Years in the Making: Revitalizing the Mid-City Community Development Corporation

Ashlee and Akili Kelly hold up a drawing of Horace Kelly outside the "yellow house," home to the Mid-City Community Development Corporation.
Ashlee and Akili Kelly hold up a drawing of Horace Kelly outside the “yellow house,” home to the Mid-City Community Development Corporation.

Like many people in the Mid-City neighborhood, the yellow house at 1622 Wood Street has always been a connection point for Akili and Dr. Ashlee Kelly. For Akili, it started as a boy helping his father, Horace, take the then-abandoned home and renovate it into a community center. His father had moved back to his old stomping grounds on Pleasant Avenue in the early 1990s and found a need in Mid-City to improve living conditions and quality of life. With this idea in mind and a background as a general contractor, the Mid-City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC) was born.

“The yellow house was just this old, abandoned home that people used to pass by often and it was just in disrepair,” he said. “(Horace) began his nonprofit, the Mid-City Community Development Corporation, and decided to convert it into a community center, which it still is today. It’s been such an asset to this community.”

Over the years, the walls of the yellow house – or “yellow church,” as some call it – have seen weddings, community meetings, aftercare services, family reunions and many other programs, both from MCCDC and Northminster Baptist Church’s Wider Net Program. Northminster has played a major role in programming and outreach for the community center since the early 2000s, from after-school care and weekday activities to summer camps. Akili said personal connections continued to play a role with the yellow house throughout the years as he became an adult. In hindsight, they were all leading him back to Wood Street.

When Horace’s health began to fail, ownership of the yellow house came up in conversation. With full-time jobs, graduate school and a baby on the way, the timing wasn’t right for the next generation. “At the time, we didn’t have the capacity or even the financial resources to take it over. So, the idea just lived in the back of our minds,” said Ashlee. After his passing, looking through paperwork, the couple found his father had already transferred ownership to his son.

“I told Akili, I think we were always going to end up here. When I was in grad school, I was doing some volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity. When we were dating, I said I had been in the neighborhood, and I learned it had been at his dad’s center.”

In summer 2023, the duo began working with the Jackson Association of Neighborhoods, Community Foundation for Mississippi, Operation Shoestring, Revitalize Mississippi, Northminster and the Mid-City neighborhood on a pilot community asset mapping project to understand the community and envision what opportunities residents see for the neighborhood. Akili says participating in the project has been a catalyst for the reinvigoration of MCCDC, noting their participation has been a great way to meet neighbors and listen to what they want for the future.

“We know people have already been doing good work,” he said. “We aren’t here to come in and tell people what to do. We want to add to that, partner with people and organizations already doing good work, and see how our skills, abilities and talents can push that work forward.”

Those skills and talents are plentiful in urban planning, architecture and community visioning. The two previously worked in the City of Jackson’s Department of Planning and Development and have since grown their firm, The Kelly Factory, and tiny home planning business, Tiny JXN.

While the business side may be solid, Ashlee says creating a fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi came at the perfect time. Their newly formed Radiant Community Fund allows them to focus on re-establishing the nonprofit while leaving the financial management to the experts. “I have worked with nonprofits and it’s a lot to learn. Writing a business plan on paper is one thing, but operating it is completely different,” she said. “We feel good that CFM is a stable, accountable partner our donors can trust.”

Ashlee and Akili recognize that while they have been involved in Mid-City in different ways over the years, part of the work is building trust in the community the Kelly family has been a part of for many years. MCCDC will host an open house on February 28 at 3 p.m. to reintroduce themselves to the community and hear from residents about ways they think MCCDC can support the neighborhood and help bring ideas to life.

One of those in attendance will be their daughter, Alex. The Kellys are quick to point out how important it is to involve her in the process, just like Horace did Akili many years ago.

“I think it’s so important for her to be a part of this process with us. I recognize she’s only six and that she doesn’t understand right now,” said Ashlee. “But when she’s older, I think it will make an impact. It’s going be a part of the fabric of who she is, too.”

Want to support the work of the Mid-City Community Development Corporation? Donate to The Radiant Community Fund at CFM here. Stay up-to-date with the work of MCCDC on their Facebook page here.