No matter how you cut it, North Omaha is a geographically and culturally specific quadrant of the city that is as distinct as South Omaha is on the other side of town.
Start with the people. North Omaha is a diverse place demographically, but it is first and foremost the historic center, hub and heartbeat of the African-American community. Like much of the city, North Omaha abounds in working-class folks doing their level best to forge a better life for themselves and for their families. It also includes many entrepreneurs and professionals, leaders and tastemakers, visionaries and dreamers, activists and organizers.
High achievers born in North Omaha go on to do great things in the community, in wider Omaha, statewide and beyond. Whether in education, civil rights, human services, politics, business, media, the arts or sports, African-Americans make their mark. In some cases, to much acclaim, even being recognized at the national level.
Whether born and raised here or transplanted here, whether still residing on the old home turf or having moved on, the connection with North Omaha and its touchstone places never goes away. Roots run deep here. As much as the area is defined by its people, it’s also a reflection of its schools, churches, recreation centers, live music clubs, main drags and gathering spots. North Omaha is a robust mix of handsome boulevards, stately parks, stark flatlands, steep hills, deep valleys, commanding overlooks and solid neighborhoods. It’s full of historic landmarks.
North Omaha roadways, residences and venues accommodate more than people and commerce, they generate experiences and memories tinged with soul. Being part of the North Omaha scene means socializing at picnics, fish fries, barbecues and block parties. Playing dominoes, Bid Whist, horseshoes and softball. Styling at concerts and dances. Enjoying parades and reunions. Debuting at cotillions. Cheering Friday night football and basketball games. Playing sandlot and street ball. Buying from sidewalk vendors. Cruising the streets. Fishing in lagoons and lakes. Swimming at the Y or the Boys and Girls Club. Taking Easter strolls. Celebrating Christmas in the Village. Catching up at the barber shop and beauty shop. Making soul food runs.
The North Omaha immersion also means getting right with God at houses of worship or week-long tent revivals.
Staying true to who you are in North Omaha entails commemorating and celebrating history and heritage, holding the traditions of ancestors dear and staying connected to mentors.
Communally, it means pitching in to help a stranger, holding a neighborhood cleanup or building a home. It’s supporting pot-lucks, car washes and other fundraisers to assist schools, churches or causes. It’s paying respects at homecoming services. It’s participating in the Empowerment Network and neighborhood meetings.
For the socially conscious, there are demonstrations to march in, protest rallies to give voice to, and prayer vigils to observe.
For families, North Omaha means partaking in educational and recreational programs at libraries, art centers, community organizations and parks. In intergenerational terms, it’s elders instilling values and principles in young people. It’s developing, maintaining and passing on pride and an appreciation for history in an “each one, teach one” way.
It’s empowering people to live and work their dreams. It’s people from all walks of life and parts of town working together to revitalize sections of North Omaha that have struggled keeping pace. It’s building on the redevelopment momentum happening in a community where efforts to enact positive change and to fulfill aspirations are real. It’s supporting black-owned and North Omaha businesses and exerting the power of the vote.
All of this and more is bound up in the life and spirit of a place called North Omaha, where caring and frivolity meet creativity and hard work. It beckons and welcomes, embraces and educates, inspires and encourages. It is home.