The Founding of Empower Mississippi


This week we officially kicked off our celebration of Empower’s tenth anniversary, and wow, what a ride this has been! I’m so honored to lead this organization and work alongside the amazing Empower team, board, ambassadors, and donors.

In the summer of 2013, a handful of conservative Mississippians began meeting regularly on the patio of Biaggi’s Restaurant (now Enzo Osteria) in Ridgeland to talk about our shared loved for Mississippi and the challenges we perceived to be going unaddressed. We saw too many Mississippians struggling to build a great life in our state, too many people trapped by broken systems and bad laws. We believed in the innate dignity and worth of every person and thus wanted to build a Mississippi where everyone can rise.

As those conversations progressed, we began to build consensus around the idea for a new organization that would:

  • Start with genuine curiosity, seeking to understand root causes and the people impacted by our state’s challenges;
  • Be conservative, emphasizing The Success Sequence and affirming the significance of earned success;
  • Build bridges and work with people of good will across the political spectrum;
  • Start off laser focused on education reform, before strategically adding a few additional policy pillars;
  • Bring more tools to bear than a traditional 501(c) (3) think-tank; and,
  • Measure success by the lives that are changed because of our work.

Three board members emerged, I stepped up to be CEO, and we began to sketch out the vision and business plan for this new, nonprofit enterprise. By the fall of 2013, it was time for me to “fish or cut bait,” as they say. I wanted to launch this organization, but with a wife, two children, and a third on the way, I was questioning whether we could raise enough money for me to provide for my family and run a successful organization. Would anyone want to invest in this vision?

At a moment of high uncertainty, a friend of mine said, “Do you think you can raise $100,000 in seed money before the end of the year?” I told him I thought I could. He said, “If you can do that, then step off in faith, commit to giving this a try, and, with $100,000, you can give this idea a go.”

I liked that approach and asked him to help me raise the money. So, he flew into town, attended a few meetings with me with some amazingly generous and patriotic Mississippians, and in two days we had raised $100,000. That early enthusiastic support for our vision gave me the confidence to leave my job and start what would become Empower Mississippi.

What started with a big vision, a handful of generous early investors, and $100,000 in seed money has turned into a nearly $3 Million annual operation with 9 board members and a full-time staff of ten. Because of the goodness of God and the generosity of Mississippians who continue to invest in that vision, we have accomplished more than I ever imagined. Below you will see a list of some of our wins that I’m especially proud to have played a small role in.

Today we are more clear-eyed about our purpose and path than ever before: Empower Mississippi works on behalf of people who face barriers in their pursuit of a meaningful life here in the Magnolia State. Our unique approach is to identify specific problems, find solutions, and work with lawmakers and local leaders to implement those solutions in the areas of education, work, and justice, to unleash Mississippi to achieve its full potential.

Thank you for joining us on this journey these last ten years! I look forward to working alongside our team, generous donors, lawmakers, and people across the state to accomplish even more in the next ten.