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Stockton, California’s poet Brandon Leake wants to revitalize and transform an old run-down Kmart building into a community grocery store and gym.
Leake speaks of his childhood fondly in connection with Kmart.
“Here is where I got my first ever school clothes, blue light special with the layaway,” Leake said, standing just feet away from the building’s now boarded up front doors. “This community has a lot of history for me, and to see a landmark place like this just going to waste… it saddens me.”
Stockton’s Kmart closed in 2019.
According to ABC 10, the 84,000 square-foot property has become what Leake and other community members describe as an “eyesore.” It is also right in the middle of Stockton’s disadvantaged southeast side, which is also known as a food desert due to a lack of grocery stores.
“There’s liquor stores, drug stores or corner stores galore around the community, so we’re not lacking in that. We’re lacking in healthy food access, healthy exercise,” Leake said. “Nobody should have to consider what a four-mile bus ride would be, or asking church members for rides to be able to get to a grocery store because you don’t have a store nearby.”
Leake sees potential where others see the past.
Leake, winner of season 15’s America’s Got Talent in 2020 as a poet, wanted to do more than turn away from the eyesore.
“I think a majority of the world sees it for its potential; they have an understanding that, if this place were to become something good, it could be the very thing that shifts the community for good,” Leake said.
Brandon Leake is not alone in the food desert fight.
While historically Black communities across America have been transformed, gentrified, and abandoned, Leake envisions a different future for this space.
“I want the youth of this community to grow up where access to healthy food, access to a place where they can healthily exercise is a normality and not a luxury,” Leake said. “There’s no excuse for a city like Stockton, the most diverse city in the entire United States per capita, to not be providing healthy alternatives.”
On May 4, Leake released a video on social media making his idea public and asking for donations. Per ABC 10, just over a week later, he was met with support and interest from people donating what they can.
“I’ve had somebody who has donated $1 every day because they said they picked up an extra ability to donate,” Leake said. “I believe that there are institutions and larger parties which can play a role in this, if they see the benefit. At the end of the day, money talks and this is a place that will earn money and earn income.”
Brandon Leake wants a community focus, not profit.
“There’s a few different companies that would like to turn this into a car lot. With no offense to said companies, it’s just a community like this is not in need of that type of service,” Leake said. “We have too much potential here.”