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Published:  June 15, 2020

By:  Willie Barney, Co-Publisher Revive Omaha

Beyond the Flames:  Why I Believe 2020 is a Turning Point

Where Do We Go From Here?

Harlem.  Watts.  Newark.  Detroit.  Omaha.  Los Angeles.  Ferguson.  Baltimore. Minneapolis.

“If we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.”
– Philosopher George Santanya and Winston Churchill

In 2014, as I watched the fires burning in Ferguson, Missouri, I wrote a piece entitled “Beyond the Flames:  Will We Get It Right This Time?”  Ferguson was burning in response to the devastating scenes following the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer.  I was so impacted and moved that I had to write down on paper what became a speech I gave at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This followed the 2012 vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin and preceded the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody which ignited the flames in Baltimore.   The frustrating and devastating list goes on and on and continues today.

There have been other shootings of unarmed black men and black women when police officers received no repercussions from their crime.  This list also includes Omaha after the officer-involved shooting of Vivian Strong in 1969 that resulted in the destruction of North 24th Street.  The once thriving corridor is just now in the process of being rebuilt.

No justice for Eric Garner, New York, 2014.  No justice for Sandra Bland, 2015, southeast Texas.  No justice for Philando Castile 2016, suburban Minnesota.   No justice.

African-Americans have tried to send a message for decades that we are suffering.  Suffering from the lingering impacts of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation effects that were never fully addressed.  Suffering from unemployment, lack of investment, neglect, poor educational outcomes, low access to capital, over policing, poor housing conditions and so much more.  There have been small attempts to fix the situation, but nothing substantial and sustained.

A temporary reconstruction period followed the abolishment of slavery where some progress was made, but abandoned just at the time when freed slaves were finally starting to become integrated into American life.  No Justice.

There were promises made beyond the elimination of slavery.  Promises for land, property and finances for the freed slaves to get a new start at becoming full citizens.    Policies were changed to finally recognize African-Americans as being 100% human, correcting the Constitution which had declared us as 3/5ths of a man.

The original constitutional declaration allowed America to benefit economically for over 250 years from free labor through inhumane conditions.  It is referred to as the worst form of enslavement in modern history.  African-Americans helped build this country and were paid nothing for it.  No Justice.

What’s happening today is not new.  Racial tensions have raged before. There has always been a spark which kindled the flames.

These flames have come as city after city and community after community across the nation have been destroyed.

Before Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the promise to be a law and order president, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) commissioned a group to find out why the cities across the country were burning.  The commission produced a document which became known as the Kerner Report.

Rather than identifying African-Americans as the cause, the report shined the light on white America.  The Kerner Commission presented the case that the blame for the riots should be placed squarely on the shoulders of underlying conditions of injustice, neglect, disinvestment, unequal treatment and systematic racism.

The report clearly states the priorities that must be addressed:  1. Unemployment and low wages.  2.  Poor educational systems.  3.  Poor housing conditions.  4. Bad relationships between police and the community.  5. Lack of services for those in poverty and the structure of welfare system.

The most important conclusion to address the injustice?  America needed to make a significant investment to right the wrongs of the past.

Little did I know until recently that the former Mayor of Omaha, A. V. Sorensen, had reached the same conclusion in 1968.  He said then that Omaha needed to bring together people from all sectors to form a coalition that would oversee a massive investment to address African-American poverty.  Nothing was done.

He left office realizing the city did not have the will or appetite to fully address the issue.  The city and nation continued redlining and driving interstates through the heart of black communities under the guise of urban redevelopment.

America chose to make small investments to address the injustice, but with a costly Vietnam War occurring at the same time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that the nation had given black America a blank check.  He said the easy part of the Civil Rights Movement was getting legislation passed for voting rights; the hard part was securing the funds to address the economic issues.  This was going to cost the nation money, King said.

For a time, mostly through programs enacted by President Johnson, some investments were made through the so-called War on Poverty.  The investments were not sustained and were not implemented anywhere near the level required.

One of the most significant statements and conclusions from the Kerner Commission was “to mount programs on the scale equal to the dimension of the problems.”  “These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance…”

The report emphasized that if America didn’t respond on a large scale, we would see the creation of two America’s.  One black. One white.  Separate. Unequal.

Across the nation, we have inherited the promise.  Two Americas.  One white.  The other, everyone else (black and brown).

I wrote in the speech, after watching the flames in Ferguson, that in 1968, the nation had a decision to make.  Do we finally invest in helping African Americans become economically sound and full citizens or do we invest more in police, expanding the criminal justice system and building more prisons?

President Richard Nixon answered the question for America.  Law and order.  No Justice.

For decades, African-Americans have asked for additional investments to address employment, education, housing, health and other needs.  Funding was never available at the scale of the problem.  Communities were not rebuilt.

African-Americans asked for the promised 40 acres and a mule.  African-Americans presented plans such as the Freedom Agenda under Dr. King which proposed to end poverty in 10 years. African-Americans asked for reparations.

It is important to note reparations have been granted across the world after a specific race, ethnic group or nation was on the wrong end of injustice. The answer to these requests for African-Americans?  No funds available.  No justice.

Where would America ever come up with trillions of dollars to right this wrong?  We were always told, it would be absolutely impossible. We were told there is absolutely no way America could ever come up with trillions of dollars to address its original sin.  It’s been over 400 years since enslaved Africans were brought to these shores.

But, no recompense.  No Justice.

Instead we are told, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and help yourself.  Instead we are told, forget about slavery.  Instead we are told, you’ve had a black President.  Instead we are told, it’s a post-racial society and racism doesn’t exist.  Help yourselves, we are told.  There will be no hand up, we are told.

Cue the Coronavirus.

The virus may not be racist, but the impact surely is disproportionately destructive to African Americans and other people of color.  Health and economic inequities have been laid bare. Consequently, the virus called for a critical response.  A national response.

What does COVID-19 have to do with this justice and systemic racism?  As soon as the nation began to experience the negative economic and health impacts of the virus, immediate legislation was drafted and approved by Congress.  The Treasury Department rewrote the rules.  Trillions of dollars were miraculously found and infused into the economy to address suffering corporations, small businesses and most U.S. citizens.

In a moment of crisis, leaders can find the money.

The message this sends is that it matters who is suffering.  African-Americans have been suffering for centuries. Native Americans have been suffering for centuries.  However, when the unemployment rate for white Americans hit the same level as the African-American unemployment rate which has languished for decades, Congress and the Treasury department have taken actions to produce what is estimated at seven trillion dollars of economic activity.

The question is where did the money come from in this instance?  It’s been made abundantly clear that the nation could have made the right decision in 1865.  We could have made the right decision in 1918.  We could have made the right decision in 1968. We could have made the right decision in 1992 after Los Angeles and Rodney King.  We could have made the right decision after Ferguson in 2014.  We could have made the right decision after Baltimore in 2015.

No justice.   No peace.   Fast forward.

Cue the final spark.

Watching an unarmed black man, George Floyd, die a horrific death with the knee of a white police officer on his neck, and 2 other officers on his prone body behind the car, the image was finally too much. African-Americans have experienced police brutality and violence for decades, but this was filmed, became a viral moment on social media, and impossible to ignore, deny or cover up.  Breaking point.

In the midst of a pandemic which has killed over 100,000 Americans and disproportionately impacted African Americans and people of color, we once again are face to face with injustice and racism.

After being locked away in their homes for nearly three months and watching the video from Minneapolis and dozens of other racial events within a few weeks, cities across the country and internationally have erupted with protests and flames are once again burning in America.

What to do now?  Where’s the hope?

We know what needs to be done.  We have known for decades.  Case study after case study, commission after commission and book after book, have boiled down to economics, education, housing, equal access to health care and people working together to address poverty and systemic racism.

 Be sure to check out Part II:  Moving Forward with Solutions

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Black Business Summit highlights keys to raising funds and capital

Published:  Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The June Revive Black Business Summit was very inspiring and informative.

60+ Black business owners, entrepreneurs and support organizations participated in the hybrid – in person and virtual event hosted by Willie and Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha Magazine, Revive Black Business Network, Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center.

The monthly summits provide an opportunity to gain knowledge on important topics, meet specialists in each area, hear from business owners who excel in implementation, network with other entrepreneurs and get connected with resources and opportunities through the business exchange.

Building Multiple Businesses

Luper Akough, CEO of Clout Enterprises, provided insights on launching and scaling multiple businesses.  His key points including building effective systems, understanding timing, investing in yourself, finding partners and hiring the right people were incredibly helpful.

Akough and his wife, Brittanie, are known as innovators and serial entrepreneurs with over 100 employees.  Luper shared their goal of creating 450 new employees over the next five years.

Keys to Raising Capital

Timothy Christian, CEO of Night Fox Entertainment, shared his valuable experiences with raising capital for films and entertainment projects.  Those in attendance appreciated the core elements that he outlined:  Integrity, Intelligence, Passion, Partnerships, Idealism and Pragmatism, and Surrounding Yourself with the Right People including an Attorney and Accountant.

Christian has his corporate headquarters in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska and maintains an office in Los Angeles, California.  His company’s sweet spot is raising capital for $10 million films.

Opportunities Created by the North Omaha Recovery Plan

State Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney provided an update on their work to gain approval of $330 million in state funds for North and South Omaha, Lincoln and other qualified census tracts in Nebraska to support entrepreneurship, business development and job creation.

They informed the group that most of the work for implementation will be conducted through the Department of Economic Development.  They emphasized the need for businesses to be prepared for the opportunities and community engagement meetings are coming soon.

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development has created a page to stay updated on the opportunities with the North Omaha Recovery Plan. https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/programs/recovery/

Tax Increment Financing

Bridget Hadley, Economic Development Manager for City of Omaha, provided an overview of TIF and the process used to determine what projects might qualify.  Participants have a greater understanding of how it works and ways that our businesses and real estate owners can get engaged and maximize this financial tool.

TIF can be used as leverage by developers to attracting additional funds and financing.   Smaller and large development projects are eligible.  Hadley is available to support large and small projects and encouraged the attendees to reach out to her.

Equity Investments

Dr. Martin Williams, CEO of Martin Williams International and DreamBusiness, walked the group through the opportunities created by being open to equity investments.   Entrepreneurs should consider what’s possible when teaming with others and allow investors to have a stake in our businesses.  Williams also shared insights on having a buyout plan and selecting the right partners.

Williams and his wife, Lynnell, have helped dozens of businesses with scaling from self-employment to multi-million dollar enterprises.  They hold real estate investments locally and internationally and partner with the Barney’s with the Carver Legacy Center.

Business Loans

Ernest White, 1st Vice President of American National Bank and Ambassador for Carver Legacy Center and Jim Reiff, Executive Director of Nebraska Enterprise Fund, shared practical and real examples of loans and resources available through the Carver Legacy Center and Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

The Carver in partnership with American National Bank has assisted 30+ businesses and another 25 are in the pipeline.  Nebraska Enterprise Fund has made loans to hundreds of businesses in Omaha.

The most recent approval includes Roll-N-Sweetz, the new rolled ice cream shop which was opened by a 17 year old entrepreneur at 60th and Ames. Carver and Nebraska Enterprise Fund both supported the business financially.

Stay connected.  

The next Revive Black Business Summit will be held on Saturday, July 23rd and the topic will be Maximizing Technology to Grow Your Customer Base and Increase Profits.  More information coming soon.

Black business owners and entrepreneurs are invited to become formal members of the Revive Black Business Network and experience the outstanding benefits associated with this group.  Build your social, cultural and intellectual capital.

Willie and Yolanda encourage attendees to continue doing business with each other and supporting Black entrepreneurs.  The Revive Black Business Guide features hundreds of Black-owned businesses in Omaha.  Revive Black Business Guide

And, join the Carver Legacy Center movement.  Go to Carver Legacy Center to open your account, apply for a loan, sign up to receive training or develop your plan for building wealth.

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June 25th…Revive Black Business Summit…Raising Funds and Capital

We’re building capacity and momentum.  Where can you find funds and capital to launch or scale your business?

Please use these links to learn more and register.

Revive Black Business Summit – June

 

Register Here

The next Revive Black Business Summit will be held Saturday, June 25th from 8:00 am to 10:30 am. It will be in-person and virtual.

We’ve had a great response with the first three summits with over 100 Black businesses, entrepreneurs and support organizations participating.  Let’s keep building together!

The location for the in-person event will be the Revive Center.  Breakfast and Networking will start at 8:00 am.

Please use these links to learn more and register.

Revive Black Business Summit – June

Register Here

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Carver Legacy Center, a Black-owned financial and wealth building system, opens in North Omaha

Published:  Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Carver Legacy Center, an innovative collaborative approach to building black businesses and thriving communities was publicly announced on August 30, 2020 and formally opened on April 4, 2022.

Carver Legacy Center Owners and Partners with Elected Officials and Strategic Collaborators (April 4, 2022 Soft Opening)

After nearly five years of behind the scenes work to develop formal partnerships, the collaboration is bringing new life to the historic Carver building located in the village at 24th and Lake.

Co-founders and co-owners Willie and Yolanda Barney and Martin, and Lynnell Williams have created a joint venture with American National Bank to make it happen.

The focus of the Center is creating wealth for African-Americans and North Omaha residents through business ownership, home ownership and community ownership.

“18 months ago we stood before the community and promised to renovate the historic Carver building and launch a new financial center, develop a Hub and Accelerator for small businesses where they can launch, scale and grow, and create a store and pop-up incubator where Black businesses and North Omaha entrepreneurs can feature their products and services.  Today, we are back to have you experience it for yourself.  Welcome to the Carver Legacy Center,” said Willie Barney, co-owner and co-founder.

“For over 22 years, Yolanda and I have worked to launch, support, promote and expand black businesses.”

“We are excited to partner with Martin and Lynnell Williams and American National Bank.  To be able to do this in the historic building where the first Black-owned financial institution in Nebraska was opened 78 years ago, the place where Whitney Young launched a program to increase Black homeownership and the building that housed the offices of some of Omaha’s history-making black leaders is especially meaningful to all of us.”

The Carver Legacy Center will have several components.

Carver Legacy Center Co-owners and Co-Founders:  Willie and Yolanda Barney and Lynnell and Martin Williams.  Carver Savings and Loan, the first Black-owned financial institution in the state of Nebraska opened in 1944 and closed in the mid 1960’s.  The Carver Legacy Center owners purchased the building and partnered with American National Bank to bring financial services, hubs and accelerators and wealth building systems back to 24th and Lake.

 

CARVER LEGACY FINANCIAL SERVICES

The Carver Legacy Financial Services Center, a joint venture with American National Bank, will bring banking services to 24th and Lake, and provide increased access to credit and capital for Black businesses and North Omaha residents.

With the joint venture with American National Bank, individuals, families, organizations, churches and businesses can open accounts and make deposits at any American National Bank location by designating a Carver Legacy Account.  American National Bank is a member of the FDIC which means deposits are insured.

Loans leveraged by these deposits will benefit Black businesses and individuals, and North Omaha residents and businesses.

In Phase III to come later, the Carver at 24th and Lake is working to become a full service branch which will allow all banking services to be provided at that location.

“We are excited about partnering with the Barney and Williams families to make this happen at this historic location,” said John Kotouc, Co-chairman of American National Bank. “We are bringing our banking experience, expertise and considerable investments to this collaborative approach.”

“American National Bank is committed to supporting this Black-owned business and initiative and we want this to serve as another catalyst for further community-based development in North Omaha.”

Kotouc also emphasizes that this is not an exclusive situation.  “We will play a role, but we challenge and encourage other financial institutions to also get involved with this project.  It will benefit the entire community.”

In addition to the financial center, the Carver Legacy Center will house three other important components:  Hub & Accelerators; Revive Omaha Store and Pop-Up Incubator; and Legacy Wealth Center.

HUB AND ACCELERATORS

The Hub will be the new home for Revive Omaha and the Revive Black Business Network.  It will also feature shared office and meeting space for the DreamBusiness Accelerator and other business collaborators.

“Nine years ago, we created the Revive Black Business Network which has connected with over 300 black owned businesses,” said Yolanda Barney, co founder and Vice President of SMB Enterprises.

“One of the things we have heard most consistently is we need more funds to launch and expand our business.  We can’t get loans.  Entrepreneurs have also told us they would like support with finance, sales, technology, admin, marketing and branding.”

While the Financial Center will help bring funding together, the Hub will be a place to help entrepreneurs with connecting with other business owners and resources, launching their vision and provide technical assistance to help take their businesses to scale.

The Accelerators run by the Barneys and Williams will also connect black businesses to supplier diversity and procurement opportunities with major companies.

“We are excited to be open for business at the Carver Legacy Center. The process of building and introducing this financial services center was a work of passion and commitment to our community,” said Martin Williams, co-owner and co-founder.

“We have worked for the past 30 years on cultural approaches to launch and grow successful businesses.”

He and his wife Lynnell are founders and strategic leaders of Ambassador Worship Center and have established several businesses nationally and internationally, including Barak II which is the partner with the Carver.

“Using what we have learned by helping others to launch million dollar businesses, we are blessed to be a part of bringing the Carver back to life and helping families to build generational wealth.”

The Hub will utilize a collaborative approach that all three families have dedicated themselves to over many years.  The Revive Black Business Network will operate a start-up accelerator and the Williams will facilitate a scale-up accelerator through their DreamBusiness program.

Other businesses will bring their specific expertise to the table.  Hayes and Associates and Advance Tax Solutions will support businesses with finance, accounting and tax services.  Technology Consulting Solutions and others will assist with technology.

Business Seals and others will assist with business plans and financial forecasts.  PPRP Innovations will support market research, pricing and market growth strategies.  Other black owned businesses will assist with social media, branding, marketing, HR and operations.

“We wanted to create one place where an entrepreneur can go from idea to launch and then to scale and expansion,” said Willie Barney.

“We are also finalizing partnerships with other specialists and organizations who will offer services at the Center.”

REVIVE OMAHA STORE AND POP-UP INCUBATOR

Another key component to the Center will be the Revive Store and Pop Up Incubator.  The space where Big Mama’s sandwich shop operated will be multi-use.

It will feature products created by African-Americans and North Omaha residents.  The space will also serve as a pop-up incubator for businesses that would like to introduce their products to the community.

“It’s a perfect space for a small business to host an event to showcase their products while also giving them a chance to test market and gather valuable experience” said Yolanda Barney.

“Our goal is to help them step out into their entrepreneurship journey and then hopefully locate a business in the 24th and Lake District or another key corridor in North Omaha.”

 

LEGACY WEALTH CENTER

The final piece of the four part strategy is the Legacy Wealth Center.  A core element in the vision is financial empowerment and community ownership.  The team wants to see residents save, improve credit scores, purchase insurance, invest in stocks, purchase land and homes, become business owners and pass wealth to future generations.

The Legacy Wealth Center will feature workshops, special events and classes to help residents with accomplishing their financial goals.  We will have guest speakers and experts in their fields share their time and talent with members.  Participants will learn more about turning their gifts and talents into revenue producing businesses and multiple streams of income.

“This is the part that gets me most excited,” said Lynnell Williams.  “We want to teach families everything we have learned about building wealth.  That starts with breaking cycles and implementing discipline in the areas of finance.”

“Carver Legacy Center is committed to bridging the gap for all ages and ensuring that our young ones get a head start on understanding money matters!  Our future depends on how well we financially prepare our youth.”

The Carver Legacy Center will also house the Revive Black Business Network which has national strategic advisors, including Dr. Pamela Jolly, Dr. Randal Pinkett and Tawanna Black.  They will also support and offer wealth building classes and sessions.

As the Carver Legacy Center moves through the phases, the team will also work with local and national partners to create collective investment opportunities.  This will be a platform to pool and leverage resources.

“We believe the reopening of the Carver is like digging up the wells that made North Omaha a great place to live, worship, work and own homes and businesses,” said Martin Williams.  “As we move forward, we will work with others to help residents to create wealth and ownership.”

 

COLLABORATION

Other local collaborators include:  Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha 100, Shift Omaha, Creighton University, Metropolitan Community College and the University of Nebraska – UNO.

“American National Bank is committed to helping to develop strong communities and we are very supportive of many organizations in North Omaha,” said Wende Kotouc.

“We have worked with Willie and Yolanda and Martin and Lynnell for many years and they have consistently worked with others to produce measurable results. They have shown again and again they know how to make things happen.  We are excited to be involved in this effort.   Earnest White who has a long history of community involvement will be our ambassador to Carver.”

Willie Barney added, “We want to specifically thank Michael Maroney, Ben Gray, the City of Omaha Mayors Office and Planning Department, Lorie Lewis, Ernest White, Ryan Meyer, Steph Gould, Jackie Vinci, Patti Kuhre, Pamela Jolly and Katie Weitz for their support as we have worked to develop this Center.”

“We believe the Carver will be an important piece of accelerating progress at 24th and Lake, in North Omaha and for African-American communities.”

“Omaha is known for wealth, we want it to be known for creating Black wealth as well and rebuilding a thriving North Omaha.”

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