Breaking the Code

Midas Hampton '15

One big question has defined the career of Midas Hampton '15.

Why does a person’s ZIP code determine so much about their quality of life – their health, educational attainment, safety, job opportunities?

Looking for ways to eliminate disparities between communities has led Hampton on a journey that’s taken him to the other side of the country and back. In his current role as founding executive director of Strategic Spartanburg, he focuses on data-based initiatives to improve the lives of Spartanburg County residents.

“I came to this work because my lived experience necessitated it for me, and it was a moral obligation,” Hampton says. “For me, it wasn’t like, well, that would be cool to do. It was, when I die, what would my eulogy say? And this is the work that I want to speak for me.”

Hampton was born in Brooklyn, but spent most of his youth growing up in Columbia. Even as a child, he wondered why there was so much poverty in his neighborhood when just a short distance away life was completely different. By the time he reached college, he thought he could make a small difference by becoming a police officer and improving the dynamics between law enforcement and the communities they police. Then he decided to aim higher and become an FBI agent.

While Hampton got his degree in criminal justice, the relentless cycle of police shootings of unarmed black men deterred him from going into law enforcement. Instead, he packed up his car and drove across the country to Seattle, Washington, to do a year of service for AmeriCorps VISTA.

Always central to his journey, which included a stint in Washington, D.C., was figuring out what one thing could change life for people in those disadvantaged ZIP codes. But every job peeled back another layer of the onion – he saw how academic success depended on secure housing, which in turn depended on economic opportunity. “Transportation, education, health care, the economy, getting job opportunities, all these things, were not the linchpin,” he says. “They were all part of the linchpin.”

Strategic Spartanburg offered Hampton the opportunity to develop a holistic approach to addressing all these issues. The organization already had a strong foundation in gathering and analyzing data, and Hampton wants to go a step further. He is building out a community research center that has two components: community-led research, where residents can ask for support on an issue that’s important to them; and community-based research, where Strategic Spartanburg partners with other groups to work on areas of need identified in its data.

Those areas are significant – transportation, child care and health equity are some of the greatest challenges Hampton says he’s seen in the community. But far from feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the work, Hampton is excited about creating a robust research organization built on collaboration.

“I’m a real idealist, I root myself in the numbers, in the data,” he says. “But I know we can be better.”