‘The time is now’: Longtime friends launch support organization for Black and Brown entrepreneurs in Lawrence

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Timing and purpose aligned when two childhood friends who had moved away to opposite coasts recently returned to Lawrence, feeling empowered to empower others.

Taylor Overton, 29, and Devanté Green, 30, in May co-founded Black:30, an entrepreneurial support organization for Black and Brown business owners. 

Systemic inequities can stall people of color from building generational wealth for their families at the same rate as their white counterparts. Overton and Green are attempting to combat that on a local level by serving as liaisons for Black and Brown entrepreneurs trying to progress their businesses around town. 

“I want people to be able to look at us and not see competition but to see inclusion — to see two people that are trying to collaborate and connect all of these players that maybe haven’t been in the same spaces historically,” said Overton, president of Black:30.

As Green and Overton moved back to Lawrence, they began noticing several of their other high school friends were coming back, too. That “divine” timing, he said, set their work into motion.

“As we were coming up with the idea for Black:30 — thinking about how important time is to marginalized communities — people always come out with sort of strategies and policies and they have deadlines and times on them, but a lot of times those deadlines aren’t met, and so it’s like, what happens to the community in the meantime when you’re not delivering on that timeline?” said Green, executive director of Black:30.

Overton added as the thought behind the organization’s name, “So it’s not ‘10:30,’ it’s ‘Black:30.’”

Coming home

Both Lawrence kids who were heavily involved in their schools, Green graduated from Free State High School in 2011 and Overton graduated from Lawrence High School in 2012.

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Overton has always been interested in creating and owning. She remembers her parents — her mother, who previously owned WIN Construction and is now retired, and her father, who currently owns EUCO LLC — brainstorming ways to scale their businesses at 2 a.m. sometimes.

Her perspective has changed since she was a kid, however.

“I think it’s just kind of growing up and viewing entrepreneurship as a curse,” Overton said. “I didn’t think that it was viable. I thought it was more for play or for fun. And a lot of the same fights that my parents fought, you know, 20 or so years ago are still now the fights that Devanté and I are approaching.”

After high school, Green stayed local and studied exercise science at the University of Kansas, graduating in 2016. He then went on to earn his master’s degree in exercise science from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Overton, however, attended Morgan State University — an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in Baltimore — and played on the women’s tennis team. She finished up her undergraduate degree in business at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, graduating in 2018. Continuing at Ottawa University, she then earned her master’s degree in human resources. 

While away, they both witnessed communities of color who were thriving — people who were actively building wealth. Green said that made him want young people of color in Lawrence to feel they don’t have to leave to grasp their big break, if they don’t want to. 

“The time is now for us all to be thinking about the future and thinking about the bigger picture of this economy,” Green said. 

“So many of us come through Lawrence or are from Lawrence and are out in the world and in other communities doing really great things. And now a lot of us are starting to come back, we’ve gotten a lot of different experiences, we’ve seen what a Black community can do, we’ve seen what a small community can turn into, and so I think that’s what we want for Lawrence. We want a better Lawrence.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Black:30 Executive Director Devanté Green, left, and President Taylor Overton hosted a table at the Lawrence Juneteenth community celebration on June 17, 2023.

Green moved back in August 2021 and now works as the development officer for KU Endowment, where he raises funds for the KU School of Engineering.

Overton moved back with her family in December 2022. She works as the director of corporate and minority business development for the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Though her life is based in Lawrence, her office is stationed in Oakland, California, so she flies back and forth for work and serves a region that includes California, Hawaii and Nevada. 

Wanting her son to attend Raintree Montessori School, where she went to elementary school, was one of the main reasons Overton and her husband agreed to move back to Lawrence. She also wanted to be the representation for Lawrence kids that she and Green didn’t have when they were growing up.

“What I want to be able to create is businesses that can create jobs that will pay living wages to employees that will then turn around and create safer communities for children, and then Lawrence is a healthier, happier place to be,” Overton said. “I think that access to entrepreneurship is the root cause of a lot of the problems that we face as an economy.”

When considering future generations, Green immediately thinks about his nephew.

“My family — we aren’t a line of entrepreneurs,” Green said. “I’m kind of like the first one to take this on, and when I think about my nephew, I want him to have options. I don’t want him to feel like he has to go and work for anybody or he has to go to college or he has to go into the military. You can also be an entrepreneur, you can do all of those things or none of those things.”

‘We want to see a Lawrence where there are more players’

Black:30 provides support services, confidential and free of charge, to Black and Brown business owners. Those services can look like offering a listening ear, starting point or connection. More than anything, Green and Overton said they want to pour hope and confidence into young Black and Brown entrepreneurs.

“We meet businesses and people kind of where they are,” Green said. “I think the listening piece is super important to understand ‘Why did you start the business? What’s your goal for the business?’ because I think everybody has a different goal. And then we just try to support and be an advocate, a cheerleader for them along the way … being a connector and providing that systemic support.”

Since launching, Black:30 has assisted several businesses in opening, Overton said. Black:30 funneled supplies and startup capital into KiantEvents, owned by Lawrence local Kianti Vann.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Kianti Vann, center, at the Black:30 mixer, June 30, 2023

Black:30 also hired KiantEvents for a networking mixer on Friday and highlighted Vann during the event, which was also the organization’s first public event. It was hosted at the 409 Boutique Venue, a new Black-owned business at 409 E. 12th St. in Lawrence.

If a business owner’s needs are beyond Overton and Green’s scope of knowledge, the pair can help them navigate local organizations, such as the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Small Business Development Center and others. They lend feedback to those organizations on the barriers people are facing while trying to access their resources or spaces.

“We want to see a Lawrence where there are more players,” Overton said. “If you were to name the five richest people in Lawrence, none of them look like us. If you were to name the largest developers in Lawrence, none of them look like us. So I just want to provide spaces where individuals can thrive and see that they don’t have to work for someone for the rest of their life.”

Working with Overton and Green, Black:30’s board includes Paige Robinson, John Overton, Trei Wells, Kara Easum, Clare Nderagakura Granger and Erica Demby. It can be difficult to navigate business spaces as young professionals in Lawrence, Green said, but the group has cultivated an inspiring environment.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Black:30 board members are pictured with co-founders Devanté Green and Taylor Overton. In the front row, from left, are Paige Robinson, Kara Easum and Trei Wells. In back, from left, are Green, Clare Nderagakura Granger, Taylor Overton, Erica Demby and John Overton.

“It has been challenging, but it’s also been kind of easy because the board that we selected and the advisers, it’s like we’re all in community with one another, we’ve known each other for years, so it’s actually kind of fun,” Green said. “Even when it’s getting hard, we kick back, we tell some jokes, and we get back to the work.”

So far, Overton and Green are fronting all costs out-of-pocket, which have gotten into the tens of thousands of dollars, but they said they believe in the goals they want to attain. They’re currently searching for funding opportunities, and those interested in donating can do so via PayPal.

‘Grow together’

Besides offering individual services to entrepreneurs, Black:30 hosts private and public events for professionals to network.

Black:30 on Tuesday, June 27 hosted its Empower Minority Entrepreneur Grant Pitch Competition in partnership with NetWork Kansas. The organization selected three Black women entrepreneurs to give $15,000 to.

Breanna Bell, owner of hair salon Curlology; Erica Demby, owner of Pinky’s Precious Pets; and Catherine Bell, owner of Sew Simple Sewing each earned $5,000. Black:30 presented them with their awards during the networking mixer on Friday.

From cultural food markets to curly hair stores, some businesses may have already been established in Lawrence for a while, but they haven’t had the social presence needed to thrive, Overton said. That’s where Black:30 can come in, Overton said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Catherine Bell (left), Erica Demby, Breanna Bell and Taylor Overton

Overton and Green said they have identified more than 200 BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color)-owned and women-owned businesses, to date, across Douglas County that they have compiled into a database. They plan to launch the comprehensive database on their website by late September or early October.

“From an economic development standpoint, we’ve really been left out of the conversation,” Overton said. “But now with this list, we can make sure that we’re not left out from a perspective of ignorance. If you leave us out it’s because you intentionally want to because we’re providing them every single business that we find.”

Around the same time as the database, Black:30 plans to launch a learning management system that will be free for the community’s usage. People can complete modules — similar to those in the LinkedIn Learning program — about startups, policies, requests for proposals (RFPs), cybersecurity and more.

Using Black:30’s Facebook group as a community platform, Black and Brown entrepreneurs can plug their own businesses. They can seek community support and learn about resources Black:30, or those in its network, are providing.

Though the organization centers its services on Black and Brown entrepreneurs, allyship and advocacy of these local businesses are encouraged. Anyone can request to join the private Facebook group, which currently has more than 400 members. 

“When we made the intentional decision to open the Facebook group, my thought process was from the perspective of creating conscious consumers,” Overton said. 

“There are a lot of people that just don’t know that we have Black businesses or even local businesses that do the things that they are going to Kansas City for. In Lawrence, everything is so grassroots and community-based. We thought it was important that we be intentional about creating a digital space where everybody can see what’s happening and kind of grow together.”

Community members interested in gaining membership, supporting, requesting support services or learning more information can visit the organization’s website, Black.30.org. Overton and Green can also be reached via the website.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Business owners Erica Demby, Catherine Bell and Breanna Bell each earned a $5,000 grant from Black:30.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Erica Demby, owner of Pinky’s Precious Pets and Black:30 board member, tables for the organization at the Lawrence Juneteenth celebration.
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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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