Brandon Leake uses his influence to fuel the dream of a community grocery store

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Stockton, Californian poet Brandon Leake wants to revitalize and transform a dilapidated old Kmart building into a community grocery store and gym.

Leake speaks fondly of his childhood about Kmart.

“This is where I got my very first school clothes, special blue light with the layaway,” Leake said, standing a few feet from the building’s now barricaded entrance doors. “This community has a lot of history for me, and to see a historic place like this go to waste…it saddens me.”

The Kmart in Stockton closed in 2019.

According to ABC 10, the 84,000-square-foot property has become what Leake and other community members describe as an “awesomeness.” It’s also smack in the middle of Stockton’s deprived southeast side, also known as the food desert due to the lack of grocery stores.

“There are liquor stores, pharmacies or convenience stores galore in the community, so we have plenty of them. We lack access to healthy food and healthy exercise,” Leake said. “No one should have to wonder what a four-mile bus ride would be like, or ask church members to commute so they can get to a grocery store because you don’t have a store nearby. “

Leake sees the potential where others see the past.

Leake, winner of America’s Got Talent season 15 in 2020 as a poet, wanted to do more than turn away from visual pollution.

“I think a majority of the world sees him for his potential; they understand that, if this place were to become something good, it could be the very thing that would change the community for good,” Leake said.

Brandon Leake isn’t alone in the fight against the food desert.

While historically black communities across America have been transformed, gentrified, and abandoned, Leake envisions a different future for this space.

“I want young people in this community to grow up where access to healthy food, access to a place where they can exercise healthy is normal and not a luxury,” Leake said. “There’s no excuse that a city like Stockton, the most diverse city in all of the United States per capita, doesn’t have healthy alternatives.”

On May 4, Leake posted a video on social media making his idea public and asking for donations. Per ABC 10, just over a week later, he was met with support and interest from people who donated what they could.

“I had someone donate $1 every day because they said they had gained extra ability to donate,” Leake said. “I believe there are larger institutions and parties that can play a role in this, if they see the benefit. Ultimately, money talks and this is a place that will win. money and earn income.

Brandon Leake wants to focus on community, not profit.

“There are a few different companies that would love to turn this into a car lot. No offense to said companies, it’s just that a community like this doesn’t need this type of service,” Leake said. “We have too much potential here.”