Thriving Black Businesses Are Reclaiming Their Time in Rural Mississippi

December 4, 2021
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Garrett Grant works inside a store May 7, 2009 in Glendora, Mississippi.

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

One Greenville Mississippi couple is out here proving that Black love breeds good business. While down in the Delta, you’re sure to come across culinary southern staples like fried catfish, collards, and smothered beef tips. What you may be hard pressed to find however, is fresh produce. Enter Kenesha Lewis, the 30 year old owner of Kay’s Kute Fruit, alongside husband Jason. After years of selling juices and fruit arrangements out of their homes, the pair opened up a brick and mortar location last spring on a downtown street known for their quaint mom and pop establishments.

“Being a young woman here in the Delta, it’s not a lot of health options,” Kenesha told NPR. “It’s not a lot of places you can go and get a healthy wrap and then you can go in the same place and have nice service.”

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

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

“I lost two teeth and he said, ‘wait a minute now, you’re too young to be losing these teeth,’” she laughs “[He said] ‘Let’s figure this out.’ So we created smoothies together and I said, okay, this is good for me.”

At Kay’s Kute fruit, the pair also sell infused waters, coffee, and chocolate covered strawberries. And while their Black owned business is bustling in downtown Greenville, it’s not the only one performing well in the area.

After college, Tim Lampkin, 35, moved back to his hometown of Clarksdale, in Coahoma County. After noticing that most businesses in the predominantly Black city were white owned, he founded what he describes as an economic justice nonprofit organization. Higher Purpose Co. is the org that helped the Lewis family gain their footing. Hand-holding the couple through every step of the process, the couple were able to navigate the entrepreneurial waters much easier.

“Part of this is just evening the playing field for everybody,” says Lampkin.

In this region, racial disparities are decades old, and have created a permanent Black underclass, a class of folks Lampkin is committed to repositioning on top.

Another hero in the Higher Purpose Co. story is that of Dr. Mary Williams, another Clarksdale native. Nearly three years ago, Dr. Williams opened the first urgent care. Prior to opening her facility, residents had to drive 45 miles to receive after hours care, or admit themselves into the hospital’s emergency ward. Upon opening her business, she soon realized that her patients required more than just emergency care, they needed preventative education too.

“A lot of them, honestly, was going without and a lot of them was going undiagnosed, they didn’t know their blood pressure was up, they didn’t know they were diabetic,” Williams says.

But doing the right thing often comes with a cost, a high cost. Williams initially struggled to find funding. She was even told by one banker that the type of loan she was seeking would require her to put her house up as collateral.

“I mean, the whole idea for this loan was for community development,” Williams says. “Here I am bringing in a clinic to develop the community and improve our health care and I got 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 individuals who initially denied her assistance.

The nonprofit is slated to open their new hub in 2023, and are one third of the way there in their $3M fundraising efforts. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, donations did rise significantly, but Lampkin tells NPR that “supporting Black-owned businesses is the right thing to do and shouldn’t just be trendy.”

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