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
Teen Summit hosted by Black Police Officers Association builds bridges, provides insights
Saturday, March 25, 2023
In its ninth year, the Teen Summit hosted by the Black Police Officers Association (BPOA) is producing great fruit and providing important insights from youth.
After a few years of hosting virtual events because of the pandemic, the Teen Summit returned to in person sessions and moved to the Village Empowerment Center. The impactful event was co-founded between BPOA and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
“We love having the opportunity to engage with the youth in the community in a positive way,” said Marcus Taylor, one of the event organizers and co-founder of the BPOA.
“Hosting the event in person allows for a lot more interaction,” said Ken Fox, another organizer and co-founder of the program.
All youth participants not only walked away with knowledge and new tools to prevent and solve problems, but great gifts ranging from iPads and chrome books to big screen televisions.
“We like to give them an opportunity to reflect on the day and think about what they have learned,” said Curtis Morgan, co-organizer and facilitator of the student panel and discussions. “The gifts also are a fun way to end the day and send them home with something unexpected.”
Students had the opportunity to attend sessions focused on what they called “real topics.”
One of the participants said, “These are the types of issues we should be talking about at school.”
In a panel discussion at the end of the event others agreed and offered their suggestions to improve the community and outlined priorities they would focus on if they were principals in their schools.
These are suggestions from students in attendance:
- Schools should have more activities and clubs for Black students.
- More opportunities to open up to discuss feeling and challenges.
- Kindness Club. Intentionally tell students what is good about them. More messages to show appreciation.
- More black teachers. Understand our culture.
- More student voices included in decision-making.
- Girls should be able to play all sports including football.
- Create QR Codes that capture student input and then respond to what students are saying.
- Explain why things are in place. Example. No Gum Policy. Why?
- Create assemblies on topics they students are actually interested in. Discuss issues that are actually impacting us. Like what we did today.
- Should make community announcements at school. Kids are dealing with problems at school and at home. Speak reality during the announcements at school.
- More people in student government that actually reflect what students want.
Issues that need to be addressed:
- School too traditional. Need to innovate.
- No events at school that touch on tough issues like this and there’s no communication about events like this.
- These are different times as we are growing up.
- We can look up the answers through technology quicker than it is being taught. Need to new teaching methods.
- Mental health.
- Everybody is struggling with something. Need to talk about it. Therapy sessions are needed with every student
- Gun violence.
- How to balance things. Home. School. Work. Family.
- Depression. Childhood Trauma. People aren’t acknowledging the issues we are facing.
- Addressing the “beauty” standard. Clear skin. Light skin. Dark skin.
“It’s great to see the event return to in person and continue giving our youth a platform to learn and give input on issues important to them,” said Jermaine Ballard, one of the keynote speakers.
He encouraged the students telling them they have already shown leadership.
“You could have stayed in bed or played video games all day, but you chose to come here to learn. You are all leaders.”
The Teen Summit is hosted annually by the Black Police Officers Association. Event organizers include: Marcus Taylor, Curtis Morgan, Ken Fox and David Preston. Guest speakers included Jermaine Ballard, Keith Station, Jennifer Clark, Jeff Williams, Galat Toung, Johnny Nesbitt and others.
For more information, please go to: https://bpoaofomaha.com/
Branding Leaders Deliver Powerful Messages at Black Business Summit
Revive Black Business Summit
Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Revive Center Omaha
Black entrepreneurs, business owners and support organizations gathered together at the Revive Black Business Summit for a powerful, inspiring and action filled morning of networking, business exchange and sharing insights regarding Branding, Marketing and Resources.
Attendees raved about the experience as national and global branding experts shared their wisdom and experience on delivering on the promise.
George Fraser, CEO and Founder
FraserNet and PowerNetworking Conference
Dr. Fraser jump started the morning with a powerful introduction to branding. Fraser has worked with Fortune 500 companies and traveled the world teaching about branding, marketing and building strong black communities. A Black Business Hall of Fame member, Fraser talked about the challenges and opportunities facing Black Businesses nationally.
“The pandemic has forced hundreds of thousands of Black businesses to close, yet there are opportunities for those who are remarkable,” said Fraser. “Being good is not enough, we must be remarkable and excellent.”
Fraser also emphasized that a brand is a promise. “We need to find joy in what we do, be comfortable failing our way to success and have faith in the things we do.”
“Are you a brand or a logo,” said Fraser. “What is your promise and are you delivering on that promise?”
Fraser and his team are preparing for the 22nd annual PowerNetworking Conference which will be held August 2nd – 5th in Houston, Texas, rated by Forbes Magazine as the best conference in the nation for Black-owned businesses.
Devin Owens, Founder
Devin Owens was then passed the baton and took the group further down the path of branding and marketing. She began by reflecting on her own personal journey towards simplification and thus the launch of her business, Less the Agency.
She has worked with over 65 global clients and some of Omaha’s most recognizable Black-owned businesses and organizations, I Be Black Girl, the ACLU of Nebraska, STATUS Luxury Goods, Best Burger and others.
She pointed to the importance of brand consistency, voice, compass, promise and the connection between what we say and what we actually do.
One of the key messages was verbal identity: “An integrated system of words and messaging that differentiate your brand and make it recognizable across channels and touch points.”
Monique Farmer, CEO and Founder
Farmer has won national awards for her innovative leadership with branding, communications and PR. She has vast experience with corporate, public sector and small business marketing, communications and branding campaigns.
Farmer reminded the audience that in addition to our business brand, we also have a personal brand.
“What do people say when you are not in the room,” said Farmer. “That is your personal brand. What are you known for?”
Farmer walked the participants through some key components of branding:
- Brand reputation
- Visual representation
- Embedding the story
- Brand promise
Farmer is also a college professor for the University of Texas at Austin and has a compelling and engaging style of presenting.
Teddy Young, Co-Founder
Young is the Co-Founder of Stable Gray with his business partner, CharDale Barnes. Young is known for his creative and industry leading approach to branding focused on understanding the emotional connections and problem-solving approach to business.
Stable Gray was named Small Business of the Year by the Greater Omaha Chamber and recently opened a second location in the heart of the historic 24th and Lake District.
Young brought a fresh approach by introducing the attendees to the importance of the emotional connections to brands.
“What does life look like when customers experience your product?”
To become better at branding and marketing, Young said business must understand how customers feel. What are their pain points? What do they want? What is the customer’s problem that you can help solve?
“How does your business help solve that problem and how does it leave the customer feeling?”
Farmer and Young tagged team and provided a list of questions for businesses to answer in order to conduct a meaningful audit of the brand.
The summit ended with a panel presenting local resources, funding and opportunities available through the Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center, Small Business Administration, Nebraska Enterprise Fund and the Carver Legacy Center in partnership with American National Bank. Click here for more information on these resources and funding opportunities.
Resource Panel: Ernest White, Carver Legacy Center Ambassador and Vice-President for American National Bank; Jim Reiff, Executive Director with Nebraska Enterprise Fund; April Hibbler, Small Business Administration; and Eden Butler, Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center.
Mark Your Calendar. The next Revive Black Business Summit will be Saturday, April 22, 2023!
Click here for more information.
Mark Your Calendar. The next Revive Black Business Summit will be Saturday, April 22, 2023!
Click here for more information.
City of Omaha receives $34 million for Lead Remediation
City of Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Deputy Administrator Edward Chu, EPA Region 7
Regional leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development joined together to renew their commitment to helping the City to Omaha to remove lead from the soil and paint in North Omaha.
EPA is investing nearly $30 million and HUD added $4 million.