I love Oxford.  I love Mississippi. I love America.  Loving America also means loving Americans. Yet, we are at a time in our history where the rhetoric only seems to get more and more divisive, and the toxic polarization is sadly becoming something we accept as the norm. We have gone past disagreeing to disliking – and even despising – those who don’t agree with us.  We’ve lost sight, in many cases, of the possibility of understanding and respecting each other. 

So, do we throw in the towel? I don’t think so. Accepting the idea that our communities and country are hopelessly divided can only end badly for all of us. 

Studies show that most of us are actually tired of division.  If you, like me, long for peace in our families, cooperation in our communities and unity in our country, let’s talk. Or actually, let’s listen.

When I was elected Mayor of Oxford in 2017, I knew that in order for our community to reach its greatest potential, we had to create space for community conversation. I was introduced to the Listen First Project and immediately signed on and took the pledge along with hundreds of other elected officials committing to listen first to understand. At its core is the hope that we will see each other across differences and not see problems or issues, but people and experience human connection. In 2017, I felt like being a part of this work was important. It seems even more so in 2024.  

The Listen First Project has partnered with the National Week of Conversation for the Better Together Film Festival providing opportunities for us to come to the table and listen. Throughout my seven years as Mayor, I have focused on developing leaders within our city workforce.  It is important that we prepare our workforce for the Oxford of the future. I believe that sharing this opportunity to present a short film and facilitate conversation as part of the Better Together Festival provides an opportunity that allows city leaders to experience something unique and potentially life-changing. This is a group of people who are leaders in departments across our community.  They are setting the tone in their departments and in our community.  We share the goal of leaving Oxford better than we found it, and we share hope for Oxford’s future.  These conversations are where we build bridges for the future and where real change can begin. Employees are not obligated to come but are making a choice to lean into something that can help them do their jobs better and to understand others more fully.  

National Week of Conversation is a time to practice courage over contempt.  Are you satisfied with the tension in our communities?  I’m not. The “other side” is not going away no matter what side you are on.  We can’t wait on this to be addressed at a state or national level. We also can’t minimize the effect that even small efforts have.  As Margaret Mead so accurately stated, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” There is hope. And, we all have a role to play.

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Mayor Robyn Tannehill is serving her second term as Mayor of the City of Oxford,
Mississippi. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Robyn began her career
serving as the Assistant Director of Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce
and Economic Development Foundation. She then had the pleasure of serving as the
Executive Director of the Oxford Tourism Council before establishing a marketing,
advertising and public relations firm.

Being the mayor of one of the fastest growing communities in the state has its
challenges but Robyn has embraced these issues as opportunities focusing on
proactive planning for the future, development of affordable workforce housing, supporting local businesses and investing in infrastructure.

Mayor Tannehill has been recognized for her service and leadership by numerous organizations including her selection as a NewDEAL Leader – a national group of
pro-growth elected officials championing ideas to grow the economy, expand opportunity for all and make government work better. Robyn has been named Mississippi Businesswoman of the Year and University of Mississippi’s Young Alumnus of the Year. Her greatest honor was being appointed to the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag which was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of Mississippi in 2021.

Robyn and her husband of over 30 years, Rhea, have recently become empty nesters
as their children Maggie (24), Jack (21) and Molly Catherine (19) are pursuing college
and careers.

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