Connect with us


Carver celebrates one year anniversary; $3.4 million invested in the community

(Photo Credit: NEO Barney, Astronomical Quality)

Carver Celebrates one year anniversary and $3.4 million invested back into the community.

The Carver Legacy Center hosted a one-year anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 29, 2023 from 10 am to 2 pm at the historic Carver building near 24th and Lake.

(Photo Credit: NEO Barney, Astronomical Quality)

The Carver Legacy Center is a black-owned financial institution and wealth building system owned by Willie and Yolanda Barney and Martin and Lynnell Williams.

The Carver team purchased and restored the historic Carver Savings and Loan building at 24th and Lake to serve as its headquarters.  The Center officially opened on April 4, 2022 and the event on April 29, 2023 served as an opportunity to provide customers and the community an update on progress and next steps.

(Photo Credit: NEO Barney, Astronomical Quality)

Bankers, lenders, owners and partners were on site to greet customers and meet those interested in learning more.  Community members had the opportunity to gain more knowledge about the Carver, open savings accounts, meet lenders and support small businesses at the pop-up.

“We’re excited to celebrate our one-year anniversary and the momentum is building thanks to our incredible partners and supporters,” said Willie Barney, one of the co-owners and co-founders of the CLC.  “With a year under our belts, we had solid successes and also now have an even greater understanding of where some of the gaps are and how we can assist businesses and homeowners.”

(Photo Credit: NEO Barney, Astronomical Quality)

“We greatly appreciate the support of the community as they have opened accounts and made deposits which allows us to leverage investments back into the community,” Barney said.

“Thus far we have been able to leverage $3.4 million in loans through Carver and the Carver Promise and we are just getting started.”

The goal of the Carver is to help create a strong financially empowered community, develop thriving black-owned and North Omaha businesses, increase home ownership in North Omaha and provide a platform for the community members to control their own destiny through ownership and building wealth.

“It is with great pleasure and gratitude that I greet you to acknowledge and celebrate our first-year anniversary of the Carver Legacy Center,” said Martin Williams.

“We are humbled to be part of this historic occasion, and I want to thank each of you for your unwavering support and commitment to our community.”

Carver owners partner with American National Bank led by their Co-CEOs and Executive Co-Chairs John and Wende Kotouc. The Carver team contracts with ANB to provide banking services utilizing their more than 165-year history of serving the community.  Because of this partnership, Carver clients can open Carver accounts and conduct business at all American National Bank locations.  All banking products are available through the partnership and deposits are FDIC insured.

“We are delighted by the partnership with the Carver.  It is an honor to support this Black-owned business and do our part to make the vision a reality,” said John Kotouc.

“I also want to thank the American National Bank team for their work in supporting this historic and innovative approach.”

For the past 12 months, the Carver Legacy Center team has worked with clients to open accounts, process business loans and provide education and training for businesses.   The team announced progress in each area and appears ready for the next phase.

Since opening the Carver Legacy Center, deposits have grown consistently and averaged $10 million.  The Carver team is investing funds back into the community and also providing training, education and technical assistance to over 200 small businesses.

“In the past year, we cohosted seven summits between the Carver and Revive Black Business Network,” said Yolanda Barney.  “We have connected businesses to training and education in key areas including legal, funding, banking, credit, technology, strategic plans, branding, marketing and effective database and POS systems.  The businesses are also creating an ecosystem of support and doing business with each other.”

In addition, Revive conducted a pilot program at the Carver and housed products from 10 local small businesses during Pop-Up events.  The Revive Store inside the Carver has products ranging from candles and books to popcorn and spices.

“We look forward to adding more products and pop-ups at the Carver,” said Barney.  “It’s a great way for businesses to introduce themselves to the marketplace, generate sales and engage with customers.”

Williams added, “What makes me the proudest is the fact that we have been strategic in helping current community businesses scale and prepare for loans.  These businesses have created jobs, generated sales and increased wages.  Businesses like Anding Family Dental, Davis Contracting, Dyna-Vision and others are growing and expanding.  We’re ready to help more businesses do the same.”

“Once again, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all of you who have made this first-year anniversary possible,” said Williams.  “We ask for your continual support in restoring the financial dreams and hope of our North Omaha families and neighborhoods.  Let’s continue to work together to build a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive financial community.”


(Photo Credits: NEO Barney, Astronomical Quality)


We Choose to Build Together…300 leaders convene for Summit & Business Expo

The Empowerment Network’s African-American Leadership Summit and Revive Black Business Expo held at the Hilton Omaha on November 6th were both highly successful.  Over 300 local and national leaders from every sector convened for a day of inspiration, development, networking and capacity-building.  The theme of the event was “We Choose to Build Together.”

“We normally have a Leadership Conference in the fall but decided to switch things up this year because of so many major things happening in the community,” said Willie Barney, CEO & founder of the Empowerment Network.

“Our goals were to build on our collective work, encourage the tangible support of Black-owned businesses, introduce our national partner cities and launch the next round of capacity-building cohorts,” said Barney.  “We choose to do business together.  Build community together. Intentionally.”

Thirty small businesses and organizations were visible at display tables and most reported doing great business during the Summit generating thousands of dollars in sales collectively.  A new tool was utilized through a Summit app to track sales during the day.

“I did very, very well,” said one of the small business vendors. “It was an exceptional day for my business.”

“The attendees at the Leadership events always do a great job supporting the small businesses,” said Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha and manager of the Revive Black Business Expo. “Many of them typically sell out of merchandise.  We need to keep this going year-round.”

The Summit also featured a panel of small businesses discussing the impact of intentional support from the Empowerment Network and other organizations. Gladys Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering; Jason Fischer, CEO of Surreal Media Lab; Lewade Milliner, national musician and artist based in North Omaha; and, Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution, all shared specific examples of how the Network and its partners have supported their businesses.

All of the small business owners also highlighted their vision for the future and the number of jobs they could create in the community with additional support.

“Imagine what we could do if all of the churches, organizations, neighborhoods and corporations supported these businesses in the same way,” said McPherson.

In addition to the small businesses and panels of local and national speakers, the Empowerment Network introduced representatives from Kansas City, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lansing, Michigan; and Columbus, Georgia.  These are cities in the process of starting Empowerment Network and 360 initiatives in their communities.  New Orleans, Louisiana and Davenport, IA/Quad-Cities are also part of the national partnerships.

Klassie Alcine, Executive Director of KC Common Good (KC 360 in Kansas City)

City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa, OK

“I really want to thank the Network team for the incredible amount of work they put into pulling this off in less than four weeks,” said Barney.  “And, thank you to the sponsors, speakers, volunteers and all in attendance.  We need to build on this momentum.”


Capacity-Building Cohorts Launched at Summit

The Empowerment Network’s national strategic partners were present to help launch or continue capacity-building cohorts regarding career advancement, leadership development, storytelling, fund development and wealth building.

Dr. Randal Pinkett opened the registration for the 5th cohort and a national edition of the Redefine the Game Institute.  Pinkett shared insights regarding the changes in the field of diversity and inclusion and what it will take to be successful with career advancement moving forward.

Dr. Pamela Jolly is working with the Network to launch the 3rd cohort of the Legacy Wealth initiative.  Jolly challenged attendees to build on the closed loop economy that has launched in Omaha.

Suzan Hart’s cohort will leverage her internationally recognized approach to strategic, collaborative leadership and storytelling.  Hart shared her personal journey towards full empowerment as she found purpose by unleashing the power of her own story.

Anna Barber is launching a cohort to help leaders with fund and donor development strategies to make visions a reality.  Barber shared insights from her experience of developing hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions including the African-American History Museum in Washington D.C.


Obama Foundation and Department of Justice Attend Summit

Dr. Adren Wilson, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper and Vice-President of the Obama Foundation, was present to celebrate Omaha as one of four model communities.

Karhlton Moore, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance representing the Department of Justice, attended the Leadership Summit to learn more about the Empowerment Network’s approach to addressing root causes and mobilizing sectors of the community.

Dr. Will Moreland, one of the Network’s national strategic partners had the crowd fully engaged as he emphasized the key message of the Summit: “Be Intentional!”


Dozens of Local Leaders Highlighted Their Commitments

Local speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration and supporting black businesses.

Kimara Snipes, new executive director of One Omaha, highlighted the role of neighborhoods in using asset-based development and specific ways neighborhoods support small businesses.

Pastor Brian Page, Senior Pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church, represented churches and highlighted the impact local churches continue to have in serving the community and providing leadership in partnership with community-based organizations.

Tamera Spurlock and Andrea Walker, co-leads with Amplify, PayPal’s Black Employee Resource Group provided powerful examples of what they do to help employees achieve success while also serving and volunteering in the community. Amplify is also very intentional about supporting Black businesses.

Deputy Chief Sherie Thomas of the Omaha Police Department illustrated the power of working together to make change happen in the community. Thomas also noted the way the Black Police Officer’s Association supports small businesses and hosts impactful events with youth and the community.

Barney and State Senator Justin Wayne, Willie Hamilton, President of Black Men United and Leo Louis, business owner and board chair of the Malcolm X Foundation, shared perspectives on what it takes to get past divisions to make a positive impact in the community.

Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network hosted a panel with State Senator Terrell McKinney, Aja Anderson, Executive Director of the LiveWell Partnership, Racquel Henderson, Navigator at Metropolitan Community College and Marisa Hattab, Director of Diversity, and Inclusion for Douglas County. The panel focused on ways to build on the foundation of collective work in Omaha to create the future desired by the community.

The final session of the day featured Nadia Spurlock, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the newest member of the Empowerment Network team and Denzell Dial, a senior at the University of Nebraska Omaha, majoring in aviation.

Both Spurlock and Dial spoke about the impact of their families, the community organizations they were a part of while they were growing up in North Omaha and their hopes for the future as they both lead efforts to help the next generation.  They were joined by other young men and women who are working to build out the MBK Omaha initiative for young men and Empowered Young Women’s groups.

“We encourage everyone to stay engaged throughout the rest of the year and into 2024,” said Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network.  “Stay connected via our website and Facebook page.  There’s something for everyone to do.”

Continue Reading


Saturday, Dec. 2nd…Get ready for 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

Tis the season to join in the holiday spirit at the 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake on Saturday, December 2nd from Noon to 5 pm.  

The Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation in partnership with dozens of community partners are inviting residents to attend this one-of-a-kind cultural community celebration and holiday tradition.

Christmas in the Village is the largest holiday event in North Omaha and draws thousands of visitors from the region to the historic 24th and Lake district each year.  Attendees have come from as far away as Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and other cities.

The event will kick-off at noon with Santa and Mrs. Claus on a horse-drawn carriage.  “We encourage the community to come out early and line 24th Street for a special kick-off with Santa and Mrs. Claus and all of our cartoon characters,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice-President of Community Development for the Empowerment Network and Event Manager for Christmas in the Village.

Come Play, Sing and Enjoy!  There will be plenty outdoor activities for children and adults, including:  holiday music featuring local recording artists, choirs and dance groups; live nativity scene including a camel; free carriage rides; free toys, gifts and candy while supplies last; face painting; balloon artist; cartoon characters; interactive games and activities, handmade pottery; and, much more.

Come ready to Shop and Eat!  The Holiday Boutique will return this year with over 30 different vendors showcasing unique merchandise.  Vendors will serve the community under a heated BIG TENT on the southwest corner of 24th and Lake next to the Family Housing Advisory Services Building.  Plus, businesses in the district will offer special discounts and holiday items for sale.  Food trucks and local restaurants will have food for purchase.

“We’re excited to bring back the Holiday Boutique, which has always been one of the most popular attractions,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Christmas in the Village Holiday Boutique.  “We have some amazing vendors that you will want to check out and support.

Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake include:  American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund and Nebraska Arts Council.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.

Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing, See and Enjoy!  70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!  

The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am: 

  • 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
  • 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street

Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.

Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 12 years ago.  It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.


Christmas in the Village is one of the largest events in North Omaha and is part of the ongoing North Omaha Village Zone Revitalization Plan and rebirth of the arts, culture, and entertainment district at 24th and Lake.  Christmas in the Village started as a vision from Willie Barney and was initially designed in partnership with Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Empowerment Network Arts and Culture Co-Chairs Deborah Bunting and Stacy Henry; and Michael Maroney and the OEDC (Omaha Economic Development Corporation) team.


Continue Reading


Urban League presents African-American Leadership Awards on Nov. 2nd

Congratulations to the 2023 Class of African-American Leadership Award Winners presented by the Urban League of Nebraska.

Join The Urban League of Nebraska and Honorary Chairs Othello & Tulani Meadows as they honor the leaders in our community who have made a difference.  Since 1989, the Urban League has convened individuals from across the City of Omaha and from different professional sectors to honor exemplary African-American leaders.

The Urban League of Nebraska (ULN) seeks to build resilience in the North Omaha community by dismantling the wall that stands between our underserved community members and a more prosperous future.  Our AALA honorees have achieved milestones that help us in this noble endeavor.  Because of their efforts, Omaha is a better place to live and North Omaha is stronger and more resilient.

Click Here For Tickets and More Information

Continue Reading