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Published:  June 15, 2020

By:  Willie Barney, Co-Publisher Revive Omaha

Beyond the Flames:  Why I Believe 2020 is a Turning Point

Where Do We Go From Here?

Harlem.  Watts.  Newark.  Detroit.  Omaha.  Los Angeles.  Ferguson.  Baltimore. Minneapolis.

“If we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.”
– Philosopher George Santanya and Winston Churchill

In 2014, as I watched the fires burning in Ferguson, Missouri, I wrote a piece entitled “Beyond the Flames:  Will We Get It Right This Time?”  Ferguson was burning in response to the devastating scenes following the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer.  I was so impacted and moved that I had to write down on paper what became a speech I gave at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This followed the 2012 vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin and preceded the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody which ignited the flames in Baltimore.   The frustrating and devastating list goes on and on and continues today.

There have been other shootings of unarmed black men and black women when police officers received no repercussions from their crime.  This list also includes Omaha after the officer-involved shooting of Vivian Strong in 1969 that resulted in the destruction of North 24th Street.  The once thriving corridor is just now in the process of being rebuilt.

No justice for Eric Garner, New York, 2014.  No justice for Sandra Bland, 2015, southeast Texas.  No justice for Philando Castile 2016, suburban Minnesota.   No justice.

African-Americans have tried to send a message for decades that we are suffering.  Suffering from the lingering impacts of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation effects that were never fully addressed.  Suffering from unemployment, lack of investment, neglect, poor educational outcomes, low access to capital, over policing, poor housing conditions and so much more.  There have been small attempts to fix the situation, but nothing substantial and sustained.

A temporary reconstruction period followed the abolishment of slavery where some progress was made, but abandoned just at the time when freed slaves were finally starting to become integrated into American life.  No Justice.

There were promises made beyond the elimination of slavery.  Promises for land, property and finances for the freed slaves to get a new start at becoming full citizens.    Policies were changed to finally recognize African-Americans as being 100% human, correcting the Constitution which had declared us as 3/5ths of a man.

The original constitutional declaration allowed America to benefit economically for over 250 years from free labor through inhumane conditions.  It is referred to as the worst form of enslavement in modern history.  African-Americans helped build this country and were paid nothing for it.  No Justice.

What’s happening today is not new.  Racial tensions have raged before. There has always been a spark which kindled the flames.

These flames have come as city after city and community after community across the nation have been destroyed.

Before Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the promise to be a law and order president, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) commissioned a group to find out why the cities across the country were burning.  The commission produced a document which became known as the Kerner Report.

Rather than identifying African-Americans as the cause, the report shined the light on white America.  The Kerner Commission presented the case that the blame for the riots should be placed squarely on the shoulders of underlying conditions of injustice, neglect, disinvestment, unequal treatment and systematic racism.

The report clearly states the priorities that must be addressed:  1. Unemployment and low wages.  2.  Poor educational systems.  3.  Poor housing conditions.  4. Bad relationships between police and the community.  5. Lack of services for those in poverty and the structure of welfare system.

The most important conclusion to address the injustice?  America needed to make a significant investment to right the wrongs of the past.

Little did I know until recently that the former Mayor of Omaha, A. V. Sorensen, had reached the same conclusion in 1968.  He said then that Omaha needed to bring together people from all sectors to form a coalition that would oversee a massive investment to address African-American poverty.  Nothing was done.

He left office realizing the city did not have the will or appetite to fully address the issue.  The city and nation continued redlining and driving interstates through the heart of black communities under the guise of urban redevelopment.

America chose to make small investments to address the injustice, but with a costly Vietnam War occurring at the same time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that the nation had given black America a blank check.  He said the easy part of the Civil Rights Movement was getting legislation passed for voting rights; the hard part was securing the funds to address the economic issues.  This was going to cost the nation money, King said.

For a time, mostly through programs enacted by President Johnson, some investments were made through the so-called War on Poverty.  The investments were not sustained and were not implemented anywhere near the level required.

One of the most significant statements and conclusions from the Kerner Commission was “to mount programs on the scale equal to the dimension of the problems.”  “These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance…”

The report emphasized that if America didn’t respond on a large scale, we would see the creation of two America’s.  One black. One white.  Separate. Unequal.

Across the nation, we have inherited the promise.  Two Americas.  One white.  The other, everyone else (black and brown).

I wrote in the speech, after watching the flames in Ferguson, that in 1968, the nation had a decision to make.  Do we finally invest in helping African Americans become economically sound and full citizens or do we invest more in police, expanding the criminal justice system and building more prisons?

President Richard Nixon answered the question for America.  Law and order.  No Justice.

For decades, African-Americans have asked for additional investments to address employment, education, housing, health and other needs.  Funding was never available at the scale of the problem.  Communities were not rebuilt.

African-Americans asked for the promised 40 acres and a mule.  African-Americans presented plans such as the Freedom Agenda under Dr. King which proposed to end poverty in 10 years. African-Americans asked for reparations.

It is important to note reparations have been granted across the world after a specific race, ethnic group or nation was on the wrong end of injustice. The answer to these requests for African-Americans?  No funds available.  No justice.

Where would America ever come up with trillions of dollars to right this wrong?  We were always told, it would be absolutely impossible. We were told there is absolutely no way America could ever come up with trillions of dollars to address its original sin.  It’s been over 400 years since enslaved Africans were brought to these shores.

But, no recompense.  No Justice.

Instead we are told, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and help yourself.  Instead we are told, forget about slavery.  Instead we are told, you’ve had a black President.  Instead we are told, it’s a post-racial society and racism doesn’t exist.  Help yourselves, we are told.  There will be no hand up, we are told.

Cue the Coronavirus.

The virus may not be racist, but the impact surely is disproportionately destructive to African Americans and other people of color.  Health and economic inequities have been laid bare. Consequently, the virus called for a critical response.  A national response.

What does COVID-19 have to do with this justice and systemic racism?  As soon as the nation began to experience the negative economic and health impacts of the virus, immediate legislation was drafted and approved by Congress.  The Treasury Department rewrote the rules.  Trillions of dollars were miraculously found and infused into the economy to address suffering corporations, small businesses and most U.S. citizens.

In a moment of crisis, leaders can find the money.

The message this sends is that it matters who is suffering.  African-Americans have been suffering for centuries. Native Americans have been suffering for centuries.  However, when the unemployment rate for white Americans hit the same level as the African-American unemployment rate which has languished for decades, Congress and the Treasury department have taken actions to produce what is estimated at seven trillion dollars of economic activity.

The question is where did the money come from in this instance?  It’s been made abundantly clear that the nation could have made the right decision in 1865.  We could have made the right decision in 1918.  We could have made the right decision in 1968. We could have made the right decision in 1992 after Los Angeles and Rodney King.  We could have made the right decision after Ferguson in 2014.  We could have made the right decision after Baltimore in 2015.

No justice.   No peace.   Fast forward.

Cue the final spark.

Watching an unarmed black man, George Floyd, die a horrific death with the knee of a white police officer on his neck, and 2 other officers on his prone body behind the car, the image was finally too much. African-Americans have experienced police brutality and violence for decades, but this was filmed, became a viral moment on social media, and impossible to ignore, deny or cover up.  Breaking point.

In the midst of a pandemic which has killed over 100,000 Americans and disproportionately impacted African Americans and people of color, we once again are face to face with injustice and racism.

After being locked away in their homes for nearly three months and watching the video from Minneapolis and dozens of other racial events within a few weeks, cities across the country and internationally have erupted with protests and flames are once again burning in America.

What to do now?  Where’s the hope?

We know what needs to be done.  We have known for decades.  Case study after case study, commission after commission and book after book, have boiled down to economics, education, housing, equal access to health care and people working together to address poverty and systemic racism.

 Be sure to check out Part II:  Moving Forward with Solutions

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Community Features

Great opportunity to support Black Businesses at Christmas in the Village

Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing and Enjoy!  

70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!  

Black-owned businesses located in the Historic 24th and Lake District are ready to serve you during the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village!

  • Styles of Evolution
  • Revive Center Omaha
  • Revive Store
  • Ital Vital Living
  • Fair Deal Marketplace
  • Divine Nspirations
  • Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn
  • D-Marie’s North 24th Street Beauty Supply
  • Haberdash ONE
  • This and That Boutique
  • Rooted Synergy
  • Juanita’s Creations
  • Snkrr Haven
  • Carver Legacy Center
  • Omaha Star

Plus, The Holiday Boutique returns in a new location under the BIG TENT at 24th and Lake.  The Boutique will feature over 20 vendors with beautiful and unique products.

Vendors under the heated tent include:

  • Black Bottom Biscotti
  • She So Hollywood
  • The Love Movement
  • YanantaKe’s Apotheracy
  • Kreative Ways
  • Zuri and Me
  • Still Poppin’ Gourme
  • Queen Sparkle Diva
  • Brilliant and Resilient
  • Fashionably Late
  • Sonya’s Diva Boutique
  • It’s Not a Game Apparel
  • Moss Lady
  • Simply Fab Luxury
  • Mommy and Me Scents
  • Tory’s Signature Teas
  • On the Go
  • Islasimone Candles
  • Water Rocks Publishing
  • Super Bros
  • Yass Beautiful

Mobile Food Trucks with TASTY menus will also be available!

  • Smokin Guns
  • Haven Express Omaha
  • Soco Cafe
  • Boiling Claws 

Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake include:  American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, North Omaha Turnback Tax and Veridian Credit Union.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.

The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am: 

  • 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
  • 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street

Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.

Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 11 years ago.  It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.

 

 

 

 

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Community Features

Empowerment Network & partners present 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

Tis the season to join in the holiday spirit at the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake on Saturday, December 3rd from Noon to 5 pm.  

The Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation in partnership with dozens of community partners are inviting residents to attend this one-of-a-kind cultural community celebration and holiday tradition.

Christmas in the Village is the largest holiday event in North Omaha and draws thousands of visitors from the region to the historic 24th and Lake district each year.  Attendees have come from as far away as Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and other cities.

The event will kick-off at noon with the Burke High “Marching Bulldogs” Drill Team followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus on a horse-drawn carriage.  “We encourage the community to come out early and line 24th Street for a special kick-off with the drill team, Santa and Mrs. Claus and all of our cartoon characters,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network and Event Manager for Christmas in the Village.

Get ready to Play, Sing and Enjoy!  There will be plenty outdoor activities for children and adults, including:  holiday music featuring local recording artists, choirs and dance groups; live nativity scene including a camel; free carriage rides; free toys, gifts and candy while supplies last; face painting; balloon artist; cartoon characters; interactive games and activities, handmade pottery; and, much more.

Some of the Omaha’s top artists will perform again this year:  Millicent Crawford, Gus McNair, Chad Stoner, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Jarron Taylor, Big Wade and Ed Archibald, The Arvies and Kathy Tyree.  Hope Community Choir and Pear Tree Performing Arts will also sing and dance.

Come ready to Shop and Eat!  Businesses located in the district will offer special discounts and holiday items for sale.  Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living, Fair Deal Village Marketplace, Divine Nspiration and others.

Plus, The Holiday Boutique will return this year with over 30 different vendors showcasing unique merchandise.  Vendors will serve the community under a heated BIG TENT on the corner of 24th and Lake.  Food trucks and local restaurants will have food for purchase.

“We’re excited to bring back the Holiday Boutique, which has always been one of the most popular attractions,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Christmas in the Village Holiday Boutique.  “We have some amazing vendors that you will want to check out and support.”

Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing, See and Enjoy!  70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!  

Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake include:  American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, North Omaha Turnback Tax and Veridian Credit Union.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.

The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am: 

  • 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
  • 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street

Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.

Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 11 years ago.  It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.

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Community Features

Atlanta Congresswoman Nikema Williams visits North Omaha

Williams was elected to serve in the district formerly held by the late legendary Congressman, John Lewis

While in Omaha, Williams stopped by Pleasant Green Baptist Church led by Pastor Brian Page for morning services, attended a rally to support congressional candidate Tony Vargas and was the keynote speaker for a luncheon sponsored by the Nebraska Democratic Party and Team Vargas on Sunday, October 30, 2022.

Williams emphasized the importance of voting and mobilizing others to vote.

“Tell your family, friends and everyone you know to get out and vote.”

Specific to Nebraska, Williams encouraged voters to support the $15 minimum wage, reject voter ID and vote for candidates that support health care, voting rights and economic advancement for all.

Her primary message was democracy is not a spectator sport. Everyone must use their voice.

“Your vote is your voice,” said Williams. “This is a vitally important time in our country. Nebraska is a crucial state. That is why I am here. You cannot sit this one out.”

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