In honor of Black History Month, Visit Clarksville recently interviewed five Black business owners to learn their stories, ambitions and inspiration. What became obvious immediately is that their impact on the community extends far beyond their storefronts. Whether by painting murals, providing opportunities for other small businesses, mentoring students in local schools, or feeding at shelters, these individuals are solid community leaders who are each going far beyond their business owner role to serve Clarksville-Montgomery County.

Included in the interview series are Olasubomi “Ola” Aka-Bashorun, Artist (Drafts by Ola); Ava Freeman, Entrepreneur (Higher Level on Franklin Plaza); Serveen Johnson and Amber Steele, Entrepreneurs (Pinky’s Up Afternoon Tea); and Kevin Smith, Restaurateur (Legends Smokehouse & Grill).

Individuals spoke about their mentors, their favorite Clarksville places, who inspires them, what they want people to know about their business and their work in the community. Interviews with each of the businesses will be posted each Thursday in February on the Visit Clarksville blog, and a video about the business posted on Visit Clarksville’s Instagram channel. Below are highlights of the interviews.


Q. Is there someone in the past or present who inspires you?

Ola: “I was a track athlete in college, and I knew of Wilma Rudolph, but I didn’t know she was from Clarksville. Her story of having polio as a kid and becoming this great basketball player and track athlete and then going on to win three gold medals in track and field in the Olympics. She is definitely a huge inspiration.”

Ava: “I'm going to say my family. This building is dedicated to my grandparents. If you come into the building, you'll see all these country names above the doors. Those are my aunts and uncles. So that keeps me moving through here because I feel the love and I want to give people the love that I felt. They were good foundational people. So I want good foundational people in here coming together and growing.”

Serveen and Amber: “We have people in our immediate circle who are constantly trying to give back. If anything happens, they are there. They may not even know this family, but if they see it online or someone reaches out then they are on it. We try to surround ourselves with people like that, and when people cross our paths, we try to pull them into that same mindset. Support each other and win.”

Kevin: “My family is my inspiration. Do you ever wake up and every day just seems perfect? Every day I know I’m blessed. My wife is great. My kids are great. The people I work with are great. They are like family. I can come to work and work all day long and my workers say to me, ‘Go home, we got it.’ I love my job. I love my life. I try to help as many people as possible. I don’t advertise it. What I do is between me and that person. At the end of the day, I just want to hear ‘Well done.’ That’s all I want.”


Q. Why should someone visit Clarksville?

Ola: Outside looking in, it might seem like the South is one type of way, but Clarksville is crazy diverse with all different things. I think that is a reason to visit. You have everything here. We now have the arena with more things to come that are bringing more entertainment to town. We are big, but we still have that small-town vibe, even as we grow.

Ava: I think people should visit Clarksville because you are going to get a “good morning”, and it's a slower pace of life. Maybe it’s someone who isn’t used to it so it may be a little foreign at the moment, but after a while with everything going on in the world, they're going to be like, "Okay, this is nice!"

Serveen and Amber: Clarksville is a fun town! There are so many different businesses you can visit and so many adventures in Clarksville both indoors and outdoors. You don’t have to go to Nashville. There is stuff to do in Clarksville and it is so much cheaper. And we are friendlier!


Q: What is your message to young entrepreneurs?

Ava: You have to be honest, you have to be able to communicate, and you have to be teachable. If you can’t be those things, you can’t truly be successful.

Serveen and Amber: It can be scary. It was scary when we opened up the first location. It was scarier when we moved to the second. We are very spiritual people, so we prayed about it, and then we stepped out on faith. You step out on faith, but you have to put forth the work. You cannot just talk about it. You have to put in the action and walk it.

Kevin: Don’t waste time in the planning stage. You can spend a lot of time planning something and you're losing time. Time is one of the most valuable things we have because once it's gone you can't get it back. If there's something you want to do, do it. Don’t be afraid. I'd rather fail trying than not have tried at all.


The interviews can be found at