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By:  Willie Barney
Co-Publisher
Revive! Omaha Magazine

May 27, 2020

In response to the murder of George Floyd and the continuous senseless violence against black men.

Stay Strong.  A New Day is Coming.

Reality. America has had its knee on the neck of black men since its beginning. Slavery. 3/5th of a man. Jim Crow. Redlining. Prison industrial complex. Destruction of lives, families and property. Now, it’s being televised and broadcast daily on social media. Can you imagine what was happening before the cameras began to capture this reality? Even with cameras on, it is still happening.

And for those that always raise the “what about black on black crime” flag every time incidents like this happen, we are just as concerned anytime a person loses their life to any kind of violence. But make no mistake, when you see people who are sworn to protect and serve, use their power to murder a man on the street, it also calls for an immediate response and call for justice. And after investing nearly 15 years in a fight to end gun violence, I’ve come to realize that even the everyday street violence is a byproduct of neglect, racism, disinvestment and systemic oppression.

I am tired of the devastating deaths, threats and falsified accusations. I’m praying for the family of George Floyd and all of those impacted by this straight out racism, senseless violence, hatred and murder. The officers should be arrested and charged.

Even in the midst of COVID 19 and these repetitive tragedies, I fully believe that 2020 is a turning point. From the excruciating pain and suffering, will come revival, restoration and revitalization. We will not stay down for much longer.

Stay strong brothers, sisters and allies. I’ve read a lot of posts of frustration, anger, exasperation and some that appear to be overwhelmed and want to give up. We’ve come too far to give up now.

The middle passage didn’t destroy us. Slavery didn’t destroy us. Jim Crow didn’t destroy us. Segregation didn’t destroy us. Senseless violence will not destroy us. Always remember, we are gifted, resilient, overcomers, kings and queens. Our time is coming.

These deaths will not be in vain. Together, we will solve this. Our history and my life experiences tell me it’s possible to create change. We’ve been able to move the dial here. While not perfect and there’s always more work to do, we have collectively built stronger relationships and we will keep doing so. A new day is coming. Stay strong.

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Community News

Over 300 leaders gathered virtually for 9th Annual AALC

Published:  September 27, 2020

The Empowerment Network’s 9th Annual African-American Leadership Conference was held virtually on Thursday and Friday, Sept 24th and 25th.  

Hundreds of leaders and influencers convened with the understanding that the economic progress of African-Americans has a direct and positive impact on people of all races and ethnicities.

Research conducted by MAPA shows that in the Omaha/Council Bluffs region, the area would experience an increase of $4 billion in economic activity by addressing racial inequities and maximizing its diversity.    

The AALC event has grown into one of the largest gatherings of African-American leaders in the nation focused on economic progress and closing wealth, health and educational gaps.

The theme this year was “The Turning Point and a New Path Forward.”

“After an unprecedented year of addressing what can be considered as four pandemics, including health, economics, police/community tensions and racial justice, African-American leaders and allies from across the country gathered virtually for two days of inspiring and results-oriented discussion, strategy and action,” said Willie Barney, President of the Empowerment Network.

“We believe this year, even with all of its challenges, can be a year of transformation for African-Americans and others.”

“We really focused attention on ownership, wealth and career advancement,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network.  “This was one of the best groups of national, regional and local speakers we’ve ever had for the conference.”

National strategist and thought leaders joined local and regional experts to focus on solutions including career advancement, entrepreneurship, home ownership, revitalization, reducing violence, educating and preparing our youth, improving access to health and healthy foods and building stronger communities.

Thursday night kicked off with a powerful presentation by Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO of BCT Partners, on the benefits of racial equity and diversity.  And, for the first time, the conference featured a special regional panel.

Leaders from Minneapolis, Ferguson/St. Louis, Kansas City, Madison, Quad-Cities and Cleveland discussed the racial disparities faced by African-Americans in the Midwest and the innovative solutions being implemented on the ground in those cities to address the gaps.

Mayor Melvin Carter, the first African-American mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota participated in a lively and informative session focused on public policy to directly address poverty and building wealth.

Teresa Hunter, CEO of Family Housing Advisory Services and John Ewing, Douglas County Treasurer, shared briefly about the collective and collaborative strategies that resulted in measurable outcomes for African-Americans in Omaha, pre-Covid, and new recommendations to maintain and accelerate progress during and beyond the crisis.   Cities from across the nation have expressed an interest in replicating models developed and implemented in Omaha to reduce unemployment, decrease gun violence, improve educational outcomes and catalyze large scale revitalization.

Hall of Fame business leader, George Fraser, CEO of FraserNet along with Dr. Pamela Jolly, CEO of Torch Enterprises and Jaylen Bledsoe, 22 year old CEO of Bledsoe Collective, closed out the evening with a national panel examining how the simultaneous pandemics are impacting African-Americans across the country and outlining strategies to transform this moment into a turning point.

Friday was a full day of large group keynote presentations from the main auditorium and interactive breakout sessions featuring national and local speakers focused on addressing poverty and closing gaps by building wealth.  The virtual conference web-site was designed by Michael Young of Technology Consulting Solutions and Jonathan Chapman of the Empowerment Network and Church on Purpose.  Chapman also managed the production of the two days of interactive media and speakers.

The day started with a historical look at how policies and systems have impacted African-Americans and created some of the issues faced today including tension between police and black communities and the large and growing wealth gap.

Barry Thomas, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Omaha Public Schools and former Director of Social Studies, gave a compelling presentation on the history of African-Americans in the state including the parents of Malcolm X.  Thomas pointed out that the state of Nebraska came in to existence partly because of the Haitian revolution which caused France to sell land to the United States known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Morning presentations and panels followed focused on building wealth, scaling black-owned businesses, advancing careers, and implementing effective equity and diversity plans.

Dr. Pamela Jolly delivered an insightful piece on key aspects for building wealth and announced the launch of 2nd cohort of the Omaha Legacy Wealth Initiative.  David Stevens, Senior Financial Consultant and Certified Financial Planner at TD Ameritrade provided an insightful overview of key considerations for making strategic investments.

Pastor Martin Williams, pastor of Ambassador Worship Center and CEO of Barak II, LLC, a real estate development and investment company, provided attendees with the ACCESS code for scaling black businesses.  BC Clark, manager at Nebraska Enterprise Fund, gave 12 key elements and secrets to help black businesses create jobs.  Candice Price, owner of two businesses including HomeTeam Auto, highlighted important solutions to help black business with growth.

Dr. Randal Pinkett and three members of the Redefine the Game cohort gave a stirring, challenging and empowering presentation on the topic bringing our authentic selves into the work environment.  Pinkett played a video clip featuring the late Chadwick Boseman as he played one of his most memorable roles, Jackie Robinson in 42.  “God made me to last,” Robinson replied after being challenged by racists as he broke the color barrier in the major leagues.

Dr. Strong, Director of Inclusion at UNMC, sent a special message for women in the audience in recognition of the decision regarding Breonna Taylor.  Dr. Chris Whitt, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Creighton University, reminded attendees that they cannot leave their identity and who they are at home.  And, LaKeisha Gatson-Dunham shared wisdom about advancing in the corporate Omaha while still being authentic.  All said the Redefine the Game Institute was a great place to network, build a cohort of strength and helped them to confirm their purpose.

For the fourth year in a row, a panel of local CEOs highlighted their personal and professional commitments to support African-American led initiatives and strategies.

The conference included announcements of Big and Bold Commitments and Actions from CEO’s and other leaders as part of the next phase of the Transformation 2025 plan.

One CEO gave a preliminary report of partnering with the Network and others to bring as many as 200 jobs to North Omaha.  A formal announcement is coming soon.

Another CEO provided an updated on the innovative partnership with the Carver Legacy Center and a commitment to assist with community revitalization efforts.

The final CEO on the panel gave an overview of his companies commitment to do more business with black-owned and minority-owned businesses.

These are just a few examples from three of 15 CEO’s that have made Big & Bold Commitments.  More announcements are coming in the next few months.

Participants were encouraged to purchase lunch from black owned restaurants.  In addition, throughout the day attendees participated in online networking sessions, interacted with speakers and attended a virtual black business expo.  A number of businesses presented their products and services in a virtual environment.

John Beasley, a North Omaha native, was recognized with the African-American Legends Award for his international work and success in the areas of acting, directing and producing.  

The afternoon featured well-attended sessions on:   addressing racial unrest and the health pandemic; preparing youth to lead; creating new models for black-led revitalization; developing districts and spaces where African-Americans and others can gather socially for arts, culture and entertainment; and mobilizing voters to impact policy.

National leaders and Strategic Advisors included:  George Fraser, CEO – FraserNet; Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO –BCT Partners; Dr. Pamela Jolly, CEO – Torch Enterprises; Marshawn Evans-Daniels, CEO – FaithPreneur; Jaylen Bledsoe, CEO – Bledsoe Collective; Shawn Dove, CEO – Black Male Achievement and Mayor Melvin Carter, first African-American mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Regional speakers and panelists included:  Tawanna Black, CEO and Founder – Center for Economic Inclusion; Dr. John Odom, Founder of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute; Dr. Lance McCarthy, Founder – Ferguson 1000; Klassie Alcine – Executive Director – KC Common Good; and Tracy Singleton, Director Quad-City Empowerment Network.

Local leaders included:  Dr. Cheryl Logan –Superintendent-Omaha Public Schools; John Ewing, Jr. – Douglas County Treasurer; Ben Gray – City Councilman – District 2; Richard Webb – CEO – 100 Black Men of Omaha; and 30+ speakers and panelists.

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Careers

Groundbreaking Redefine the Game Institute featured on KETV’s Chronicle hosted by Julie Cornell

Published:  July 20, 2020

“This is a pivotal moment for our country,” said Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO and Co-Founder of BCT Partners.  “If we work together, as the Network says, we can transform the country and transform Omaha.”

Three years ago, Damita Byrd and Willie Barney of the Empowerment Network and WDB Resultants worked with Dr. Pinkett & Dr. Jeffrey Robinson of BCT Partners to convert their bestselling book, “Black Faces in White Places,” into a year long curriculum and cohort.  The response and results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Pinkett is no stranger to Omaha.  He has been a featured keynote speaker and strategic partner with the Empowerment Network for the past five years.

“Omaha is like a second home for me,” said Pinkett.  “The Redefine the Game Institute is expanding nationally, especially with the racial equity and diversity issues facing our country, but it started in Omaha in partnership with the Empowerment Network, WDB and BCT Partners.”

One of the goals of the program is to help facilitate the movement of African-Americans into leadership positions within corporations, organizations and to the next level with entrepreneurial endeavors.  Over half of the original participants have received promotions or moved into new positions that are more aligned to their purpose and life mission.

The program has captured the attention of local and national media.  Julie Cornell, co-anchor for KETV Channel 7 in Omaha, featured the Redefine the Game Institute on Thursday, July 16th in a 2 minute news story.  Cornell was so intrigued and impressed by the program and the results that KETV decided to dedicate a 30 minute Chronicle edition to it on Sunday, July 19th.

The special segment includes interviews with Dr. Pinkett and two graduates of the program, Maurice Kimsey II, an Electrical Engineer with OPPD, and LaKeisha Gatson-Dunham, a Senior Director with Union Pacific.

“Redefine the Game can be whatever you need it to be,” said Kimsey.  “The program takes high potential African-Americans and helps them grow in managerial and leadership skills.”  In his interview, Kimsey focuses on building trust and creating pathways and pipelines for African-Americans.

“The group process allows you to learn strategies from others in different sectors and organizations who are like you that have similar experiences,” said Gatson-Dunham, who started with Union Pacific right out of college and has been promoted to Senior Director of Commercial Strategy and Pricing.  Gatson focuses on common voice, strategies and the classroom perspectives brought by different personalities.

Now headed into its third cohort, Redefine the Game works with African-American professionals, community leaders and entrepreneurs to maximize their gifts and strengths, enhance their leadership skills, build their network and advance their careers, businesses and communities.

“I believe it is more important now, than ever before, to teach black business professionals how to organize, strategize, network, plan and create a successful career plan,” said Damita Byrd, Sr. Director for Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at BCT Partners.

Applications for the 3rd cohort are open until July 31st.  To learn more or to apply:  Redefine the Game Application

Here’s the link to the 2 minute news story:  Redefine the Game Story

Here’s the link to the 30 minute Chronicle story:  RTG Chronicle

The Redefine the Game Institute is part of the Empowerment Network‘s Advance Omaha Racial Equity and Diversity initiative in partnership with BCT Partners.  To learn more more:  Advance Omaha

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Community News

Douglas County takes historic first step: Declares Racism as a Public Health Crisis with 22 Actions

Published:  June 20, 2020

Moving beyond the protests and demonstrations, the Douglas County Board of Health took a bold step on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 and declared racism as a public health crisis.

In the midst of a world-wide pandemic, national unrest and spirited debate regarding police brutality and excessive use of force, Douglas County is stepping up to lead the way to begin addressing racism head on.

(Commissioner Chris Rodgers, Chair of Douglas County Board of Health)

“We see this as a first step, an important, big and bold first step to educate the public, solve some immediate problems, but most importantly dismantle a structurally racist system and build a new anti racist system,” said Chris Rodgers, Douglas County Commissioner and Chair of the Board of Health.

Over the past few weeks major corporations have made public statements and some have pledged significant dollars to begin addressing systemic racism in the workplace and in the community.  This move by the county shows that public entities are also preparing to fight the battle.

Over the years, protests have generated headlines and attracted major media coverage, but after the smoke clears the demands for change are typically met with small incremental progress or in some cases increased resistance and backlash.  There are early signs that this time will be different.

The county resolution is just one example.  Within the resolution, twenty two specific actions are identified.  In order to make a real impact, each of the elements must be fully implemented.

“This provides a foundation to really begin addressing the issues directly,” said Rodgers.”  It provides us a way to assess everything we are doing as it relates to race.”

Some of the components of the resolution include:

  • Establishing and supporting an Office of Health Equity and Racial Justice
  • Including in any decision making the people most affected by heath and economic challenges
  • Advocate for relevant health policies to improve health in communities of color
  • Commit to conduct all human resources, vendor selection and grant management activities with a racial equity lens
  • Promote racially equitable economic and workforce development practices
  • Establish alliances and secure adequate resources to successfully accomplish the above objectives

Just last year, the county in partnership with the Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation Committee, commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the lynching of Will Brown.  It was a memorable show of unity in the city as people of all races and ethnicities remembered the horrible lynching and burning of a Black man during the 1919 race riots, but leaders pledged to never let it happen again.

Participants also committed to working together to improve race relations and address long-term social, health and economic issues.

As the calendar turned to 2020, within three months the nation and world were dealing with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.  Through the impact of the Coronavirus, underlying health disparities and economic inequities have been exposed at an unprecedented level.

African-Americans and people of color are once again disproportionately diagnosed with cases and are dying at an alarming rate from the disease.

After years of research and work to improve health conditions and some targeted efforts to address the social determinants of health, county officials started along the path of officially recognizing what many in the black community have known forever, racism is having a devastating impact.

(Photo:  Dr. Adi Pour)

“We have been tracking the health data since 2002 and there’s been very little progress and some measures are now worse than they were,” said Dr. Adi Pour, Director of the Douglas County Health Department.

“Coronavirus has further exposed health disparities, where 77 % of the COVID-19 cases in Douglas County impact the minority communities. It is time to address the underlying causes, i.e. the structural and institutional policies that have disadvantaged our minority communities. It’s time we work together.”

With the number of COVID 19 cases still escalating as the virus continues to spread and unrest locally and nationally persists regarding excessive use of force by the police, the county resolution and forthcoming actions should make a difference.  To be effective, influential and impactful, the group must sustain the effort, reform policies and align investments to directly address the problem.

This is a big first step and should be recognized and celebrated.  Now the real work begins.

(City Councilman Ben Gray, member of Douglas County Board of Health)

“There is a sense of urgency to finally do something about this,” said Ben Gray, City Councilman and member of the Douglas County Board of Health.  “The city and county have the opportunity to reform and change these systems and structures.  We must get it done this time.”

Click below to read the resolution and 22 action steps:

DC Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis approved and recorded

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