When Tim Lampkin left his hometown of Clarksdale, Miss. for college, he recalls being told his best chance to find success was to “move away and don’t come back” to the Delta.
The message was clear: Opportunity was something he had to find elsewhere.
After graduating from Mississippi Valley State University, Tim initially followed the advice to leave the Mississippi Delta and pursued a corporate career in management and sales in Mobile, Alabama.
But he felt drawn back to Clarksdale – and realized he wanted to use his entrepreneurial skills to help the community where he was raised reach its potential.
His friend, Ryne Gipson, felt the same way.
Tim and Ryne attended Clarksdale High School together. The two saw a greater need for a change and a higher purpose in their community.
“If I want the Delta to be better and I want there to be more opportunity, then I should be part of the change. I knew I needed to be on the front lines making sure it happens,” says Tim, who co-founded Higher Purpose Co. with Ryne in 2015.
“I don’t feel it should be someone else’s responsibility to invest their time and money in a place that I call home.”
Higher Purpose Co. is an economic justice nonprofit with a mission to build community wealth with black residents who have faced generations of poverty.
Its staff is determined to write a new, more hopeful narrative about what’s possible in the Delta by helping black entrepreneurs start and grow successful businesses.
“Our goal is to help people who have been overlooked and underserved and provide them with the same resources and treatment as anyone else,” Tim says. “It’s about leveraging the spirit of ownership to create generational wealth."
Higher Purpose intentionally works with black-owned small businesses and assists them to develop all aspects of their operations, from education and training to marketing and branding.
It also helps entrepreneurs access capital through a network of potential investors that includes traditional financial institutions and micro-lenders that crowdfund loans to minority businesses.
“We look at it from a social impact perspective, of helping people understand they are not just investing in business, they are also investing in people,” says Tim.
Tim and Ryne started Higher Purpose because they wanted to bring resources and opportunities for black individuals living in underserved communities.
“We saw a huge void for this work in our community,” Tim says.
“We’re undoing a lot of wrongs that have happened in the Delta – from a policy perspective, to institutionalized racism and implicit bias. We are building up a local economy to make it more inclusive and to lift up the people who have been left out in the past.”
Higher Purpose recently launched a six-month business fellowship program, supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, that trains entrepreneurs in personal leadership, branding, legal requirements and capital acquisition and management.
“It’s our personal connection to this place that allows the work to really thrive. We are rooted and grounded here.”
The fellowship supports business owners from Clarksdale and surrounding Coahoma County in four high-growth sectors – arts and culture, food, health and education.
Clients run the gamut, from a company that sells homemade hot tamales to a small organic farmer to a concert promoter operating a festival that celebrates the black roots of American music.
“This is the first business fellowship program for black entrepreneurs in Mississippi,” Tim says. “We are creating something that’s historic in itself.”
For Tim, the secret to Higher Purpose’s success in grooming homegrown Delta businesses is the nonprofit's own local roots. Staff members are all Clarksdale and Coahoma County residents themselves.
“People understand there is a level of cultural relevance and connection to community that we bring to this work,” he says. “It’s our personal connection to this place that allows the work to really thrive. We are rooted and grounded here.”
When asked what he loves about the Delta, Tim says it’s “the people and their connection” to each other.
“It’s the culture, the way we talk, the way we say hello, the way we cook food on Sunday, the way we sing and lift our voices and connect on a deeper level. I feel I can never meet a stranger, no matter where I go in Coahoma County and the Delta.”
Tim bemoans the “negativity” that many people – often from outside of the Delta – feel toward the region.
The biggest misconception about the Delta “is this idea that we have to be saved – that we don’t already have what we need to improve our communities,” Tim says.
“We know our community better than anyone else. This is something unique and special. We are doing this work with people we know and grew up with. That’s really powerful.”
Tim says Higher Purpose is driven by the same “spirit of optimism” that has sustained people in the Delta for generations, even in the face of poverty and injustice.
“I’d rather be doing this work than anything,” he says. “This is healing and life-changing for me.”