“This was the best and most informative business summit event that I have ever been part of,” said Chef Wilson Calixte, owner of Le Voltaire French Restaurant, one of Omaha’s top restaurants.
“What’s happening in Omaha is the prototype for the nation,” said George Fraser, CEO of FraserNet, the PowerNetworking Conference and member of the National Black Business Hall of Fame. “Join this local and national Network, keep building and stay the course.”
Fraser is known across the world as one of the top experts on building highly effective and productive networks.
He joined Dr. Pamela Jolly, a nationally recognized thought leader on wealth building and a strategic advisor for business accelerators, as keynote speakers for the virtual Revive Black Business Summit.
Both Jolly and Fraser, along with other nationally known Black business leaders and entrepreneurs, have agreed to join the Revive Black Business Network Board of Advisors and to extend special offers to its members.
The Business Summit was hosted on Saturday, January 15th by Willie and Yolanda Barney, co owners of Revive Omaha!, Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center. 2022 marks 14 years since they launched Revive Magazine and 9 years since they formed the Revive Black Business Luncheon. January 15th also marked the 93rd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We have talked for years about launching the formal Business Network, but put it on hold as we worked on other community projects and businesses,” said Willie Barney. “We believe now is the time to move forward and build on and expand our local and national partnerships. To launch the Business Network on Dr. King’s birthday is incredibly significant. 2022 will be a breakthrough year.”
Jolly kicked off the Summit with an insightful presentation on the State of Black Business, emerging opportunities on the national level and the importance of working together.
“My research shows the benefit of building wealth together and elevating the standard of how we do business,” said Jolly. “We need to be prepared for the current and future opportunities.”
If the response from attendees is any indicator, the Black Business Network is an idea whose time has come.
“The experience was absolutely amazing and very informative. It was like I stumbled upon a high-level business master class led by owners and subject matter experts that were so willing to share their personal best practices and success strategies,” said Tim Clark, CEO of Clark Connection Group.
Clark also delivered a powerful message of his own during a session on Effective Networking. “Be intentional. Be credible. Build trust. Listen. Listen. Listen.”
“The information presented was extremely valuable for business owners,” said Marcella Dial who attended along with her husband, Howard. “We got started with our business, but felt stuck. This event helped us to see ways to move forward.”
The Summit featured some of Omaha’s most successful Black business owners and entrepreneurs.
Carmen Tapio, CEO of North End Teleservices, has grown from 0 to 400 employees in just over five years. She shared her journey and how she overcame initial rejections from banks to secure the funding she needed to expand. Tapio said she is aiming to create jobs for 1,000+ and continue changing lives through her business. She also encouraged attendees not to give up.
Candice Price, a serial entrepreneur including co-ownership of Home Team Auto Sales and Sapphire Grill, offered insights on generating multiple streams of income and highlighted the services available through the new non-profit she leads, Grow Nebraska. “Having multiple streams of income was a blessing for us during the pandemic as we had to put our food truck in storage.”
Richard Webb, probably best known as the former CEO of the 100 Black Men and current CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands, shared his experiences as a successful business owner and real estate investor with his firm, Abundant Living. “You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars attending seminars, it is possible to make money by investing in real estate. Develop relationships.”
Gladys Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering, spoke about being innovative and reinventing your business in the midst of challenges. With most Black businesses struggling and 41% closing during the pandemic, Gladys reported that 2020 was their best financial year in the history of the company as they expanded on partnerships. “It was the partnerships that allowed us to grow when others were closing down.”
Calvin Jones, CEO of Lions Gate Security, shared some best practices for establishing relationships and doing business with corporations and public entities, including some of Omaha’s largest organizations. “Persistence. You can’t be afraid to knock on the door and keep knocking.”
“What I experienced at the Summit was powerful, educational and dynamic,” said Bridget Hadley, Economic Development Manager for the City of Omaha. “The depth of experience among all of the panelists makes Omaha and our community rich. The exchange of information and nuggets of wisdom shared were practical, yet invaluable, and ready for implementation.”
“It was incredibly inspiring to hear from these successful business owners,” said Yolanda Barney. “Being in business, especially during a time like this, can be challenging and you can feel isolated. This let’s you know that you can still move forward and staying connected is vitally important.”
That is one of the main goals for formalizing the Revive Black Business Network. The group keeps businesses connected, shares information about resources and opportunities, identifies funding sources and provides a platform to communicate successes and best practices.
In addition to business owners and entrepreneurs, the speakers and panelists on the summit included a wide range of service providers and support organizations available to assist with information, access to credit and capital, training and technical assistance.
BC Clark – Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Candice Price – Grow Nebraska, Manne Cook – Spark Capital, Bridget Hadley – City of Omaha, and Ernest White – Carver Legacy Center all highlighted different forms of funding including grants, loans, TIF and equity. All of the organizations also offer training and special events. Karine Sokpah, founder of the Midlands African Chamber also highlight opportunities for entrepreneurs to win $10,000 through the Pitch Black competition.
“When we started the Revive Black Business Network, we wanted to make sure business owners and entrepreneurs knew what resources and opportunities were available to them,” said Willie Barney. “We have updated the Roadmap to Entrepreneurship in Omaha and we will have a consistent location for these activities to happen at the HUB inside the Carver Legacy Center and also at the Revive Center Markets.”
Two other sessions focused on helping businesses to get prepared with a solid foundation. Malinda Williams, financial advisor with MVEST Partners shared tips for getting personal and business balance sheets in order.
Martine Quartey, owner of Advance Tax Solutions with 20+ years of experience, walked participants through key aspects needed to manage taxes professionally. “Too many business don’t handle their taxes correctly, but we can help them build a solid foundation.”
Dr. Martin Williams of Martin Williams International and DreamKeepers focused on existing business owners and presented key concepts he has used over the years to help businesses scale. “Creating successful businesses is about culture.”
The final session included specific opportunities to do business with corporations and public entities. Winsley Durand from the Greater Omaha Chamber/REACH, Gerald Kuhn from the City of Omaha and Cameron Gales of Jacobs Construction all provided valuable contacts and pathways to get in the door. James Wright from Congressman Don Bacon’s office also discussed ways the office could be helpful.
“I thought the meeting was excellence in motion. So much good information and resources within our own community,” said Sophia Jordan, owner of Black Bottom Biscotti. “I am inspired to keep going and do business on purpose within our own community even more so.”
Fraser who closed the day off with a powerful keynote and an extended “post conference” session, emphasized some final key points.
“We can create jobs, build our communities and prepare the next generation,” said Fraser. “If you do not have a system, you do not have a business. What is your system? What is your promise?”
He added, “We must connect, grow and prosper so we can learn, earn and return. Omaha has the opportunity to show the way.”
It was the perfect ending to the Summit. Creating moments like this on a consistent basis is one of the main goals for the Business Network.
“When do you ever have an opportunity to have George Fraser, a living legend, on a live zoom for an hour personally answering questions and sharing his experiences and insights?” said Calvin Jones.
The Revive Black Business Network will host meetings, summits, workshops, luncheons, conferences, expos and other events throughout the year.
The Black Business Summit was hosted by Revive! Omaha, Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center. The virtual event was managed by RealQuick Solutions.
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.”