Keith James

Keith James

Mayor, West Palm Beach, FL

Keith James serves as Mayor of the City of West Palm Beach. Previously, in his role as President of the City Commission, Mr. James helped create West Palm Beach’s strategic plan, finance plan, water plan, and mobility plan. Mr. James was also the former Chair of the West Palm Beach Citizens’ Ethics Task Force, and the first African American Chair of Leadership Florida and the Quantum Foundation. Mr. James holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Entrepreneurship for Equity in West Palm Beach, Florida

West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James’ “jumpstarts” diversity among small businesses

Mayor Keith James is the fourth African-American mayor of West Palm Beach in 125 years. The city is diverse, but its inequities are stark. While the overall poverty rate is 17%, around 40% of Black residents and 25% of Latinx residents experience poverty. The median hourly pay of a white woman in West Palm beach is more than double that of Black and Latina women. 

“Many of the people who fall below that poverty line look like me,” James says.

James was determined to make West Palm Beach a “community of opportunity for all.” He became an E Pluribus Unum Fellow and used some of the Fellowship’s frameworks to launch a “Mayor’s Task Force on Racial Equity” and hold a Racial and Ethnic Equality Action summit. Hundreds of community members shared their ideas. One of their recommendations was to increase financial literacy across their community.

James decided he’d not only address financial literacy, but build a “new entrepreneurial class for West Palm Beach.” He decided to create the Mayor’s Jumpstart Academy, a program through which residents could both improve their credit and launch or grow a small business.

E Pluribus Unum connected James with a nonprofit, Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corporation, that offers training in credit building, financial education, and micro-enterprise. Together, they partnered with the Urban League of Palm Beach County to offer credit-building and financial training to residents for the first part of the Jumpstart Academy. 

The second part of the course would focus on entrepreneurship. James contracted with Co.Starters, a program that runs community-based training for small businesses.  

James made a call for residents from underrepresented backgrounds in business to apply, and in March of 2022, the first cohort began. Over ten weeks, residents gained not just the skills and information they needed to launch or grow their business, but banking relationships, improved credit scores, and a strong network of peers and mentors. 

With the help of E Pluribus Unum funds, James also created a Mayor’s Fund for Entrepreneurship to help take entrepreneurs to the next stage of their work. He offered up to $5,000 in grants or loans to graduates to facilitate their launch. James recognized that many of his graduates wouldn’t have access to the “jumpstart” funds that wealthier, and often white, entrepreneurs get from family and friends. He decided the city could provide that jumpstart.

As of fall 2022, the city has run three cohorts of the program, and businesses are getting off the ground. [One graduate has leased space for an ice cream shop, for instance, and another is producing their first run of t-shirts for their clothing line.] James isn’t surprised. 

“Ingenuity and creativity know no skin tone, and know no zip code,” he says. 

Celebrating 125 Years of West Palm Beach

US Census.Gov: West Palm Beach County