Sign up for email updates:

Speaker Series: LaToya Johnson, Founder & CEO of AwayZones

Sep 21st, 2020

September 16, 2020

Author: Heather Lowery


“There is strength in vulnerability.”

And strength is exactly what the participants in this month’s Linking Indy Women witnessed. Powerful words, incredible journey, and rising from the ashes are a few ways to describe LaToya. 

Raised in a dysfunctional household, LaToya grew up believing yelling, anger, resentment, and shame were normal life. So very much a part of her. In a lot of ways, her destiny. 

She pursued the love she desperately wanted at home from outside sources in people who did not care for her. Wearing her insecurities on her sleeve and not having the capacity to realize those same people would take advantage of her. 

LaToya’s teenage life seemed to be headed down a very similar path to her own upbringing. One in anger, resentment, and hiding behind the curtains of insecurity. 

However, at the age of 19, she witnessed the tragic death of her boyfriend. As awful as this experience was, it changed the trajectory of her life. Making her realize she wanted something different for herself. 


LaToya enrolled in college. During this experience, she also started her own healthy mental education. She began talking to a counselor and working to understand her emotions. Also understanding her mother’s mental state was not something to be ashamed of but rather is a mental health condition.

Taking control of her own mental health journey gave her strength. And it was through this strength, she was able to be vulnerable and share her own story to support others. 

After the trauma of her childhood, she became obsessed with success. With each achievement, she had to overcome the voice in her head telling her she was not worthy of a successful life. She pushed herself harder ignoring past trauma and her inner demons. Knowing there was more to her than a life of history repeating itself. 


From this space, she took a particular interest in marginalized groups of people. She understands the thoughts of not feeling good enough and has this in common with her clients. In particular, LaToya found herself drawn to supporting minority businesses. She wanted to come up with a way to ensure connections were being made between minority owned businesses and the people they support. 

The idea for AwayZones stemmed from a chance conversation with a traveler from New York. Upon running into each other in Fountain Square, he jokingly asked, “where are all of the other black people?!” He had read in a travel guide to go to Fountain Square but was shocked at the lack of diversity that particular evening. 

It was in this moment LaToya’s wheels began turning. She gave a nod to The Negro Motorist Green Book, by Victor Hugo Green. This annual guidebook for African American travelers was published from 1936 through 1966 detailing places people of color should and should not go to and through in their travels. 

AwayZones is an evolution of sorts from the Green Book concept. Pulling together minority business owners to “find their zone.” 

“AwayZones is a network that helps culturally aware shoppers find, and spend their money, with minority-owned businesses and culturally specific businesses.” 

A place for businesses to find their target people, target places, and target experiences. Additionally, minority consumers have a hard time finding the products and services which speak directly to them. Now the consumer can have this experience from companies in a truly authentic way. Connecting in a way both sides have never been able to do before. 


LaToya’s concept expands beyond people of color. The businesses applying to be a part of AwayZones must be 51% owned by a minority race, ethnic background, religion, or part of the LGBTQ community. 

Each of these companies now have a space to show up authentically. When asked if local businesses have trouble showcasing their culture, LaToya responded, “Yes. Minority businesses have a hard time stepping fully into what they want to showcase. The issue is they conform to the businesses around them becoming just another business versus setting themselves apart based on their culture.” 

AwayZones is currently starting in the Greater Indianapolis area, but has a goal to expand to a 12 state Midwest region. Afterall, we know the Midwest is more than just flyover states and we DO have more than corn! Now it’s time to showcase our unique diversity. 

Entrepreneurship is not only exciting, but also scary. When asked about this journey, LaToya gave a fabulous response. I’ll paraphrase… As an entrepreneur, we have to be willing to take the risk. But there is a catch with this risk. You must decide your risk tolerance. This is what weeds out those who think they want to be an entrepreneur and the “money grabbers” from the true entrepreneurs. 


AwayZones’ discovery platform is still evolving, but their vision is clear.

Our vision is to create a global network of cultural celebration, connection, and confidence for minority business owners and the people who want to see them succeed.

When asked what gives her hope, LaToya responded with the following: support from her family and friends, people appreciating what AwayZones is doing, her son and his future, and finally being out in the community. 

And as her community, we can be allies not just by social media posts, but by our actions. Get out in the community and listen. Sign up as a conscious consumer in AwayZones and support the diversity in our very own city. 

Want to connect with LaToya? Find her at or