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Kenesha Lewis, a 30-year-old Black entrepreneur, began her journey with a dream of creating healthier food options for those who live in the Deep South. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Ms. Lewis first started her business in her home, making fruit smoothies for local neighbors. 

“Being a young woman here in the Delta, it’s not a lot of healthy options,” Ms. Lewis said in an interview. “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.” 

And that’s just what she created with the advent of her brick-and-mortar juice bar, called Kay’s Kute Fruit. Now, locals in her small rural community have a place they can go for smoothies, fruit juice, and other healthy treats. 

Many are surprised that the owner is a young energetic Black woman. “I’m really excited for the young people to walk in, and they say, who’s the owner, and they’re like, what? I had somebody do that to me,” Ms. Lewis said in an interview, with a laugh. 

In fact, the rural community, which is over 80% Black, has few stores owned or operated by people of Color, a statistic she wanted to change. With the help of Black startup magnate Tim Lampkin, 35, Ms. Lewis was able to open her storefront in Greenville, Mississippi, in 2020.

Mr. Lampkin is the founder of economic justice non-profit Higher Purpose, which empowers Black entrepreneurs in making their business dreams come to fruition. The organization provides support for all areas of startup management and has a mentorship program for over 300 young Black entrepreneurs. 

“If we’re going to make special exceptions for entrepreneurs because, you know, they’re a white farmer and we know their family, why can’t a Black entrepreneur get the same level of access and understanding and patience when it comes to getting access to capital?” asked Mr. Lampkin in an interview.

The Higher Purpose program is especially important for Black communities in the Deep South, who face a history of economic oppression and injustice. In fact, many banks in Mississippi are still hesitant to do business with Black entrepreneurs, even today.

Yet organizations like Higher Purpose seek to balance the scales, providing economic equity for a population that has been the victim of white supremacy for hundreds of years. “Part of this is just evening the playing field for everybody,” Lampkin says.

Ms. Lewis, meanwhile, knows that seeing Black-owned and -operated businesses inspires more Black community members to financial independence and success. “Our Black people are waking up, they know that they can do this,” Lewis says. “I think that we have helped them to understand that they can do this, they can succeed in this era.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...