Mississippi native leans on faith to inspire others

Published 7:32 am Saturday, November 27, 2021

Joseph Ivy has lived through dark days.

The Nettleton native allows his faith to guide him every day. Often quoting from the Bible or Martin Luther King, Jr., Ivy has learned to live a life that reflects the words.

“There are times when I had to be the light in the tunnel,” Ivy said.

It was faith that led Ivy into the role of work release supervisor for the municipal court nearly five years ago. The son of a veteran and a mother who worked at a factory, he didn’t always have the best growing up. But his mom, Earnestine Ivy, did her best to raise him and his brother with the help of their grandmother.

His mother always emphasized the importance of education because she didn’t finish high school, Ivy said. When she had a health scare in 1996, a doctor gave her five years to live and told her she needed a heart transplant. Earnestine Ivy rejected that prognosis.

“She said, ‘Keep me alive to see my son graduate from college.’ There was no way in the world I was going to rob my mom of the opportunity of seeing me graduate,” Ivy said.

His mother, who had congestive heart failure, died on Aug. 21, 2016. When she was in the hospital, she told her son, “’Joe, you’ve got a lot of work to do.”

She didn’t specify the work, Ivy said. He already knew what it was.

“She actually said, and this is when she was in the flesh, ‘Joe, I can’t leave you right now. I’ve got to be around to see all the great things that you want to do,’” Ivy said.

A week later, before she was discharged, she made peace.

“She said, ‘Joe, I’ve done seen everything I need to see from you.’ That’s the spirit talking. ‘Set some goals for yourself to accomplish,’” Ivy said. “The only goal I set was do the work — the work of the Lord.”

That was a dark chapter in his life. But December that same year brought new opportunities. A position with the municipal court opened up, and he interviewed with John Knight, the administrator of the court system.

“He took a chance on me,” Ivy said. “We’ve been going strong at the court with the work program ever since then, trying to make a positive difference in the lives of others, change the forecast, and also get the city clean.”

Before working with the court, Ivy was passionate about advertising and music. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in business studies with a specialization in marketing and management. He owned a marketing and advertising firm, which provided him with the opportunity to promote several artists, including some legends.

Then the economic downturn came in 2008, hitting the entertainment business especially hard.

It was also the year his father, Joseph Lee Ivy, died. The two became very estranged after his dad returned from Vietnam. By March 2008, his father wanted to make amends, even offering him a truck.

Ivy still needed time. He thanked his father, but ultimately refused his offer. As a compromise, he decided he would call his father on Father’s Day.

On June 14, the day before Father’s Day, his father died.

“I learned the hard way never put off today for tomorrow,” Ivy said. “I got that truck that he tried to give me that day, and ever since that day — every day I had that truck — I was working with a constant reminder. It fueled me.”

Ivy leaned on God during that time. He became more involved in the church. Since becoming the work program supervisor, he’s worked to change lives. It introduced him to an array of people. He chooses to see the participants for their potential.

“If someone would have seen me 20 years ago, 30 years ago … I would have been misjudged, mischaracterized, stereotyped during that time period,” Ivy said. “

Project Solution, a work program that employs homeless individuals to pick up litter to help them transition into the workforce, especially drives Ivy. Through the program, he’s watched previously homeless people gain employment, be able to have health insurance, and work “to accumulate a little bit of something.”

“With Project Solution, I’m able to see God work in real-time,” Ivy said.

Ivy hopes his own experiences are an example to others. He sees his assignment as building individuals up and providing hope.

“A lot of times, individuals are traveling through dark times in their life and they’re trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel,” Ivy said. “I could not wait to get to the end of the tunnel. I had to light it up.”