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Finding the ‘Women of a New Tribe’ in Flint

Jamie Paisley
Kathy Jackson's Healthy Dollar store in downtown Flint

Last year, 50 African-American women from Flint were selected to have their portrait taken as part of a project meant to, in the words of photographer Jerry Taliaferro, “reveal the beauty and souls of black women.” The exhibit opening this weekend at the Flint Institute of Arts is called “Women of a New Tribe."

As I walked into the Health Dollarstore on the corner of 1st & Beach Streets in downtown Flint, Kathy Jackson was busy making a smoothie for a customer.

"I grew up in Flint. I had a great education here. I mean, Flint was a rich city!" says Jackson. "I remember when I was in 9th grade Civics class. I wrote a story about Flint and I don't know why my teacher, Miss. Caukins, she always encouraged me to write. Well, because I was always bossy in the classroom against the teacher, you know. 'How you know? what? How you know everything? How come...' So, [laughter] were you like that too? So she always kinda liked that. And I found out that Flint was No.3 in per capita income."

Kathy would ultimately take that direction from Miss Caukins that she should write to heart and wound up with a long and well-travelled career in automotive journalism, but eventually returned to Flint, in part, because of her Mother.

"Well, yeah, I came back here and she was getting older and she passed away in May, so… But yeah, I came back here and I wanted to — I was getting a little tired of journalism. It was right at that point where it was all this internet stuff. So, I bought this building a couple years before I even came back to Flint. The building, you know, the inspectors, it was in pretty— I mean it was real raggedy, but it was solid. It was just outrageous, just totally— I mean, there was no heat up there, there was no furnace up there. It was just a mess. That's all I can say, it was, but the building was solid."

Jackson indeed bought the property, refurbished the store front and turned it into the Healthy Dollar store, an idea she got because of the post-recession boom of dollar stores. She converted the upper portion into her own living quarters and still frequently gets requests as to when she'll start leasing out her downtown apartments. At the moment, she has no plans to.

"The powers that be keep saying 'oh the vibrant night life. There's no vibrant night life down here. I mean, I live here. I live in this building. I've spent a lot of money here. There's nobody here walking around. I mean at Christmas time, nobody's coming to downtown Flint, 'cause there's nothing to do. There's not enough diversity! There's nothing for the— The college kids come in here all the time. I think they think I'm halfway cool. They at least can come into my store and listen to some music and talk, just like the young man that just left. They're bored! And they have nothing. They say they want to be a college town. That's what I hear. but i don't see it. I mean you can't get a hot dog down here, you can't get fried chicken, you can't get Italian. You can't get— it's just not diverse enough. No, I think Flint has a long way to go."

Since opening the Healthy Dollar store in downtown Flint, Kathy Jackson has become well loved to the point where she was nominated and ultimately selected to have her portrait taken as part of an photo project at the Flint Institute of Arts. The exhibit, WOMEN OF A NEW TRIBE highlights 50 African-American women like Kathy who have made a positive impact on the city and community of Flint.

On her end, Kathy Jackson has a simple answer for how her name was submitted to the FIA. "A young lady who I knew who used to live in my neighborhood back in the day called and told me about this. and she said 'I want to nominate you' and so I said 'Fine!' So that's how that happened. [I'll go to] the opening night and they said you could bring one guest and I'm going to have a couple of friends in from Detroit. So I asked them if I could bring two friends and they said 'Yeah.' So, I'll be there."

Women of a New Tribe, featuring Kathy Jackson and 49 other fierce Flint women opens this weekend at the Flint Institute of Arts, more information at FlintArts.org

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