Reading is among the best way to learn about Black history, said Willa Robinson, the founder and owner of Willa’s Books & Vinyl.
“I’m grateful to be able to educate people about what’s going on in the Black community through books. There’s so much history on what we have experienced, what we have accomplished,” said Robinson as she stood alongside a selection of her store’s books and vinyl — displayed within the lobby at H&R Block’s world headquarters in downtown Kansas City.
Click here to read the story behind Willa’s Books & Vinyl.
Throughout the month of February, H&R Block is playing host to small, Black-owned businesses — showcasing their talents and providing easier opportunities for H&R Block associates to buy from Black-owned businesses, said LeAna Flores, who serves as the program director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at H&R Block.
“It is a celebration of Black excellence,” Flores shared. “We want to ensure that all of our associates feel like they belong, and they see themselves in the businesses we support. We also want to make sure that our associates are engaged and educated on why we’re doing this.”
The initiative is in observance of Black History Month, but supporting small business owners, specifically small business owners of color, is part of H&R Block’s year-round mission, Flores added.
“We like to think of this as a movement — not just a moment,” Flores said. “At H&R Block, we have committed to supporting 500,000 small business owners. We aim to have 15 percent of those small business owners be people of color.
“… While I do get the extreme honor of being the program director for Belonging, it is very much a ‘for-us, by-us’ initiative,” she continued. “Belonging is upheld by our Belonging Council, which spans the entire enterprise.”
It is crucial to support small, Black-owned businesses year-round, Robinson said, noting that Black business owners are too often left out of community events and conversations.
“It is hard on us,” Robinson shared. “I’m in my store five days a week, and I don’t have a helper. I can’t just take the day off. So right now, the store is closed because I am here [at H&R Block].”
Willa’s Books and Vinyl has been located within the Citadel Office Building since 2015; but she will be moving her business out by March 31, 2022, because of a developer’s plans to demolish the building.
“I’m still on the hunt for a place,” she noted. “We might have something worked out, but when I do for sure, I will let everyone know.”
Jermonica Cann — who founded her own event planning company, JCann Creations — echoed Robinson’s sentiment on advocating for small businesses.
“My family friend Nathaniel [who works at H&R Block] is why I am here,” Cann said. “I’ve done his wedding, his baby shower, his wife’s birthday party, and he made a comment after the first event I planned that he would not hire anyone else. His testimonial has helped me get in front of more people.”
Click here to check out JCann Creations.
With the pandemic negatively impacting small businesses throughout Kansas City, Cann encouraged community members to keep their dollars local.
“You don’t have to go out of town to find excellent goods and services,” she shared. “We have all of that in the heart of Kansas City.”
Along with JCann Creations and Willa’s Books and Vinyl, H&R Block plans to host Lit Candle Co. Seasons Classic Catering, Just Macrame Me and Big T’s Bar B Q during showcase sessions throughout Black History Month at the world headquarters.
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.