Access to quality food is recently becoming a consistent part of the conversation in discussions about empowering underserved communities. Too often Black and Brown communities are left to make do with failing, subpar groceries stores and fast food. And as a result, poor health ensues.

Enter Mary Blackford, the Pine-Sol and ESSENCE Build Your Legacy Contest grand prize winner and founder of Market 7, a community marketplace that features Black-owned businesses in Washington, D.C.; designed to alleviate food and retail deserts in Ward 7. Her focus has always been on community since she was 16-years-old and won her first grant toward entrepreneurship.

“When I was in high school, I was in a program called the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, and it was a program that was partnered with our high school, that provided curriculum for high school students, as well as middle school students as well, to start businesses,” Blackford reminisces with UnBossed host, Marquita Harris.

“I was hooked from the first day because I felt how dynamic it was to actually create something. I grew up very humbly, and so that income was very transformational in my life. I looked around in my community at the time, and I was like, ‘Huh, if we all could do this, what a difference it could be.”

This trajectory eventually led Blackford to create Market 7 because she recognized a deep need in her community; a need that was causing Black people to suffer with diseases like diabetes and die at alarmingly high rates. Her work with Market 7, she says, “sits at the intersection of sustainable health and sustainable economics.”

“I worked very diligently with community partners to make sure that we are actually working with Black businesses in particular because Black businesses don’t get so much access,” says Blackford.

The Pine-Sol and ESSENCE Build Your Legacy Contest which Cassandra Lewis, Brand Manager of Pine-Sol and Shaunte Mears-Watkins, VP of Marketing for Clorox were instrumental in bringing to life – offers a grand prize of $150,000 which Blackford is allotting to the furtherance of Market 7’s mission and to help build up her community from the inside out. Part of her plan is already underway as she and her team break ground on a food hall that will showcase foods from across the Diaspora from a variety of local vendors.

“We are building this from the ground. Any investment of any kind, a grant of any kind in Market 7, you are investing in a team of 60 Black-owned businesses in the Washington D.C. area. So it’s not just me. It’s several of us,” says Blackford.

You can hear Mary’s full interview with Cassandra Lewis and Shaunte Mears-Watkins on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or anywhere you listen to audio! And don’t forget to follow @essencepodcasts on Instagram to keep up with all of our shows.