This story is a part of an Avenue series called “The Voices of Gainesville” meant to spotlight black-owned businesses, black artists and black musicians in Gainesville. 

Stephon Brown, 22, grew up in what he referred to as the “bottom” of Gainesville, an area known as the Duval Heights. There he would spend most of the time in his room admiring clothing collections from fashion favorites like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. 

What started as a vision through his laptop, turned into reality when he started his business, Vintage Living, with a sewing machine his mother handed down to him. Through his website, he sells a variety of items from hoodies to face masks. 

Brown envisions himself being a part of Milan Fashion Week alongside his fashion icons – this is a dream he has had for himself since the start of his brand in 2015. 

“I want to be in competition with the Tommy Hilfigers’ and Polos’ in 20 to 30 years down the line,” Brown said. “And be able to say I’ve done it on my own.”

But as a young Black individual, Brown knows all too well the challenges the Black community faces. Growing up, his mother would remind him always to have his hands visible on the steering wheel or the dashboard if he gets pulled over, not to speak too fast and always to cooperate, he said. 

Through the Black Lives Matter movement, he believes it is possible to spark a change in future generations as people begin to have conversations to educate each other on the topic of racism. With his fashion brand, he hopes to inspire children with a similar background as him because, for him, it’s essential for the Black community to understand that the sky's the limit when exploring passions, he said. 

He and his wife are expecting a baby soon, and Brown can only hope that they get to grow up in a safe society where they don’t have to fear doing simple things like going out for a jog, he said. 

“I just want my child to be able to be confident,” Brown said. “And knowing that their life is as valuable as the next person’s.”

Lorenzo Jones, 39, understands the struggle of not having much, and he doesn’t want others to go through the same. 

Growing up, Jones lived in a trailer home in Winter Haven, where his father worked several jobs to make ends meet for his family of four. 

But then came a beacon of hope when his father was ascended to a new, better-paid position working for Tampa Electric Company, which allowed him to quit his other jobs. It was then that he realized he could help others, he said. 

“I don’t want to see people go through this,” Jones said. “Guys that I was friends with, sometimes they would come to my house to eat.”

Over the past two years, The Heart of Gainesville, a non-profit thrift store, has become more than just a place where people browse clothes, jewelry and furniture. 

It has become an opportunity for Jones, president of the board for The Heart of Gainesville, to create a mark in the world and a chance to partner with local organizations like Peaceful Paths, a local domestic violence center and The Honor Center for Veterans, a homeless shelter provided for veterans. 

“I believe that maybe this will give me a chance to do that in my life, to help make things better for other people,” Jones said. 

The Heart of Gainesville’s motto is, “Helping one person not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.” And it holds significant value for Jones, especially now. 

One person may not create a change, but as the Black Lives Matter protests continue, he hopes people will become open to more ideas and conversations. 

“I hope it brings light to things that are actually happening,” Jones said. “Especially with the system of our government. People can actually see that, no, it’s not just us African American people, it’s not our imagination – these things are happening.”

Contact Valentina Botero at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lvbotero_.