Soul of the Coast

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As Black History Month wraps up, we present to you our fourth and final installment of ‘Soul of the Coast.’

This week, News 25’s Victoria Bailey spends time with a Gulfport native, making waves on the Coast with her many achievements and plans to unite communities.

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Unlike the 50s and 60s, growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast during the 70s and 80s was a slight improvement for people of color, but not a time without its issues. “There were times when my successes were diminished by the fact that people relegated it to race relations.”

This is Angie Juzang. “I went to St. James and St. John private schools. They were Catholic Schools and I had a lot of friends and I made a lot of success during that time. I was with the cheerleading squad. I was in service clubs, editor of the yearbook, homecoming maid, student body president, and in student government for a long time.”

But being the only black person from first to 12th grade, with the exception of one year, she says was quite the experience. “When I was promoted to captain of the cheerleading team in the fourth grade a young lady who lost out to me said I only got it because I was black. There was a time when I was the homecoming maid and after homecoming everybody went to a well-known facility on the Coast and many of the children whose parents were members stopped me at the door and said you couldn’t come in because black people aren’t welcome.”

Juzang graduated high school in 1989 and was accepted to Georgia State University. ” I was introduced to a lot of other religions, I was introduced to a lot of other ethnicities and it was amazing how the entire community came together to celebrate each other. So Martin Luther King celebration wasn’t just a day of African-Americans getting together and doing celebrations it was the entire community black, white, Jewish, Native Americans, Latino Americans and Hispanics.”

Throughout her life, Juzang had major role models to follow, including her father, prolific Civil Rights leader Dr. Gilbert Mason. “You know when you’re growing up you don’t know that your father or my mother in this case as well, are civil rights leaders speaking out giving opinions and fighting for things like Head Start and initiatives like that because they’re your parents. It was only until I went to college and then really understood the dynamic of race relations that I understood how significant his contribution was to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and throughout the country. I think that the one thing I learned from him the most is that while he embraced historically black organizations, schools, fraternity, and that he started the NAACP on the Coast, it was equally as important to him to have a seat at the table where we were not represented.”

In 2013, the Legacy Business was born. “I established a networking group for African-American professionals several years ago and black business owners so we can get together and share information and to make sure we’re filling the gap where we understand opportunities to be at the table and sometimes we otherwise wouldn’t have that access if we weren’t in the room together sharing information to make sure that the outside world who have this perception of what Mississippi looks like, understands that we can be diverse, we can be inclusive. So that people outside this community when they’re doing their research to determine if they want to live here they can see a concerted effort to make sure that we do have initiative.”

Currently, Juzang is director of marketing and communications at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport and the first African-American incoming president of the local nonprofit organization. Things she says her dad would be very proud of. “He actually wanted me to do something in medicine. I took off wanting to be in law. I majored in international affairs and women’s studies but found my niche in marketing and happy to work for one of the largest healthcare systems on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

As years continue to pile up between the Civil Rights Era and the newest generation, Juzang says it is the older generation’s responsibility to make sure the struggle is never forgotten.  “There were people who were systematically oppressed. They weren’t just disenfranchised. They were dehumanized  and to be able to rise from that adversity comes power and strength and to understand that you come from a culture of people who can overcome a country where laws were put in place to keep you in a position that was less than.”

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