myself, not knowing what their understanding of that means; knowing full well the banner that represents us comes with a lot of baggage.”

York said it’s an issue that he’s found other Mississippians have when representing the state abroad.

“No matter where people from here go to represent the state well, that banner also follows us around. We’re always in its shadow whether or not we want to be,” he said.

So, York set out to enlighten himself as well as educate others.

“What can I do? My art form — my platform — is podcasting. So I had to ask myself, is it possible to use a podcast as a battering ram for change? Can you use the medium to change hearts and minds to connect with an audience and help move the needle forward?” he said.

Enter “Red Flag,” York’s latest project that covers the history of the Mississippi state flag — from the perspective of the flag itself throughout history.

“The podcast is a story of how we got here, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and beyond,” he said.

While assembling his team to bring the project to realization, York said it was important to have members as diverse as the makeup of the state itself.

“The people creating this podcast reflect Mississippi both on mic and behind the scenes,” he said. “It was important to us that this was not coming from a white perspective. There was a deliberate choice for the hosts to be diverse representatives from the state. Male, female, black and white. We have an excellent team that is far smarter than I am and are attuned to what is needed here.”

York hosts alongside Chellese Hall, a communications specialist. Original music for the series was created by Mississippi musical group Clouds and Crayons, the artwork was designed by Mississippi artist Tyler Tadlock and Jackson writer Rachel James-Terry penned the episodes.

The podcast launched on Sept. 18 with new episodes scheduled to release weekly until its finale in November.

Episodes range from different topics, including how the flag has been used in pop culture over the years to the statewide referendum vote in 2001.

“That was 17 years ago,” York said of the vote. “We now have 17 years worth of new voters that did not get a say in that. The position that the referendum gave everyone a chance to decide falls flat when you realize a lot of Mississippians impacted by the flag today couldn’t vote then. We’ve talked to a lot of people throughout the podcast that have changed their minds since then. Many said if they could go back in time to change their vote, they would. The idea that we had a vote then and now it’s over doesn’t hold water to me.”

While York and his team pull no punches that they wish to see change happen, he said the narrative of the show was always intended to enlighten, more than anything.

“Education and history were quintessential in developing this. That’s what we wanted to provide. (The flag) has been used as a symbol for white supremacy and was flown over some racially traumatic events throughout the course of our history, but more importantly throughout the course of the flag’s history. That’s the way we tell its story. Arguably, the flag has had two histories. There’s been some heinous acts done in the shadow of it and that’s a real part of history. But it’s also been used as a symbol of Southern pride and rebel spirit and everything of that nature. The reality is that both of those histories lead back to this Southern way of life that elevates one group of people over another.”

In unraveling the history of the fabric, the producers sought out the right people to speak on the flag’s influence.

“Our goal was to find subject-matter experts that can speak to the era or the issue,” York said. “We have experts on symbols, we have historians that have a deep knowledge and educate others.”

York said that perspective was at the forefront of the storytelling device.

“We will ever only truly understand our own experience,” he said. “I am 5-feet 5-inches tall. I will never know what it’s like to be 7 feet tall. However, sometimes, when I’m on a stool, I look around and I realize this is how people taller than me see the world. They can reach certain things that I can’t reach. They have a different angle. It gives me a unique perspective in that moment, but eventually I have to come down off the stool. We each have our own experiences, but I think what is most important is for all of us to take a moment to get up on the stool or to bend down, whatever it may be, to try and put ourselves in the position of an experience we may not otherwise have. I do believe it is far more important for someone to put themselves in the mindset of the historically oppressed.”

Noting that harmony is preferable to strife, York said that healthy conversation can be a far better catalyst for change than heated debate.

“We want everyone to come to the table of this podcast, not just those who agree the flag needs to be changed but those who support it as well. It’s important, especially in the modern era, that we rise above the Facebook comment conversations that are going on. But at the same time, we don’t need to be sitting around singing ‘Kumbaya.’ We need to recognize the real issues that we have as a state, I firmly believe, that chief among them is our brand. We have a broken brand. Hopefully this podcast can be part of fixing that problem. We can be another thread in the solution of weaving a new flag for our state.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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