In March 2021, Qnotes launched Stories of Black LGBTQ Resilience and Economic Mobility, supported by Solutions Journalism Network. The project sought to connect responses to economic security and upward mobility to the lives and future of Black LGBTQ people. 

Multiple reports show that Black LGBTQ people face stark disparities in economic security and upward mobility, and these have only been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. This urgent problem has created the prevalence of increased research and the launch of innovative responses by grassroots organizations, individuals and communities to improve outcomes for those at the intersection of two marginalized identities. 

Qnotes’ reporters have investigated responses and found solutions that can impact future efforts. From access to healthcare for Black transgender women in Nevada to a housing initiative that raised $3 million in Atlanta, the story of Poor No More and founder Jermaine Nakia Lee to food truck entrepreneurs. 

Most recently, on November 18, Qnotes hosted a fireside chat with Bishop Ra’Shawn D. Flournoy and Dianna Ward in front of a live audience. The event was held at Sacred Souls Community Church in Charlotte. 

The Guests 

Ward and Flournoy have created their own economic mobility success stories, and are now helping to shape and inspire the future of Charlotte for generations. Publisher Jim Yarbrough welcomed a small group of community members, socially distanced and masked, while a local caterer started setting up food in the church’s community room. 

Flournoy grew up in Spartanburg, S.C. Seeking bigger and better things, he moved to Charlotte to become a pastor and start his own church. He learned about hard work from his mother. “My mom was an executive at BMW,” said Flournoy during the event. “The day the doors opened up at BMW, she was there.” 

After moving to Charlotte, he gained professional success in the nonprofit world and had a good job as the Ryan White Director at the CW Williams Community Health Center. But, on a leap of faith, he left his secure job to support his husband Justin’s dream of opening up a hair salon. They didn’t have a plan. 

“All we had was a couple of checks worth of stuff to make things happen,” he said. 

Flournoy described it has one of the hardest things they have ever done. 

No one tells you that it takes time to build a business. It takes a lot of money to build a business. 

The two ended up losing everything and ended up living in the salon before eventually losing the building. After a series of struggles, they started their own credit repair business. “We started helping thousands of customers,” said Flournoy. 

According to his website, Flournoy has been able to leverage this pioneering vision and instinct that helped him and his husband survive into serving others in areas extending beyond the church and into the marketplace. Today, they provide small business funding, up to $5 million for small business. “We do millions of dollars a month in funding,” he said. “We refuse to go back.”

As a visionary leader, Flournoy encourages people to think differently, and progressively, so they can create more meaningful life experiences. Each year, he helps underserved communities through Dream Center Charlotte as well, where he also serves as executive director. The nonprofit is volunteer driven and provides mobile hunger relief, medical programs, youth programs, narcotics anonymous, job and life skills training, counseling, education, HIV/STD testing and more. 

Flournoy has been featured on CNN, Fox News, CBS News, NBC News and Yahoo Finance, and the couple have provided mini grants to nonprofits through the Flournoy Enterprise, LLC. 

Born in New Mexico, Ward is the third of five children. After holding down several corporate jobs, including in banking, she launched her first business venture, Charlotte NC Tours, in 2009. 

“I think I’m just my parents kid,” said Ward. “They poured a lot into us, and one of the things they didn’t do was tell us what we had to be.” 

Early on, she knew she wanted to be an investor. 

“Nobody in my household was interested in investing, but I started reading up on investing and in eighth or ninth grade, I was like ‘Hey, let me,” she recalled. That early start brought out something special in Ward – something that would guide her into the future. 

In 2012, Charlotte Center City Partners tapped Ward to run its bike-sharing program and she is now the executive director of Charlotte Joy Bikes, along with Segway tour operations in Charlotte, Greenville, S.C., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Kansas City, Mo. After selling a bike-share business in New Orleans to Uber, she used the money to launch Sankofa Partners, LLC, along with two of her friends. 

Sankofa Partners purchased a commercial building in the Five Points area of Historic West End and Ward is now one of the most recognizable leaders in Charlotte working to create generational wealth and spark future investment in the area. 

In the Room 

“It was bike share that got me into the rooms with the people who then helped me,” said Ward. Well-known in banking circles, she wasn’t in the right circles to start investing in commercial real estate. “Moving on to run bike share got me in the room with every leader in this city. It got me in the room with all the CEOs in this city.” 

Ward’s personality made the difference. “I was not some shrinking violet accepting my tiny little place in this world,” she said. “That’s how I’ve kind of gone through life. I don’t care what your position is, there’s a reason we’re both in this room together right now, and we need to make sure that we know one another.” 

Flournoy and Ward enjoyed a warm conversation that led to some inspirational moments with members of the audience, seeking their own business advice. Following the event, people shared their own personal economic mobility stories in a video room where Bobby Kerns captured these individual interviews. 

“In the African American community, we end up swallowing ourselves versus just having a conversation and saying, ‘Hey, help me. I’m an aspiring this, or I’m an aspiring that. I need you to help me,’” reflected Flournoy during the event. 

“I’m thankful for a platform like this to be able to share stories like this.”