‘I found myself missing home’: A Utica photo essay

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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.

Life-long Utica resident Mack Sears, 68, sits on a bench in the 100 block of West Main Street after leaving Hope Credit Union in Utica Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Utica is about 83 percent African American. Nearly 28 percent of the population lives in poverty.

A water tower is surrounded by trees in the rural town of Utica which is located in Southwest Hinds County.

Businesses and abandoned buildings occupy Main Street in Downtown Utica Wednesday, June 7, 2018. The small rural town is occupied by nearly 869 residents.

An abandoned building with a displayed message is seen in 100 block of West Main Street Main Street in Downtown Utica, protographed one day after the 2018 Mississippi Primary Election.

James Owens, who co-owns Omnibus Thrift with his wife Barbara, works at his store on White Oak Street in Utica Wednesday. “My wife and I look at our business as a service to the community,” Owens said. “Its very important that African Americans and rural communities are involved in the conversation about economic development.”

Larry Loft is photographed near the intersection of Old Highway 27 and West Main Street in Utica Wednesday after expressing endearment for his community. “I moved away to when I was 17, but I found myself missing home,” Loft said.

Yolonda Campbell, Hope Credit Union assistant branch manager, left, and Jan Cook, member service representative, right, prepare a plate of food for Utica resident Inoise Robinson during the credit union’s day of outreach at its location on West Main Street in Utica Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Hope Credit Union provides assistance to residents in areas that are economically challenged.

Calandra Davis, program officer for Hope Credit Union, speaks with Utica resident Arthur Wilson during the credit union’s day of outreach at its location on West Main Street in Utica Wednesday, June 6, 2018. “Hope Credit Union encourages the community and lets them know that they have better options, so they won’t be abused because of their financial situation,” Davis said.

Registered nurse and volunteer Jasmine Crosby, left, checks Lula Wilson’s blood glucose levels as a part of Hope Union Bank’s community outreach at the credit union’s location on West Main Street in Utica Wednesday, June 6, 2018.