Successful black businesses are reclaiming their time in rural Mississippi

Garrett Grant works at a store May 7, 2009 in Glendora, Mississippi.

Garrett Grant works at a store May 7, 2009 in Glendora, Mississippi.
Photo: Mario tama (Getty Images)

A couple from Greenville Mississippi are here to prove that black love breeds good business. While in the Delta, you’re sure to come across southern culinary staples like fried catfish, cabbage, and smothered beef tips. What you might be hard pressed to find are fresh produce. Enter Kenesha Lewis, the 30-year-old owner of Kay’s Kute Fruit, alongside her husband Jason. After years of selling juices and fruit arrangements out of their homes, the couple opened a brick-and-mortar store last spring on a downtown street known for its quaint mom and pop establishments.

“Being a young woman here in the Delta is not a lot of health options”, Kenesha told NPR. “That’s not a lot of places you can go to get a healthy wrap and then you can go to one place and have good service.”

“Acai bowls and pitaya bowls, nobody sells them here,” she says.

Jason Lewis’s worry about his wife’s dental hygiene apparently prompted the two to go into business together.

“I lost two teeth and he said to me: ‘wait a minute now, you are too young to lose those teeth'”, she laughs “[He said] “Let’s figure this out. So we made some smoothies together and I said, okay, that’s good for me.

TO The fruits of Kay’s Kute, the pair also sell infused waters, coffee, and chocolate-coated strawberries. And while their black-owned business is bustling in downtown Greenville, it’s not the only one to perform well in the area.

After college, Tim Lampkin, 35, returned to his hometown of Clarksdale, Coahoma County. After noticing that most of the predominantly black town’s businesses were owned by white people, he founded what he describes as a nonprofit economic justice organization. Higher purpose society. is the organization that helped the Lewis family gain a foothold. Holding the couple’s hand every step of the way, the couple were able to navigate the entrepreneurial waters much more easily.

“Part of it is just to level the playing field for everyone,” says Lampkin.

In this region, racial disparities have existed for decades and have created a permanent black underclass, a class of people that Lampkin is committed to repositioning at the top.

Another hero in the history of Higher Purpose Co. is that of Dr Mary Williams, another native of Clarksdale. Almost three years ago, Dr Williams opened the urgent first aid. Before opening his facility, residents had to travel 45 miles to receive after-hours care or admit themselves to the hospital emergency department. As she opened her business, she quickly realized that her patients needed more than emergency care, they also needed preventive education.

“Honestly, a lot of them didn’t and a lot of them weren’t diagnosed, they didn’t know their blood pressure was high, they didn’t know they had diabetes,” Williams says. .

But doing the right thing often comes at a cost, a high cost. Williams initially struggled to find funding. A banker even told her that the type of loan she was looking for would require her to put her house as collateral.

“I mean, the whole idea of ​​this loan was for community development,” Williams says. “Here I bring a clinic to develop the community and improve our health care and I have a hard no unless I give them my house.”

A Higher Purpose Co. helped her secure a $ 15,000 federal loan to open the clinic, which now serves 3,000 patients, including some of the people who initially refused their help.

The nonprofit is expected to open its new hub in 2023 and is one-third of its way into its $ 3M fundraising efforts. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, donations have increased dramatically, but Lampkin told NPR that “supporting black-owned businesses is the right thing to do and shouldn’t just be the rage.”

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