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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

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