Rachel Cantor, Executive Director, Mississippi First
ROTARY CLUB OF JACKSON (RCJ) MEETING
Monday, April 16, 2018
 
Brooks Buchanan, Rotary president and assistant general council, C Spire, called the meeting to order and welcomed everyone.  The invocation was given, the pledge of allegiance and four-way test were recited and guests and visiting Rotarians were welcomed.

The following Paul Harris Fellows were recognized by RCJ Foundation Chair Mark Saxon: Leroy Walker of LTM Enterprises and Brandon Ogburn of MS Attorney General's Office; PHF + 1 were Bill Blackwell of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Mark Chinn of Chinn & Associate; PHF + 2 were Richard Nickles of N & W Construction, Thad McLaurin of The Orchard and Neddie Winters of Mission Mississippi; PHF +8 was Danny Williams of Woodridge Capital.
 
All are invited to attend the Rotary District conference June 7 – 10. For more information and to register go to http://rotary6820.org/event/district-conference.
 
Hank Holman, with Prudential Kres Commercial Real Estate, introduced Rachel Cantor, executive director of Mississippi First and member of the Rotary Club of Jackson since November 2013.  She told how Mississippi First came about and how she became involved. 
 
She grew up in Starkville where her dad taught at MSU and her mother was in the Rotary Club of Starkville and served on the school board.  All dinner conversations centred around education and how to improve it.  She interned at the Governor’s office when she was in college at Penn State. Even though she graduated from highly rated Starkville High School, she was not fully prepared for college.  She wanted to do something to improve education in Mississippi.  After college she taught 7th grade English in Greenville with Teach for America.  Some of the 12-year-old students could not read at all.  They had never had a special education diagnosis, had never failed a grade.  She felt it was an extreme injustice to the student.
 
What could she do about it? Start a non-profit to change the system?  She did not want to just run for office.  She wanted to do something bigger.  She needed more than four to eight years in an elected position.  She applied to go to the Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard.  At the age of 26, she was accepted and given a scholarship. She talked to all the staff while there about starting a non-profit in Mississippi to work on education.  She was able to obtain a grant for $25,000 and a matching grant for $75,000. 
 
She then moved back to Mississippi and partnered with a high school friend to form Mississippi First.  They were able to get two pieces of legislation passed: The Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act and the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013, after which they gained positive notice and received other grants.  They now employ nine people and have a budget of $1.6M.  Mississippi First is not ideological and not partisan. They support policies for children and youth. Their goal is to set conditions for students and teachers to do their work as well as they can.  She is concerned about the Jackson Public Schools, as education is the only hope for some of these children.  To know more about Mississippi First, go to http://www.mississippifirst.org/about/the-msf-story/.