Rebuild Your Community

Omaha is once again being recognized on a national level because of the positive results occurring in our city. While there’s much work ahead, the measurable progress is attracting attention at high levels. National leaders and representatives from large and small cities are traveling to Omaha to learn more. Revive! Omaha Magazine is committed to continuing to chronicle the current and future developments.

Local and national leaders agree that one of a number of catalysts for the positive momentum is the Empowerment Network. September is a significant milestone for the group. On Saturday, September 23, 2006, over 70 African-American leaders and concerned residents came together to discuss issues, have a candid conversation about the trends and review a process to gather resident engagement in a community-based plan.

Those leaders committed to a bottom-up and top-down approach. Bottom-up in that the ideas and strategies would be developed by those most impacted and residents would have a consistent voice in determining priorities and decision-making. Top-down in that elected officials, business executives and other civic leaders would need to introduce and adopt policy changes, find ways to align collaborative efforts, and reallocate and invest large scale funding to truly change the direction of the community. The core principles have stayed consistent: Personal Responsibility, Leadership Accountability and Comprehensive, Holistic Collaboration. The overarching strategies of empowering African-Americans, empowering North Omaha residents and empowering the City of Omaha citizens have remained the same. Measurable change has occurred in each area.

Through focus, partnership, perseverance and collaboration, many trends are finally headed in the right direction. As reported earlier, documented data and research point to these important findings: graduation rates are increasing; reading, math and science scores are improving; more students are taking the ACT and Advanced Placement classes; record numbers of minority students are enrolling in college; while there are periodic spikes, gun violence has been reduced by 36% city-wide and more than 44% in North Omaha; a new master plan for North Omaha has been approved by City Council; and, over 350 million dollars of community and economic investments have taken place or broken ground in North Omaha over the past seven years. Most importantly, hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents have actively engaged in the work.

Yes, there is a great amount of work ahead. Decades of neglect and disinvestment created huge gaps and obstacles to overcome. However, the collaborative efforts and new investments are paying off. The Empowerment Network in partnership with elected officials, business leaders, neighborhood groups, churches and faith communities, educators and schools, governmental agencies, community-based organizations and philanthropic supporters are moving into the next phase referred to as the Transformation 2025 initiative.

Revive! Omaha Magazine and the Empowerment Network would like to pause and recognize the individuals who are committed to working together on Saturday mornings for nearly a year to develop the initial plans. Amazingly, many from the initial group have stayed active with the collaborative since day one. Eight years of working together! Hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents have participated along the way. We appreciate all the minutes, hours, days, months and, in some cases, years of commitment made to creating a new way of working together. Thank you all for your contributions and involvement, especially those with the unwavering support throughout the entire process.

I want to take a moment and specifically recognize some of the individuals who attended the first few leadership meetings in September and October 2006 and have stayed most actively engaged since that time.

Teresa Negron
Teresa Hunter
John Ewing
Vicki Quaites-Ferris
Tawanna Black
Michael Maroney
Tom Warren
Ben Gray
Chris Rodgers
Ernest White
Tim Clark
Deb Bunting
Freddie Gray
Dr. Richard Brown
Doris Lassiter
Greg Johnson
James Mason
Doris Moore

We also want to thank the hundreds of others who have joined in along the way. What was once an African-American and North Omaha plan, has evolved into a multi-racial coalition focused on the best outcomes for all. Your incredible commitment and partnership have proven what is possible when individuals make a decision to come together, work together, pray together and stay together.

The number 8 is symbolic of a new beginning. Imagine the possibilities when hundreds of additional organizations and thousands more residents get engaged in this Empowerment Movement and Transformation 2025 Initiative. Omaha will lead the nation in employment, entrepreneurship, education, housing and quality of life. Longstanding gaps will be closed. Omaha will be a great city, in every zip code and neighborhood. One. Great. Omaha. And, cities across the nation will use what we have learned to replicate similar models in their own communities. The next phase is well underway.

by Willie Barney