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Omar and Kimberly Finley are changing the world of literature with their children’s bookstore, The Listening Tree. This bookstore nestled in the town of Decatur, Georgia was created to represent and evoke the beauty of Black stories through “responsible representation”. Each book or author that is featured in the store were inspired by the Finley’s children who encouraged their parents to have a variety of educational and inspiration books Black youth could connect with.

Visitors walking through the store will find rich stories across multiple genres like entrepreneurship, super hero, stem/steam, and more. The Listening Tree also encourages for children to get involved in learning how the American economy works through their Young Entrepreneurship Program which teaches curriculum like financial literacy, website creation, and sales. Community and education are the cornerstones of this business who prides itself on “perpetuating literacy and love of reading in our global community”.

We sat down to chat with Omar and Kimberly about the origins of their business, community involvement, and how “responsible representation” can advance a child’s education.

What was the inspiration for your name?

We wanted to have a name that would ring in the ears of people for generations!  We also wanted to connect it to our heritage and African Tradition of Griots delivering oral history to the children under the Baobab Tree. We took these two concepts and agreed on The Listening Tree!

How has becoming a business owner impacted your involvement with the community?

Our favorite aspect of business ownership is banking on ourselves and coming up with real solutions to existing problems. For example, there is a wealth gap that cannot be closed unless people in our community become leaders of industries and constant innovators so we created The Young Entrepreneurs Program (YEP!) to give our children the education and tools to become industry leaders and innovators through one of the many things that drive world markets, entrepreneurship! 

How does your website help you navigate business operations?

Our website plays a key role in allowing people from all over the world to explore the materials and solutions at The Listening Tree. It helps us to quantify and analyze the growth of our business and gives us an accurate picture of what people are buying and good ideas as to what they might find interesting in the future. 50% of our business is online. The other half is the work that we do schools, universities and other businesses that need our services. Bluehost has been an integral part in ensuring that our website and products are available to the world 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

What are your 2-3 tips for other Black entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business? 

Tip #1: Consider your own community as your first customers and learn how to deliver excellent customer service.

Tip #2: Organize your business at start up so that you can monitor all of your daily costs to recognize whether you’re making a profit or not.

Tip #3: Work is the secret. (Force x Distance = Work) In physics work is a function of distance, meaning that if you are applying force or activity to a specific part of your business and it isn’t moving then you are not doing any work! Pick the critical points that you believe will grow your business but allow your target market to respond to what you think.

What have you learned about overcoming adversity as a Black business owner?

The first thing is to trust yourself and be willing to develop systems that project that you are all about taking care of your customers. Next would be, don’t depend on anyone to fund your vision. People invest in people who invest in themselves. There are some structural roadblocks as far as access to capital and large contracts for black business owners and much of this is by design but the bottom line is this: You must structure your business for profit and find a way to make your customers happy. Period!

Diversity is important in the publishing industry, tell us a few why representation matters in publishing/books

Below are 7 reasons why “Responsible Representation” will cause Black children to be more interested in reading and advancement. #responsiblerepresentation

  1. Black Children perform better when they have black teachers and administrators who care for them as people.
  2. Black Children display an amazing amount of interest in all subjects including math, chemistry, physics, biology and entrepreneurship when the story relates to their own black culture and way of life.
  3. Black Children are very diverse and are interested in seeing themselves in all aspects of human life.
  4. Black Children need to see a world where they are the responsible people making it all work.
  5. Black Children need to have historic heroes that they can look to for guidance in literature when solving problems.
  6. Black Children display more confidence and are willing to take more intellectual risks when they read black authored books.
  7. Black Authorship speaks to the spirit of the Black Child and gives children of all backgrounds an authentic picture of how we see ourselves as Black People.
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