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Purpose Driven Change in Rural America: A Conversation with Tim Lampkin, 2018 BALLE Fellow

By Koy Hardy

Toward the end of the summer 2018, BALLE Fellow, Tim Lampkin, and BALLE Fellowship Manager, Koy Hardy, met up online to check in about events and learnings of Tim’s summer and spring and what’s on the horizon for him. This is a transcription of their conversation, edited for reading ease and cohesion.

Koy: This will be a great conversation to reflect. The first half of your Fellowship immersion experience is complete, you’ve attended and spoke at the Rural Assembly and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and other opportunities have come along the way. Looking back on the Rural Assembly, it was my first time attending and I was so lit up by it! You had attended before. What were you anticipating and what goals did you attend with?

Tim: In 2015, when I first attended the National Rural Assembly in DC I was just transitioning from Southern Bancorp, one of the largest  rural development banks in the United States. I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at that time from the perspective of creative place-making and how arts and culture — particularly in rural communities — was emerging as a true driving force to support local economies. I talked about that work from the perspective of the position I had at the bank as well as my position as a consultant. I wasn’t necessarily tied to an organization that was aligned to my current values and goals and ambitions at that time. It was really just to let people know that I am here doing work in a place that most people had forgotten about — the Mississippi Delta.

Right after that the article in the Huffington Post written by Julian Mitchell came out about the work that I had been doing and the work I was trying to do, which also elevated that experience. There was a ripple effect that happened and allowed me to think more strategically about what I wanted to build going forward which led me to start Higher Purpose Co. And, that was the beginning of 2016 when we started to have those conversations.

Koy: Awesome, so you walked in more confident after having some years in the work and being very clear in what you were doing. You were also on the heels of your first immersion with the BALLE Fellowship. Was there anything from the April immersion that you had in your heart, mind, or back pocket that you were bringing with you to the Assembly?

Tim: Yeah! I think one of the things that I kept telling myself leading up to the Assembly and speaking on such a large platform was that I, you know, I am enough. I have everything that I need and I think before the Fellowship experience, it was kind of like “Am I enough?” You know that kind of question — am I enough? And, that kind of reversed to, “I AM enough.” Being able to fully walk in who I am, and knowing that with my young face, my energetic smile, my diverse work experience and academic experience, and being a proud Black man living in the Mississippi Delta, that I am enough. Those are the reasons that I should begin with before I start to develop any other reason why I deserve to be in a place or space or room. I come with an abundance of resources already, just by being who I am, that was a huge shift for me coming into the rural assembly.

Koy: That’s powerful. And how do you think the Assembly met the particular moment that you are in with your work?

Tim: I believe the Rural Assembly participants received what I was sharing in terms of why I do this work, who I do the work for, and who we do the work with. I think that was really important. If I didn’t say anything else, I said that! We’re fighting against the generational discrimination and systematic racism that has created disparities for people of color in the deep south, in the Mississippi Delta. And, I think we understand that this is, you know, this is going to take some time. When you’re trying to undo and help people unlearn things that they have been socialized to think it’s a very difficult task. But we have to show people what is possible; and that is part of our work.

We believe that our biggest assets here in the Mississippi Delta are the people; and we need to do a better job (when I say “we” I mean the state the region the country) has to do a better job at distributing resources equitably, and being very fair and inclusive to insure that everyone, no matter where they come from, what they look like, their faith or denomination or sexual orientation, their race, that they have the same opportunities to succeed whether that’s starting a business, buying land or becoming an artist full time.

We understand that success looks different for everybody and we always encourage folks that we are working with to decide their own definition of success. Being a part of the Rural Assembly gives me the opportunity to really share the work that we are doing and connect with more like-minded people that believe in the overall mission of Higher Purpose Co.

Koy: Awesome. I loved the content at the Assembly. Were their statements or messages, during or outside of panels that you are holding top of mind?

Tim: Yes! I’m thinking of Jennifer Bailey’s discussion with Ruby Sales — Mother Ruby! That conversation was amazing. And, just so impactful. I remember the conversation I had with her one-on-one. She said, “Your voice is needed. Keep fine tuning it. Keep lifting it up. Speak boldly.” We had just met! I think that kind of confirmation and additional motivation definitely helped as I was thinking about upcoming speaking opportunities and the way I was talking about the work.

I also spent some time with Jennifer and gained understanding of how she intertwines her personal experiences and faith with her work. That’s one of the things that I am constantly thinking about and one of the areas I am trying to improve on because I definitely come from a strong religious background. I’m also working on simply being myself when I’m at public events so people can get to know me, understand the ,  purpose behind the work and who is directing me. In fact, one of the reasons why the name of our organization is Higher Purpose Co. is because there was a moment where my cofounder and friend from high school, Ryne S. Gipson, and I were talking about everything that was going on in our lives. We wanted to make sure that we were being called to this work. This work is our way to give back. A way to uplift and reduce poverty in a place we call home.

Koy: It can be reassuring that one is on the right path when positive people that they already know, or are in the process of making connections with, are at the same event. I was thinking how special it was that you were on the panel with fellow 2018 BALLE Fellow, Brian Depew and Whitney Kimball Coe of National Rural Assembly. How was that leading up, knowing that you would share a panel at the Aspen Institute?

Tim: Yes! I’ve known Whitney for years, she is so amazing! She’s just a great human being and her love for her community, family and for rural places is just amazing. So, I’m just grateful to know her and be in community with the whole team at the Center for Rural Strategies.  And then Bryan who is in the BALLE Fellowship! Our first interaction was actually at the first BALLE Fellowship immersion in April because we carpooled together along with Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts. I really like his perspective. He definitely comes from a much smaller town! I think the population is like under 1000, and runs this amazing organization the Center for Rural Affairs. He has a depth of knowledge on organizational leadership.

It was great to be on the panel with familiar faces and also realize that even though we were colleagues we all had different perspectives and different lived experiences. I think that allowed us to provide the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival a rich and vibrant conversation. We talked about the hard realities of the places that we live; but we also talked about the opportunities and the moments of sunshine and hope that we bring to the work including inspiring others and putting in effort to make sure everyone plays a role in the work.

Whitney Kimball Coe and Tim Lampkin

Koy: Yes, I did love the variety of perspectives. You all were super aligned while speaking on behalf of different communities.  What particularly struck me was what you said about it being equally important that minds are shifted. That when people come from multiple generations of poverty it’s not just family wealth or community wealth that is affected, it’s their mindset too. Can you say more about that and the work that Higher Purpose, Co. is doing to meet that challenge?

Tim: Coming into this work several years ago, I realized that we can bring all kinds of resources into the Delta and we can start all kinds of programs to eradicate poverty; but the most difficult challenge is shifting mindsets. And I think this for several reasons, but for the most part it’s because a community’s collective trust, morale and confidence is negatively impacted when change agents come into the community to help but don’t really do it with and for the community. This also makes it really difficult for that change to have a lasting impact.

When you create certain mechanisms that only give funding and resources to organizations that look the part and don’t necessarily have the best interest of the community at heart you fall into this cycle where the system is starting to just repeat itself. And the same people are getting help and the same people that didn’t receive help in the first place are continuing to be overlooked. And so, I talk about the work that we are doing all the time with funders and potential partners. When you look at our core model it’s not necessarily new in this world at all. What is new is the place that we are implementing this work and the people that are leading the work.

In my perspective, in order for there to be real shifts in mindsets and reduction  in the poverty level in the Delta, foundations that have the funds and resources to deploy funding and support should be supporting organizations that are lead by local People of Color and African-Americans who work with their communities. It is essential that there is representation, trust, and transparency.

We have not had this consistently for generations, and it has impacted the mindset of our community members. When we talk about creating a business, acquiring land, becoming an artist and making a living, and having a life as an artist, sometimes those things seem so far fetched to some  community members because they have seen years of declining population and empty promises. That really starts to hinder people that are very smart, talented, creative and ambitious. But that one thing, that mindset starts to really get in the way and we understand that we have to first deal with that. Because those people, we need them to be a part of this work. We could have a series of conversations on mindset alone!

Koy: Thank you for touching on that — so important. Reflecting more about what you said shifted in yourself after the first immersion, it is no small feat to acknowledge and work on personal hurdles while also doing work that supports others in overcoming their own. Are there any additional ah-has or new questions that arose after the July immersion or in any of the events that you have had the opportunity to take part in through the spring in summer?

Tim: Through the Fellowship I’ve been able to learn how to listen better. Not that I wasn’t a good listener before! (laughter). But, I think sometimes we, by human nature, assume that we have nothing in common with others. And, when we start to really unpack the layers of complexity that makes us unique, and different aspects of our lives, we find that we are not so different.

I think part of listening is listening for places of synergy and listening for places that we mutually care about such as family, love, the environment, music, etc. I think all of that has allowed me to have more confirmation of who I am and also being comfortable in sharing those aspects that make me unique. Because outside of the work I still have other things that I’m passionate about. I’m still a son, a big brother, a grandson, a cousin a friend and all those things.

I think the [BALLE] Fellowship has really allowed me to learn how to be still in the moments where I needed to listen and also help me understand when my voice is needed. Additionally, since I’ve been in the Fellowship I have been thinking about silos and how we can think that there is only one way that something can be done. The Fellowship has taught me there are numerous tools and resources to use. Also, the path to fulfill your vision may change, you may get a couple detours, and you may have to make a couple of rest stops. But hearing the experiences, trials and triumphs of my fellow Fellows has given me another level of hope and motivation to push forward in the work and know that it is possible.

Koy: I love it. I can relate. I definitely lean toward listening. Yes, you’ve had a full spring and summer. What is manifesting as a result of your recent experiences?

Tim: Yeah! What is manifesting as a result of the BALLE Fellowship is an increased clarity that I contribute to my team and Board. Our Women Empowerment Summit, launching new programs and focusing on beginning 2019 with the level of resources we need. We are working on securing partnerships that will elevate our work and create systems change going forward. And those partnerships include enhancing our capital access program, providing more resources to our current entrepreneurs that we are working with, connecting folks who want to be part of our Fellowship program that we plan to roll out for entrepreneurs, land owners, and artists, and connecting with firms who can provide pro-bono services to our entrepreneurs.

Koy: Fantastic. Tell me more about the Women Empowerment Summit.

Tim: Our Women Empowerment Summit started roughly three years ago. We are grateful to continue our partnership with Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to host the summit. Excited that we hosted the event at Mississippi Valley State University, which is my alma mater — an HBCU in the Mississippi Delta. The Summit really started as more of an educational initiative to provide entrepreneurship training and support and resources to women who are currently in business or starting a business. In my opinion, it is one of the best and biggest summits in our region focused on women — particularly women of color — to create realistic and viable businesses that can potentially lead to generational wealth for their families. We are very thoughtful about the programming and the speakers and facilitators that we bring in to pour into these amazing women. It’s one of things that we hope to grow and expand throughout the Delta with the support of current partners and new partners.

The Summit is open to college students, recent grads, working professionals, and even the ladies and mothers of the local churches and members of sororities. It is one of the most stressful and rewarding times developing it. And I never would have thought we would be doing this! I hope to be an example to other men — black, white, and brown — who have pondered on what they can do to help women especially  women of color to break down barriers.

We can do things if we want to and I just decided to do something three years ago. We went from 50 attendees the first year to 100 the second year. The summit featured sessions  on entrepreneurship, financial empowerment and the creative economy. Nationally recognized speakers and entrepreneurs came to the Mississippi Delta to share their expertise.

Koy: That is great. And there are several women on the Higher Purpose, Co. team correct?

Tim: Yeah, our creative director Ivory Cancer is a woman of color and plus our board officers are majority women of color including our board chair Dr. Sondra Collins and vice chair Leonette Henderson.

Koy: A final question. It’s wonderful that your Summit is encouraging multi-generational participation. I’ve heard you talk a lot about wanting to support young rural leaders in particular. What is one message you would share with them today?

Tim: I was recently recognized as one of the top 25 Emerging Innovators addressing the racial wealth gap by Ashoka and American Express. When I applied for this opportunity, I was concerned our work would be overlooked because we work in rural communities.  My encouragement to anybody, particularly people living in rural communities and small towns is that you have the talent, you have a gift, you have a purpose. You have a voice that needs to be heard. And even if you are the youngest in the room please know you can still have the most powerful impact. Don’t let people overlook you or push you aside because of your youthfulness and your energetic ideas. Also, know that you will get disappointed. You will be told no several times. But at the same way you get told no you will also be told yes one day. And, it only takes one yes from a local organization or a local political official or someone that believes in you, your mentor or your teacher or professor, a local entrepreneur, artist. It only takes one yes for someone to really believe in you but first you have to believe in yourself. You have to know that your idea is worth piloting and getting it out there into the world. You definitely want to  give your purpose a chance to be fulfilled.

Koy: Love it! Ownership of personal power! Well thank you so much for this time to share your reflections on the events of your spring and summer and hear what’s immediately ahead for you. It’s such a privilege to be in this journey with you and be a part of your work. I’m looking forward to what’s to come!

Tim: Absolutely!

To learn more about the network of BALLE Local Economy Leaders, visit here. To contact Higher Purpose Co. directly for questions or to explore partnerships, visit here.

Koy Hardy and Tim Lampkin

Categories: BALLE Fellows