Tim Lampkin | Everywhere Radio Season 3, Episode 2
Watch our full interview with Tim Lampkin on the Rural Assembly YouTube channel.

Tim Lampkin has over a decade of community development and entrepreneurship experience. He previously managed the racial equity program for the Mississippi Humanities Council, which won the National 2018 Schwartz prize. He also worked for Southern Bancorp Community Partners to implement multimillion-dollar community initiatives and has advised rural entrepreneurs in several counties. Whitney and Tim discuss his return to Mississippi more than a decade ago, closing the racial wealth gap, and the powerful benefits of ownership.

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Check out the episode above and continue on to the full transcript below if you’d like to read it all.

Transcript

Tim Lampkin is the co-founder and CEO of Higher Purpose Co, an economic justice nonprofit that works with Black residents to build wealth across Mississippi, specifically by supporting Black ownership and financial, cultural, and political power. Tim has over a decade of community development and entrepreneurship experience. He previously managed the racial equity program for the Mississippi Humanities Council, which won the National 2018 Schwartz prize. He also worked for Southern Bancorp Community Partners to implement multimillion dollar community initiatives and has advised rural entrepreneurs in several counties. Yeah. Oh, and has advised rural entrepreneurs in several counties, served by Delta State University. The Mississippi Business Journal selected Lampkin as one of the 2019 top entrepreneurs in the state.

More recently, you may have caught a primetime CBS segment on the impact Higher Purpose Co is having in the Mississippi Delta, where Black-owned businesses are a minority, even with a population in some areas that’s more than 70% African American. Tim Lampkin is a proud HBCU graduate of Mississippi… I’m going to say that again. Tim Lampkin is a proud HBCU graduate of Mississippi Valley State University, and is currently finishing a doctor of education degree at the University of Arkansas. He lives in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

And it’s really wonderful to have you here on Everywhere Radio, Tim. Thank you so much for saying yes.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. Thank you, Whitney Kimball Coe. So great to see you and connect with you again.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Yeah, no, it’s been a while. How are things going for you?

Tim Lampkin:

Things are going pretty good. We have been just doubling down on supporting our membership. I think the last time we talked, we were thinking about going statewide, and now we’re a statewide organization supporting almost 500 Black-owned businesses across the state. So things have been very busy for us.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

No kidding. No kidding. Yeah. I was trying to think back to the last time we spoke, and it might have been before the pandemic.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, yeah.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Is my memory. And I wonder how these two years… You’ve clearly grown, but how have these two years of pandemic and also unrest in our country in many ways changed you or changed Higher Purpose?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, I think in terms of just my personal leadership has been tested in so many different ways. I think understanding who I am as a person has been really critical in the last two years and understanding who I want to be on a daily basis. So I think having the pandemic to really disrupt things in my world have been very helpful in so many different ways, to really find some regrounding for myself and then allowing me to just be in a different space, to lead a team through the pandemic, to make sure that every month we met payroll, to make sure that our members continue to be supported, to encourage mental and physical health as a core value of our organization has been rewarding in so many different ways, but it has come with some challenges. It’s come with some disappointment. Losing friends and family and some of the businesses that we’ve worked with over the last two years has not been easy, but I remain optimistic as I always do, that on the other side of challenges, there’s opportunity.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

That resonates so much with me, your reflections about how these two years have disrupted the way we were doing things, disrupted our own sense of perhaps purpose and identity and made us reexamine ourselves personally, so that we can even be better leaders in our field. Do you feel like that has… That disruption and that reflection has made you a stronger leader? And can you give me an example of what that’s looked like for you?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. I think just reflecting on some of the decisions I made very early on in the pandemic, so before there was a state or federal shutdown of offices and public places and things like that, we shut our office down two weeks before. And so, having that foresight to say, no, this is something bigger than we probably anticipated. And I don’t know what’s going to happen on the state or federal level, but let’s be more proactive. And so shutting our offices down, also offering our staff some emergency financial support to them, not being in a position to ask for it, but us offering it up to support them for the unknown at the time that went on way beyond that we anticipated. So I think I’ve sharpened my ability to anticipate needs, and also that has showed up in my personal life, but also the way I lead the organization and being able to be more reflective of that in my daily leadership has been super helpful, I would say.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Also in preparation with this interview, I was thinking about the first time you and I met. And I think it was back in 2010 at the rural youth assembly. Is that right? Is that your memory?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, it’s been a while.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Something around there.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

It’s been over a decade at least.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, it’s been a while.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

And I feel like you and I have grown up together in a rural development field, a growing rural development field, and been here for a lot of ups and downs. And I’m grateful for this broader perspective that I’ve been able to have over the years and… Let me back up.

So I just feel I… Thinking about how long you and I have been on this journey together and growing up together in this rural development field, I wonder if you could look back at your time and give us the story of from maybe 2010 onward, how has Higher Purpose Co developed, and what was your plan all along? And are you achieving it at this point?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. Wow. That’s a really good question.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

It’s a sweeping question.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I would say that in 2010, I had just came back to Mississippi and getting more involved in Clarksdale and understanding the dynamics of creating change. And at that time, I didn’t have the idea, the vision to build anything. And so, I think just intentional moves into working on various projects and working for various organizations. I started to just get acclimated to this world of community development. And then when you put that into a rural context, it created just a more unique experience for me.

I would say that, yeah, I had a lot of things to learn that I think only would’ve happened through just the experience. I think no one could have told me some of the things that I know now. I had to live through them. I had to experience those teen and understanding that where we were at the time in those different rural assembly spaces, that there was so much work to do to really unpack some of the misconceptions around rural and getting into the rural and urban divide and all those things that continue to bubble up in every space that I went into.

And so I think what I started to learn is that there’s a unique opportunity for me to position Mississippi, to position the work that I’m interested in, and really bring it within an organization or an entity that could really speak to the depth and breadth of what I felt at the time and still passionately feel is critical to shifting the local economy, which is supporting the wealth building aspect of Black residents in Mississippi. But didn’t know necessarily at the time how I would achieve standing up for organization, raising money, going to conferences and being the only person to talk about some of the good things that’s happening in Mississippi.

So I think in so many ways, I became an ambassador for my community, an ambassador for the state, because a lot of people knew about or heard about or read about all the bad things that are happening in our state. And there’s no perfect state in this country. Everybody has their own mixed bag of history, but I felt and witnessed and experienced every time going into started spaces, people were waiting for me to talk about the deficits, the disparities, and all those things that were feeding into the more dominant narrative. And so, I learned very early on that I needed to lift up all the spotlights. I needed to lift up all the things that are working, the things that we’re experimenting with to shift the narrative. So I really became-

Whitney Kimball Coe:

What were some of those? I don’t mean to interrupt, but what were some of the counterpoints, the narratives that you were trying to build?

Tim Lampkin:

Well, there was the counterpoint around, and this is a… I would say a more contentious or controversial subject around poverty. And I remember having a conversation with a few people, and they were just saying, well, so much poverty in Mississippi. Why I want people to pull themselves up from their bootstraps and get out and work and do these things. And I was like, “Do you think people actually wake up and decide they want to be poor?” That is not a decision that people say, “I’m going to be poor today.” That’s decades and decades of systems and policies that have created the environment that they now live in, but that is… Poverty is not a choice.

And so, I think what frustrated me the most around that was people’s lack of understanding of the historical context that got us into this place from the beginning. And then you can link that all the way to health disparities, all the way to educational outcomes, housing, economic opportunities in terms of workforce development and job creation. And so oftentimes, I felt like I was just in a heated debate and defending the good things that were working, but also bringing in the full truth of you can’t say… You can’t complain about these disparities if you don’t understand or recognize, in some cases, the core problem that started this whole issue.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

And so, I met you in those places sometimes, bringing that message, bringing those counterpoints, and then was able to watch Higher Purpose be born. Can you tell me a little bit about why you call it Higher Purpose and how it has evolved into where it is now?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. So one of the reasons why we call it Higher Purpose and we since started to make sure that we say Higher Purpose Co, just to make sure people understand the co part of it. And I can talk a little bit more about that, was because I felt like at the time, I was called to do something bigger than myself. And I knew that my faith and belief in God, that this was something that I had been destined to do. And I knew that it had to be called something that basically allowed it to be in service of others. And so essentially, came up with Higher Purpose. There were several names that I went through, but Higher Purpose stuck. And I was like, yeah, we can go with that.

And we started to say Higher Purpose Co, and the co really came out of understanding how we wanted to move as an organization. So we always wanted to be in community. We always wanted to collaborate. We always wanted to co-create the solutions. And so, the co stands for those three pillars that we move and operate in. So we are really excited about that name, and people who are catching onto it. And I think it can be perceived in different ways and resonates, depending on where people are, but it is something that’s motivational. I think that’s another part of it too. We want it to be something that when people hear, it’s like, “Oh, I want to be a part of that.” Okay, whatever that is, okay, that gives me some encouragement for my day just to hear those words. Oh, Higher Purpose. I got a higher purpose. You got to a higher purpose.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

In that CBS segment, they interview a woman that Higher Purpose Co has worked with, Kenesha Lewis, to help her start her smoothie business. And she tells the interviewer, “I feel like I’m walking in my purpose right now.”

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

That really stuck with me.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah, yeah.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

So I think that motivation is definitely going both ways.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. It has just been amazing to see how people respond to our name, but also just our presence. And I think that speaks very highly of just the type of leader that I am. And I think that our team too, we come with positivity. We come with energy, we come with support and resources. Because you can work with organizations that have the support and resources but not excited, not full of energy, not smiling, not saying, “Hey Kenesha, hey Dr. Williams, hey Teddy. How are you doing? Good to see you.” We could come in really dry and, “Here’s some funding for your business. Here you go.” But we’re excited. We’re amped up. And so I think that’s the piece that really continues to speak to that, because I often share with the team that this work is not about us. We are the vehicle, the vessels to do the work, but it’s not about us. And so I think making sure that we continue to put the community at first has allowed us to remain in tune and remain excited about doing the work.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Why is it so important… This may be just a ridiculous question, but I would love to hear your response to why it’s so important that we are addressing the racial wealth gap, first of all, and the impact that growing Black-owned businesses has on communities.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. That’s a really good question. I get it often. And I think the response is continuing to refine. So when we think about the history of our country, and then we drill that down to the history of the Deep South and even focusing in on Mississippi, we know that a lot of the core issues tie back to institutionalized racism and the segregation, and even deeper than that, slavery in our country, which we oftentimes don’t want to talk about. We want to shy away from that very dark past.

And so, what we have to recognize is that years of turning a blind eye to that has got us to the place that we’re at. And so, what we are adamant about is making sure that we continue to move the needle and change the direction in the racial wealth gap. So it is about supporting Black-owned businesses. And it’s more about what the ability to have ownership looks like.

And so, if you think about in the context of someone that is a Black mother working a job that is very traditional, there’s no empathy or understanding or progressive culture that’s supporting her as a working mom. So that means there’s a potential gap or opportunity for some support for her children in that regard. So that’s less time with the kids, that’s less opportunity because of the financial situation. We’re looking at minimum wage here in the state and other states that’s still not high enough to really provide the basic needs and services that a family needs to have a quality of life.

What business ownership does, it shifts the power and the control of my life. I have the ability to open up this business when I’m able to open it up. I have the ability to take a vacation. I want to take a vacation. I have the ability to spend time with my kids when I want to spend time with my kids, not when I can get off. So it is more about what ownership creates, and that is agency and freedom to create the type of lifestyle that individuals want. We see this all the time.

The wealthiest of the wealthiest have the ability to have a lifestyle that they want. They can go wherever they want, they can buy whatever they want.

So what we’re saying is how do we create a better landscape, a more even playing field, where ownership is accessible to any and everybody, and we’re using the vehicle or business to do that. So what we don’t do is subscribe to the understanding that one Black millionaire or one Black billionaire is going to shift the racial wealth gap in our country or our state. What we do subscribe to is that moving as a community, moving as a membership, and there are multiple people creating wealth opportunities for themselves and their families and their communities, that then starts to create a more collective understanding and rising together.

And so, we don’t subscribe to the understanding that capitalism is the way to go. What we do understand the vehicle business ownership, and that’s done in a different way, that it then starts to help everybody involved with that business. Particularly if it’s a business that’s providing a basic need, such as fresh food or healthcare services or transportation in communities, those things are necessary to have a better quality of life.

So I’ll pause there because I can go on and on and talk about those things. But I think we have to put it in a real world context of what does ownership, the basic understanding of owning, whether it’s owning land, owning a home, owning a business, what are the benefits of that, and how do we make sure that people, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, that they have access to that and how we make that equitable for everybody in the country.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

I know. And it’s a big question, and I think you’ve honing it truly. That was a really comprehensive response. I also wonder if you could put the rural lens on that. Why in particular are you focused on growing rural businesses? And I understand you’re statewide too, so what’s the rural angle to this effort?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. Yeah. So when we look at the amenities that are available, mostly in urban areas, we look at from block to block, there are multiple services and providers that can really meet the needs of a local community if you’re in an urban market. That is not the case in rural communities. We are seeing more rural communities looking to reboot or revitalize themselves in so many different ways, and honing in on Main Street being the tipping point.

What we are trying to make sure is that the services and the products that the rural entrepreneurs are creating business around are actually needs of the community. Because what we don’t want to do is try to be something that we’re not. So how do we make sure that we stay true to that rural identity, keeping the small town feel with providing those basic needs and services through these businesses?

I think the other parts of this too, when you look at the geographic distance between rural communities, particularly in Mississippi, you can drive 30, 40 minutes and not see any type of amenity that could be beneficial to those communities. And so, really trying to create synergy in key rural communities across the state, to make sure that those communities don’t have to drive hours to get access to fresh food, don’t have to drive a long distance to get access to quality healthcare services.

And so, I think the other part of this is how do we build in place, how do we continue to lift up the priorities that the community needs and making sure people don’t have to leave. And we see that as a continued problem, particularly with young people here in the state that are leaving to go to other places. And so what we want to be able to do is create enough opportunity, enough resources and amenities where people can be productive in place, can get a job in their community, can buy a home, can open up a business and connect it to community.

And we see a lot of people, since the pandemic, coming back to rural because of the safety-ness, physical, mental safety, but also the community. A lot of people recognize that being in urban places was not the best for their mental and physical health. And so, being connected to family and being able to be neighbors, true neighbors again has been really beneficial. And so we want to continue to build that and using our strategy to support rural communities throughout Mississippi.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Thinking again about Mississippi as a state, and it’s where you call home, it’s where you’re planted and working day in and day out. Just wonder if you have a vision for what Mississippi could be or will be. If you were writing the future of Mississippi, what does it look like?

Tim Lampkin:

Wow, that’s another good question. I would say… I’ll keep it very simple. I would say the future of Mississippi would be healed. I would say there would be… The state would be happy, and the state would be whole. Healed from our past and our racial discrimination and fights, and happy being in a place where we are happy about being Mississippi, and we’re happy to talk about Mississippi. And that we’re whole, that any and everybody in our state has the means to be whatever they want to be, to be successful, to be whole mentally and physically and emotionally, to be productive citizens in anything that they want to do.

So, that’s how I see the future, and I think it’s attainable. I think it is possible, and we’re doing our part, and I think it will take other organizations and entities alike to work together, to be healed and happy and whole as a state.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

What advice would you give to other young people who are wanting to come back home, who do feel this calling? Maybe they have a higher purpose. Where do they start?

Tim Lampkin:

I would say take a trip to your hometown a couple of days and think about all the things that you could possibly do and create. And then I would say hone in on one problem and see if you can develop that solution for it. That’s what I did. I didn’t try to take on everything. I honed in on one problem, and I started to really build from there. But it is possible to do really good work in your hometown and be connected to the community and give yourself grace along the way. Because you will make mistakes, but keep going, stay encouraged, and continue to learn. That has been one of my biggest gifts, just continuing to learn.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Well, I always ask guests before we sign off what they’re reading or watching or listening to that is giving them inspiration. What’s giving you inspiration or challenging you right now?

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. So I just got this book that is… I want to say it’s… Oh, I’m going to mess it up. I’m going to mess it up. But I’m reading a lot… I’ll say this. I’m reading a lot about Lerone Bennett Jr. Lerone Bennett Jr. was born in Clarksdale, moved to Jackson, went to Morehouse, and then moved to Chicago and became the editor of Ebony Magazine. And he’s published so many different papers and books. And so he’s been named the historian, this great historian. And so I’m learning and reading more about Lerone Bennett Jr.

Whitney Kimball Coe:

Thank you for sharing that and dropping his name. That’s good to know about. And thank you for this conversation, thinking through those big questions with me. I appreciate it.

Tim Lampkin:

Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s good to see you and get to chat always.

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