UTICA, Miss. — The state’s largest city, Jackson offers a fast-paced environment with access to culture, dining, entertainment, and luxuries that most city dwellers could not imagine going without.But, 35 miles away, the small town of Utica has few of the capital’s amenities even though they are located in the same county. For example, after the local Sunflower closed in fall 2014, the nearest grocery store where residents can purchase healthy food is nearly 19 miles away.

Utica is a predominately African-American rural town with a population of 869, according to U.S. Census estimates, tucked away in the southwest corner of Hinds County. Also, a majority of the population is elderly and getting older. Abandoned businesses and other shuttered buildings occupy most of Main Street and are prevalent throughout the town.

Initiatives offered by groups such as Hope Credit Union, a community development financial institution, aim to bolsters economically distressed and low-wealth areas like Utica by providing residents with financial and other community services.

This photo essay explores Utica and its people, who symbolize the fight for the future of predominantly black rural areas throughout the South.

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Eric J. Shelton was a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018. He rejoined Mississippi Today as our health photojournalist in January 2022.