OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Signs are popping up all around Overland Park neighborhoods. The style is simple, but the meaning is deeper.
It started as one woman’s idea but has turned into two teen’s mission.
Down the lane you can see manicured lawns, bright flowers, full ferns, waving flags and simple signs. Just 12-by-12-inch white plastic on tiny metal spikes, emboldened on the front is a black heart — and nothing else.
Holly Cornelius has lived on the street for around 25 years.
“I was starting to make a sign for myself, and I realized it would be so much more powerful lining our street,” Cornelius said.
She said her neighborhood is predominantly white, and her goal in making the signs was to show Black people they matter here, too.
“It gives people who live here a chance to see that they should continue speaking out, and it allows the people who pass through to understand what kind of a place this is, and that we want change,” Cornelius said.
Neighbors, friends and strangers started asking her for signs. People shared posts online, asking where people could find one of their own.
Cornelius said she realized it wasn’t her mission to share them. It was a mission for 17-year-old Amari and 15-year-old Sa’Mya Lewis.
“Usually I’m hesitant about coming to a place like this because you’re not sure if you’re welcome or not, but when I saw the signs I was like, ‘OK, I can be here. People want me here,'” Amari said.
Cornelius has known the teens since they were little. Her daughter performed in theater with them. She would talk to their mother, Shontail, about life, and it was an eye-opening experience to her about white privilege.
Now the girls are selling the signs themselves.
Their mothers are helping them along the way. The teens want people to know that Black lives matter — especially their brother’s. LJ Noel, 26, was shot and killed in August of 2019.
“He would want us to do this,” Sa’Mya said. “He would be so proud of us right now. That’s why I continue to do this because I know he would be so proud of me and my sister.”
Sa’Mya said their brother always used to make promises, and he would do whatever he could to keep them. In his honor, they named their company A Higher Promise to spread the message of Black Lives Matter.
“We’re up for it, and I can’t wait to see what we can do with it and what influence and impact we can make,” Amari said.
“Normally I wouldn’t think that in this type of neighborhood that I would feel welcome or anything, but seeing these signs I just have this sigh of relief, because I know that I matter, and they look at me and see I’m a person, and I matter too,” Sa’Mya said.
For now the business is focused on signs, but they hope it becomes much more.
“We just become a hub, a center, an educational resource, a resource for local black, brown, indigenous, and LGBT+ businesses. I just want to make a social change, and I think we can do that with our business,” Amari said.
“We have this opportunity to do something that could change lives, change people’s perspectives, and that’s the most important thing to me,” Sa’Mya said.
The next batch of lawn signs is being produced now. They are selling them online for $10 a piece and are available for delivery or local pickup.
The funds raised with the signs will go toward the their college fund and donations to local Black nonprofits.