Some might say the creation of Mississippi First (MSF) started long before its launch in 2008. Sanford Johnson and Rachel Canter met riding the school bus in elementary school over 20 years ago. They formed a friendship that would last beyond their years as public school students in Starkville, Mississippi. As time passed, their paths continued to cross. They both became teachers in the Mississippi Delta, and later both went to school to study public policy–Rachel at the Harvard Kennedy School and Sanford at the Clinton School of Public Service. While they shared many experiences, their strongest commonality is that they both have a deep desire to improve education in their home state. This desire led Rachel and Sanford to the idea of Mississippi First.

In 2008, Rachel and Sanford founded MSF as a nonprofit organization dedicated to moving Mississippians forward through education reform. In March 2009, MSF officially formed its first Board of Directors and joined the PIE Network in order to receive support in the process of education advocacy at the state level. In 2010, MSF played a major role in helping the Mississippi Department of Education apply for the new School Improvement Grant program, which brought Mississippi $47M in grants for low-performing schools. During these first few years, Mississippi First worked diligently on issue education and advocacy for state-funded pre-K and charter schools. In 2013, this work came to fruition. The Mississippi Legislature passed the Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act, which was based on recommendations from MSF. The Legislature also passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013, modeled after a report published by Mississippi First titled Leaving Last in Line. That summer, MSF received two capacity grants to expand their work in Mississippi.

Today, Mississippi First is an organization of 9 Mississippians dedicated to improving pre-K-12 education and teen health in Mississippi.