Search

Omaha’s Broom Man: A legacy of Entrepreneurship

By Susan Payne



The story of Rev. Livingston Wills — affectionately known as Omaha’s Broom Man — charters many of the entrepreneurial beliefs Newdoom members hold to a high standard.


In his lifetime, Wills was known as the blind broom salesman who went door-to-door, crossing Omaha neighborhoods by foot and bus line, to sell his homemade brooms. He passionately knew the qualities of each broom and the solutions they brought to each area of a home that needed sweeping.


He formed connections with his clients that spanned decades of his life and although blind, he made his rounds and knew without a doubt that each day he would sell his brooms. Wills left brooms at doors, trusting those customers would pay at another time. He got to know his customers including their families and children that saw him in passing.


Author Barbara Atkins-Baldwin was one of those children. In 2006, two years before his death, she wrote a book based on her family’s experience with Wills, describing deep conversations and lessons learned from the moments of time he spent with her family.


“The Blind Broom Salesman” shares the interactions her family had with the salesman, and the powerful meaning she derived from his lessons over her lifetime. Of those lessons, we identified five takeaways that resonate with the Newdoom culture and the family that we have created.


Lesson one: Gratitude x Entrepreneurship


On page 43 of the paperback, Wills tells a young Atkins-Baldwin that he knew she was sitting under a tree because he felt her gratitude and it drew him over to her.

Atkins-Baldwin asked how this could be and he told her, “Well it is much like when you throw a ripple into a pond and the ripples in the water go out further and further until they reach the shoreline. In the same way, feelings of gratitude ripple out until they are felt by another person. I simply felt the ripple of your gratitude. A life lived in gratitude is a life well lived.”


He continues, “Did you notice that when you feel grateful, it feels like there is nothing you need or want in that moment?”


Beyond Wills’ entrepreneurial spirit is a life he lived in gratitude, but the two complement each other. An entrepreneur could be hopelessly devoted to their livelihood, success and investment, but there’s no ripple effect on others if they lack gratitude. Wills told Atkins-Baldwin that gratitude fills your entire self-up . . . prosperity and happiness are feelings, and the feeling of gratitude is the closest thing to a wealthy person.


Having a vision or creating a life that you want to live is rooted in gratitude. Gratitude is internal peace that no failure or success can undertake.




Lesson two: Intention and Renewal x Entrepreneurship


In early spring, a young Atkins-Baldwin was tasked with helping her mother spring clean. On page 51, while deciding which broom she wanted to use, she recalled wisdom that Wills had shared with her.



Wills said, “I like to think of these brooms as a symbol. The broom is a symbol for not only cleaning out the clutter in your house but for cleaning out the clutter in your hearts and minds . . . Sometimes people have things that clutter their lives, like ancient hurts, long-held resentments, and deep regrets. Let the broom remind you to forgive.”


Visionaries, dreamers, artists, and creatives are no strangers to hardship. But when the magic of spring hits — even in areas of the world that don’t experience harsh temperature fluctuations — that feeling of renewal is grounding.


Self-renewal, in relation to entrepreneurship, is a strategy and process that reflects the transformation of organizations. This strategy rekindles the ideas in which your business, organization, or nonprofit was founded and takes the form of decluttering, recharging, and renewing beliefs and systems that have uplifted your work.


As Atkins-Baldwin cleaned her home, the words of the Broom Man close to her heart, she set out to clean her home with a love, and an energy that would welcome guests. She did it with intention.


Lesson three: Visions x Entrepreneurship


On page 64, young Atkins-Baldwin quotes Wills, who at the time, was speaking to her about a snowman she built. Wills knew that she had built a snowman and she asked how he knew.


“Thoughts carry an energy that can be felt and seen by others. You must have been very focused about making this snowman, and my mind just got on the same ride as your creative thought wave,” Wills said.


“When I think about my day, I imagine all the people I will meet that day. I see each encounter, the route I will take, and I feel the joy of a perfect selling day. I don’t think about even the possibility of not selling my brooms. I don’t worry if people are going to pay me the right amount,” he told Atkins-Baldwin


This encounter between Wills and Atkins-Baldwin showcases the most valuable characteristic of Wills that sets him apart as a successful entrepreneur. He did not relent in his pursuit of success. He stayed focused and envisioned the life that he created for himself. He woke up every day and planned his route, his clients, and how much he would sell before he confidently walked out of the door. He never gave up. The energy he exuded was embraced by the people who encountered him.


“When you set out to build your snowman today, you must have had a vision of your snowman already completed,” he said. … “That is because you already saw it done before you began.”




Lesson four: Taking up Space x Entrepreneurship


Through countless passing conversations with young Atkins-Baldwin, we believe the virtue of Wills’ belief system prepared her to write this book.


Atkins-Baldwin prefaces The Blind Broom Salesman book with a story about her mother, an aspiring writer who thought she had to have a Ph.D. before anyone would read her work. She believed her mother, who loved Wills the same, divinely co-authored the book about him.


After having five children, Atkins-Baldwin’s mother bunkered down and struggled to balance a life of working, studying, and taking care of her family. A few short months of obtaining her sought-after degree, she passed away. On page 11, Atkins-Baldwin encourages readers to not wait to express the greatness inside of you.


So often aspiring entrepreneurs unintentionally set arbitrary goals and they look like this: If I can do XYZ, then I’ll be able to XYZ. This mindset is more exhausting than some realize because of its limitations. Arbitrary goals and expectations diminish self-worth, stagger momentum, and anchor growth. Atkins-Baldwin watched her mother work relentlessly to complete an arbitrary goal. Because her life was cut short, she wasn’t able to reach the arbitrary expectation she set for herself. In the words of the author, her mother lacked self-worth. Entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs must live life to the fullest, take up space and equip themselves with self-worth in order to flourish.


Conclusion


Omaha’s Blind Broom Man was born in Tennessee in 1917. He sold brooms to finance his education at a school in Nebraska, majored in English and History, and then became a minister to a small congregation in Omaha. He died at the age of 91 in 2008.

Artist John Lajba is working on creating a commemorative statue. He is known for his artwork throughout the country. In Omaha, he created the Road to Omaha statue outside TD Ameritrade Park and the statues that greet you at The Durham Museum.