Black entrepreneurs are cultivating businesses designed to transform their communities and drive social impact. Amongst the collective of changemakers is Tennessee-based couple Ursula Martin and Jerrell Spencer, who opened a grocery store to combat food insecurity within the South Memphis neighborhood, The Commercial Appeal reported.
Food deserts have been a pressing issue within the city of Memphis. The nonprofit Feeding America reported approximately 185,600 residents are experiencing food insecurity. Memphis also has the highest percentage of senior citizens living in food-insecure households compared to the country’s largest cities. Witnessing the devastating impact that the closure and absence of grocery markets have had on the South Memphis community, Martin and Spencer were prompted to use entrepreneurship as an avenue to effect change. Pulling inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement, they founded a store dubbed BL Grocery—an acronym for Black Lives Grocery—to ensure vulnerable communities have access to an array of nourishing healthy meal options. The store—which opened its doors in March at 1464 Valse Road—sells locally-sourced produce, meats and cooked foods.
Beyond using BL Grocery to address the lack of accessibility to fresh food, the couple uses their business to empower the local community economically. They sell products from Black vendors and are putting the focus on hiring locally. Martin and Spencer—who self-funded the development of the store—say they’re dedicated to using entrepreneurship and ownership to serve the needs of South Memphis residents amid gentrification.
“We wanted to provide access to food in a food desert. That kind of old-school grocery store feel is what our vision is,” Martin said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “Ownership is important to both of us. We believe South Memphis is next on the list for gentrification. We didn’t want to owe a soul for what we purchased in South Memphis.” The couple owns several plots of land in the neighborhood.
Spencer and Martin are part of a movement of impactful founders who are using their ventures to advance food justice. Chicago entrepreneur Elizabeth Abunaw—creator and CEO of Forty Acres Fresh Market—received a multi-million dollar grant to transform her mobile grocery market into a brick-and-mortar store.