Amari and Sa’mya Lewis’ young entrepreneurial venture — a yard sign featuring a simple black heart — first spread in a predominantly white Johnson County neighborhood, the teenage sisters said.
Amid ongoing national discourse over the “Black Lives Matter” movement, in which the meaning of those three words often is debated, the sign makers have sold more than 1,000 pieces since Juneteenth — flourishing especially in white communities, they said.
“I think it’s important these signs do not have any words. It might be hard for some [people] to get out and say [‘Black Lives Matter’], especially within the environment that they live in,” said Amari, a recent graduate of Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences. “I see these signs as a stepping stone to being able to say those words or being able to speak out more.”
“And when people of color come into those neighborhoods, the signs can give them that message that, ‘You are welcome here, you are safe here,’” added Sa’mya, an incoming junior at Sumner.
Simplicity is key, they said, describing the creative process that led to the founding of their business, A Higher Promise.
“It started when a friend designed the sign and displayed it on her lawn; soon after, other people wanted the sign too,” Amari explained. “She had a business idea and came to us because of our involvement and care for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
It quickly gained interest, she said.
“We saw so many of our teachers buy signs, and I just never thought they would advocate for us like that,” Amari said, surprised by those who came out to show their support. “I even saw some people who we do theater with — who I never thought would speak out about this — want to buy signs and advocate for change.”
Click here to purchase a yard sign and read more about the Lewis sisters’ story.
Honoring their brother
“A Higher Promise” is a reference to Amari and Sa’mya’s brother, LJ.
“He would always say ‘I promise,’” Sa’mya shared. “And he would always keep his promises.”
Gun violence took LJ’s life in 2019, the sisters wrote on A Higher Promise’s website. After his passing, their family found a list of his goals, including starting a foundation and teen center for their community. Now, with A Higher Promise, they continue to honor him, they said.
“LJ was a good person,” Sa’mya said. “He was the big brother who always took care and appreciated his family. I’m so grateful to be able to do this because I know he would be so proud and want us to keep going.”
More than a business
Before A Higher Promise, Amari said she had never imagined herself and her sister owning and operating a business. She dreams of becoming a professional performer, and Sa’mya envisions herself as a prosecutor or attorney. For the two of them, the impact that A Higher Promise makes on society is more important than the venture itself.
“What we take away from our business and from the Black Lives Matter movement is to be more empathetic. Be willing to listen, and be willing to learn — not just to your Black friends or family, but listen to all Black people, all brown people, all people that you don’t understand,” Amari said.
“Our other big takeaway would be to start conversations,” Sa’mya added. “We hope to start conversations with people who have never talked about these topics before.”
Profits from A Higher Promise will go to the sisters’ college funds, but they also plan to donate to Black Lives Matter organizations, as well as to Black transgender organizations that help members of the community find homes, Amari said.
Signs are $10; they are available for free pickup in Overland Park or can be shipped within the United States.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.
For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect at www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn