By Tim Priebe
June 18, 2024

Professional Q&A: Lori Dickinson-Black

Learn about Lori Dickinson-Black’s passion for education and unexpected journey to owning multiple businesses.
Lori Dickinson-Black at Bluebird Books in downtown Edmond (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Lori Dickinson-Black is the owner of Bluebird Books, as well as several other businesses in Edmond. Learn about her passion for education, as well as her journey from the nonprofit world to the realm of business ownership.

Q: Do you live in Edmond, work in Edmond, or both?

A: I moved to Edmond in 2012, specifically for the schools. My daughter was starting middle school, and my son was starting kindergarten. At the time, I was the CEO of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and spent most of my time in Oklahoma City advocating for public education. In 2013, my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, and that upended my life and plans.

I soon learned how caring the Edmond community was when strangers, parents at my son’s school, started organizing meal trains, school counselors paid extra attention to my kids’ needs, and when he died in 2015 – the church was full of teachers and classmates in addition to our colleagues, family, and friends – to show support for my kids. That was special. In fact, there is a rose bush in our front yard still blooming [that] a teacher planted in remembrance of their dad that summer. As a result, Edmond is the first hometown I’ve felt a part of since leaving home more than 30 years ago.

I switched my focus to home and Edmond during that time. First, I served as the Executive Director of the Edmond Public Schools Foundation from 2014-2019. When I met Robert Black, I entered the hospitality world as well as became a business owner in Downtown Edmond when we purchased Evoke from Jason and Jenni Duncan in September 2019. We’ve since opened Twisted Tree Baking Company, The Lofts at Evoke, operate our consulting company SpringBoard, LLC in offices above Evoke, and then Bluebird Books in October 2023. 

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school?

A: I grew up in Noble, Oklahoma, a blue-collar bedroom community of Norman. My dad was the first in his family to complete a college degree (University of Arkansas), so he really instilled in me the importance of continuing my education.

While attending OU my sophomore year—I joke, but it’s true—I was recruited to Oklahoma State by Eddie Sutton, being named the new head basketball coach, and Garth Brooks, after stepping on campus for the first time to attend his performance at Gallagher Iba Arena in 1991. Despite knowing no one in Stillwater, moving to Oklahoma State was one of the best decisions of my educational and professional careers.

Q: What did you do before getting involved with your businesses?

A: My career has largely been spent working in higher education and nonprofits. The first decade of the 2000s, I worked as a senior development officer for the OSU Foundation as part of a team charged with a $1 billion campaign before being named the CEO and President of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, where I became the passionate advocate for public education that I still am today.

I learned how so many of my biases impacted my views on poverty and the impact of out-of-school factors on in-school learning. In so much of what I do, I embrace Maya Angelou’s quote, “when you know better, do better.” 

I was recruited to lead the Edmond Public Schools Foundation in 2014 when my late husband was battling glioblastoma, and I needed to be closer to home.  Making the jump from an urban to suburban district also opened my eyes to the misconception of Edmond being a rich school district full of wealthy children. While there is wealth in Edmond, it is an example of school choice where families facing socioeconomic crisis can’t afford private schools by any stretch but can live in a public school district where all supports haven’t been stripped down to only the poorest. It took a village when I was growing up in Noble, and it still takes a village now for schools to prosper.

Q: How did you get involved with your current companies? 

Lori Dickinson-Black in Bluebird Books (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

A: There is a line I remember hearing when I became a widow at 42. The speaker said, “your setback just might be a setup for something better than you could imagine,” or something like that.  It was hard to believe anything good could come from the ashes I was living in at the time. But I met Robert, who was going through the same thing I was with the loss of his wife and grieving children, and it created this safe space where I could not only mourn but grow. 

I was working with the Edmond Public Schools Foundation at the time, as well as consulting with local nonprofits on strategic planning and board development, and Robert was a partner and vice president of operations for A Good Egg Dining Group around 2017, when we realized we were spending more time apart than together.

I think the loss we experienced at such unnatural times of our lives, made us hyper focused on how we spent our time. We also felt like we had complimentary talents and work ethic that we could create a business, or businesses, we could work together on.

Our consulting company, SpringBoard, LLC, was formed in 2018, and while I continued to do nonprofit consulting, Robert started focusing his expertise on clients in the hospitality industry. We truly never planned to create or own businesses outside of SpringBoard. 

We were both big fans of Evoke and of the Duncans separately before we even met. When we were working with them on strategic planning for the next phase of Evoke, the discussion came up about us buying it. We laugh now because Robert told me, “It’ll run itself.” Who could’ve predicted a global pandemic six months later that required I become a third-wave coffee barista and Robert getting back in the kitchen to keep from losing everything we owned in 2020.

But, wow, did Edmond ever show up. That moment in time completely set the stage for where we are now as business owners in Downtown Edmond and the story of Bluebird Books origin is just as serendipitous.

I had a passing conversation with Maggie Murdock Nichols one morning in Evoke the first of August 2023 when she said, “I had a dream about you, and you were supposed to tell me something.” I knew exactly what I was supposed to tell her too! It was wild!

It was about a bookstore idea to replace the one that was struggling and planning to close. Robert is a genius with proforma and business plans. When I pitched him the idea, we literally concepted, designed the brand, wrote the business plan, confirmed investors, and signed a lease on the space within two weeks. We opened quietly October 7, with our grand opening on October 28. 

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: Every day I go into the bookstore, I feel like I’m living in a fairytale town that you see on a Hallmark movie. I feel that way in all our businesses.

I love when I’ve just served a coffee or food at Evoke, and then I pop over to Bluebird Books for story time to see the same families that just left Evoke for brunch, or customers carrying their Twisted Tree Baking Company pastry boxes or bags of bread, their Evoke stamped coffee cups… I’m not sure there is anything better. If you had asked me 30 years ago where I’d see myself in 2024, I could’ve never written this story. 

Q: What’s something you’re passionate about in your personal life?

A: So much of my time advocating for public education, I was in a capacity where I was paid to do as much. What I love now as a local business owner and community member is I can advocate from a place that is purely voluntary and from love for our schools and educators.

The access to a quality, properly funded public education that isn’t limited by social economic or race factors, is the civil rights issue of my generation. We must stop thinking of solutions that include doing things to a school system or a group of people from the perspective of our income status, education levels, or how or where we live.

We have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the struggle of generational poverty, of what priorities look like for a single parent or grandparent working two jobs to keep the lights on and food on the table day-to-day, and say, “how can I help? How can I be an encouragement?” And the best way we do that daily is making public schools the best funded, supported, and valued part of our communities. Edmond wouldn’t be the community is it today without the quality of our public schools.

Q: What do you like about Edmond?

A: If I haven’t said it already, it’s the biggest small hometown I’ve ever lived in. It has its issues like every community, but I truly believe it’s a community that values local business and supporting the public schools.

Q: What is your number one tip for other professionals?

A: There is absolutely nothing great that’s been achieved without some level of failure – art, parenting, business, relationships, etc. Perfection is a myth. We learn the most when we mess up. So, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you do. And don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone and try something completely new.

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About Tim Priebe

Tim is a public speaker, author, publisher of Edmond Business, and the owner of Backslash Creative. He helps businesses that are worried they don’t have the expertise or time required to invest in doing their own digital marketing. He helps them plan where and how much to invest and often helps execute the plan.

Tim started the Edmond Business online magazine in May 2020 to fill a need in the community when The Edmond Sun shut down and stopped publishing their monthly magazine, The Business Times.