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.”
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.”
Thousands attend 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake
The sun made it better, but it was cold!
With weather making it feel as low as 0 degrees in the morning, thousands still made their way to historic 24th and Lake in North Omaha for the Empowerment Network’s 12th annual Christmas in the Village.
“When we started the event 12 years ago, we wanted to create a cultural community celebration and holiday tradition for kids and families that they look forward to every year,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network. “The fact that thousands would come out in this weather and enjoy themselves with smiles, hugs and laughter shows us we are accomplishing that goal.”
Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is presented by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation. Major sponsors include: American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, North Omaha Turnback Tax and Veridian Credit Union. Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.
Braving the cold, kids were lined up to see and take a picture with Santa inside the Revive Center and Lake Point building.
Heaters stood next to the area where families could board the free carriage in front of OEDC.
Parents and community members packed Dreamland Park to watch the Burke High Drill Team, Pear Tree Performing Arts and the Hope Community Choir.
Throughout the day visitors could hear the beautiful sounds of Omaha’s top artists and musicians in the background as they walked through the district celebrating the holiday.
“It was a wonderful time,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice President of Community Development and Operations for the Empowerment Network, and event manager. “So many families having a great time and enjoying all of the activities put on by our partners. Absolutely wonderful.”
The event started with the Bulldogs Drill team marching down 24th Street in front a horse drawn carriage holding Santa and Mrs Claus. Guests lined the street and followed along as families and cartoon characters followed next in the carriages.
“The Drill team did an amazing job,” said Quaites-Ferris. “They were excellent and brought great energy to kick off the day.”
From there kids, families and community members had dozens and dozens of options of where to go.
Face painting, Raku pottery, balloons, snacks, arts and crafts, letters to Santa, live nativity animals, free family photos, snack bags, hot cider, cookies, and hot chocolate all free for families.
The Omaha Police Department and Fire Department were both on hand. OPD handed out candy canes and stickers. The Fire Department had many youth excitedly sitting in the fire engine.
One of the most popular stops was the Black Votes Matter Toy Give Away sponsored by UNO Athletics.
“We gave out over 1,200 toys in less than an hour,” said Preston Love, Jr, Founder of Black Votes Matter and 4 Urban. “This is our third year for the partnership and it feels great to help families, many of which couldn’t afford to purchase toys for the kids even though some are working two and three jobs.”
Kids and parents could be seen walking throughout the district with large boxes and bags with gifts, toys, snacks, gloves, hats and other goodies.
Excitement was in the air as children caught a glimpse of Santa for the first time or had the opportunity to see and touch a donkey, camel and other animals.
The Fair Deal Village provided delicious snacks, cookies, goodie bags and included face painting.
Another popular spot was the Big Tent on the Northwest Corner of 24th and Lake. The Empowerment Network hosted the Holiday Boutique with over 20 small black businesses and entrepreneurs.
“It was our first time during the 12 years that we had the heated tent for the Boutique and it took some adjustments with the weather,” said Aisha Conner, Village Empowerment Center Manager and coordinator of the Boutique.
“But, our vendors did very well. Many of them selling out of merchandise or close to it.”
Local businesses like Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living and Fair Deal Marketplace attracted hundreds of visitors.
Styles of Evolution recently celebrated 18 years and a grand opening as they moved back into their restored, renovated and expanded spaced. Owners Don and Yvonne McPherson once again sponsored a free drawing to win a 40” big screen television.
“One of our main goals when we started was to connect families to small businesses for the holidays,” said Barney. “This is awesome to see over 70 businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, contractors, media companies and musicians generating income and recycling dollars in the community.”
Ital Vital Living always has a creative display and activity at their location for community festivals. For this year, they featured “Whoville” complete with the Grinch and some tasty smoothies and snacks.
The Elks gave out toys and provided food for kids. Next door, the Carver Legacy Center gave out reindeer antlers, pop its and other items for kids.
Arts and cultural venues also attracted some large crowds.
The Union for Contemporary Art featured an exhibit and housed the Empowerment Network community partners showcase that highlight their services and hosted interactive activities for kids.
NorthEnd TeleServices, a first-time partner, gave out stocking stuffers and hosted a Make a Wish Tree.
The Great Plains Black History Museum presented three exhibits and hosted a balloon artists.
“We want to thank all of the community partners that worked with us to put on the event,” said Quaites-Ferris. “We have families that have attended every year and a lot of new families this year as well.”
“Many of them said they had no idea all of these buildings, stores and venues were here. They look forward to coming back even beyond Christmas in the Village which is exactly what we wanted to see happen.”
Photo Credits: Surreal Media Labs
Initial Photo Gallery: Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake 2022
60+ Black Businesses and Entrepreneurs supported through Christmas in the Village
One of the direct and measurable outcomes from Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is the involvement and engagement of black businesses, artists and creatives.
Between the businesses located in the district and the vendors, food trucks, artists, musicians, contractors and service providers that take part, over 60 Black businesses generate income by being part of Christmas in the Village.
“It’s a great example of keeping money circulating in the community,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network and owner of several businesses with his wife, Yolanda.
Many businesses have reported in the past that the event represents their highest day of sales for the year.
The sales were not as high this year, but even with the cold weather, thousands were in attendance at the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake. History shows that many of the visitors will come back once they realize the stores and businesses are in the community.
The Empowerment Network’s Holiday Boutique was held in a heated Big Tent on the northeast corner of 24th and Lake. It housed 20 businesses in a new setting that presented some challenges with the weather but served the need when the normal venue was not available.
“Most of the businesses did well and some sold out or nearly sold out of their merchandise,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Boutique.
Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living, Revive Center, Omaha Star, Carver Legacy Center, 95.7 The Boss Radio Station and others located in the Village also benefit by creating awareness of their products and services and generating sales.
“We had a really great day of sales,” said Imani Murray, co-owner of Ital Vital Living. “We had over 400 come to our store.”
Eight additional businesses are located at the Fair Deal Marketplace. The innovative small business center made of shipping containers is now full including three new businesses that are currently undergoing grand openings.
Locally owned food trucks including SoCo Cafe, Boiling Claws, Haven Express Omaha and Smokin’ Guns served up wings, BBQ, seafood, soul foods and other tasty dishes.
“We had a good day,” said Devaute Nunn, co-owner of Haven Express. “We really appreciate the Empowerment Network creating this opportunity for us.”
Creatives, artists, musicians and sound engineers also benefit from Christmas in the Village through the Holiday Concert in Dreamland Park.
This year included another impressive line-up with the following artists: Big Wade and musicians, Gus McNair, The Arvies, Jarron Taylor, Millicent Crawford, Kathy Tyree and Eric and Doriette Jordan.
The artists receive honorariums for their dedication of time and using their gifts to provide beautiful holiday music for the event.
“The Holiday Concert has always been a major part of the event,” said Barney. “Not only is there amazing music, singing and dancing, we want to provide this platform for the artists and make sure they are compensated for their time and using their gifts.”
Dozens of other contractors, entrepreneurs and businesses ranging from photography, videography, branding, security, marketing, design, print media, radio and other industries are paid for their services as part of the event.
While the primary focus is bringing kids and families together for a cultural celebration and holiday tradition, creating opportunities for businesses to generate income, create jobs and recycle money in the community are also important goals.
Comments from some of the Holiday Boutique Vendors:
Owner, It’s Not a Game Apparel
One of the best and most successful events I have attended in a while. I will definitely will be there next year. Thanks for the opportunity.
Owner of Kreative Ways
The event gave a great opportunity for my business to be highlighted and show the community that Kreative Ways exist. Everyone that came to the table loved it and I ran out of business card. Gave out 250 to people.
I was able to connect with all customers, first time customers that patronized me four years ago when I started and also met new ones that loved my products.
Owner of Yass Beautiful
The Holiday Boutique was amazing. This is a great way to get exposure for my local business. I was so grateful to be there because I didn’t know how to get myself out there for the community to know about my business. I want to thank you so much for doing this for the community.
Owner of Moss Lady
I feel it was great exposure…All and all it was definitely worth it.
Eric and Tawanna Black travel from Minneapolis to enjoy Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake
“It was such a blessing,” said Tawanna Black, founder of the nationally recognized Center for Economic Inclusion based in the Twin Cities.
She and her husband, Eric, drove over six hours with their children, Traviata and Christian, to take part in the Empowerment Network’s 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake in North Omaha.
“We have been wanting to come down the last few years, but it hadn’t worked out,” said Tawanna.
“Watching the videos and seeing all of the promotional materials on social media, we just knew it was something we wanted our kids to experience. There’s nothing like this in the Twin Cities.”
The family came early and stayed nearly the whole day as there were so many activities and they wanted to see them all.
“We loved, laughed, smiled, hugged and literally shopped til we dropped,” said Black.
“We rode the carriage ride, took family photos, shopped with the vendors, visited the live animals, walked through the exhibits, took pictures with Santa and sang and danced in Dreamland Park. We got it all in.”
Traviata and Christian also shared their perspectives about that event.
Christian shared his excitement:
Going to Christmas in the Village was so fun. Seeing everyone so happy made me happy.
Riding the horse and carriage was my dream. It was so good. The choirs sang very well. And there were so many places to shop!
Traviata added these comments:
Christmas in the Village was amazing. It was exciting to see my parents loved by so many and excited to see people they used to work with.
I loved seeing Santa and so many other kids who were excited to get a photo with Santa and I couldn’t believe that there were live animals there and that we could touch a donkey, camel, and goat.
I also loved being able to see a lot of people I could relate to, everyone was so happy to see other Black people and seeing them smile made me smile.
“Hearing those comments is so encouraging and makes everything we do worth it,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice President of Community Development and Operations at the Empowerment Network and event manager for Christmas in the Village.
Eric and Tawanna once called Omaha home.
Tawanna is well known for her leadership and economic development work with Destination Midtown and was one of the first diversity and inclusion directors in the city working with Cox Communications.
After relocating to Minneapolis 12 years ago, she has led the Northside Funders Group, a collaborative of 12 foundations and then stepped out in faith to create and launch the Center for Economic Inclusion.
The mission of the Center for Economic Inclusion is closing racial employment, income, and wealth gaps, and building racially inclusive and equitable regional economies.
Eric worked for two decades serving in a number of global business Development and integrated marketing leadership capacities and rising to the level of executive with Cargill.
He has now ventured into the non-profit industry as an executive director for Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI). MDI is a Minnesota manufacturer and nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to provide employment opportunities and services for people with disabilities.
“One of things I love about Omaha is the way people collaborate,” said Eric. “To see nearly 100 organizations, businesses and ministries work together to make something like this happen is inspiring.”
Both Eric and Tawanna are committed to equity, economic advancement and elevating the culture. They see events like Christmas in the Village as essential and vitally important.
“It is incredibly meaningful to have Tawanna, Eric, Traviata and Christian make the six hour trip to Omaha to join us for Christmas in the Village,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.
“Hearing their heartfelt comments and the impact of the event on them and their children is inspiring and opens our eyes to even greater possibilities.”
“Thousands of kids and families attend each year and it is beginning to draw from a larger region. It reinforces the original vision we had for creating this event. 24th and Lake is the hub that can bring people from all over the country to celebrate our culture through music, food, arts, entertainment and business.”
“This is such an amazing cultural experience. Absolutely phenomenal,” said Tawanna. “Willie and Yolanda Barney, Vicki Quaites-Ferris and all of the partners who help make this happen have created a masterpiece.”