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Community News

24th & Lake partners work together; host 3,000+ at 10th Annual Christmas in the Village

800 bags of groceries provided to families during North Omaha’s largest holiday tradition

The Empowerment Network and community partners worked together to present the 10th Annual Christmas in the Village as a “Drive Thru” event.  It was truly a Joy Ride to remember for all ages.

Though the lines backed up all the way to Cuming and at times Highway 75, the anticipation was extremely high for those that waited patiently for their turn to go through the Drive Thru Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake.  The pandemic forced changes to the event, but it couldn’t stop the spirit of the community.  Once the overflow traffic was organized, things went smoothly.

Judging by the reactions, smiles, ooohs and aaaaahs from children, parents, seniors and everyone in between, the 10th annual community celebration and holiday tradition delivered on the promise for all ages.

“It was awesome.  Really a lot of fun.  It really didn’t take that long to get through the line,” said one parent with three smiling children in the back checking out their “goodie bags.”

“The kids loved it,” said another.

“Thank you all for doing this,” said a woman driving a van through the event.

Music to the ears of event planner, Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network.  Faced with a world-wide pandemic and a spike in COVID cases locally, there were questions about what to do with Christmas in the Village this year.  Willie Barney, president of the Network, and Quaites-Ferris decided to take the vote to the committee.

The long-term partners agreed to host a drive thru event and practice all precautions needed to make it a safe event.

“We didn’t want to let the kids and families down,” said Barney.  “It’s been a tough and challenging year for everyone, but we believed we could still create a memorable and fun experience for children and families.  Our volunteers wore masks and used a lot of sanitizer.”

“It was even more than we expected,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “Our partners really came through.   In addition to the fun activities, we passed out sanitizer, masks and information on COVID-19.”

Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is part of a longer term vision and initiative to rebuild an arts, culture, entertainment and business district in the historic neighborhood.  The community-based North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan was facilitated by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation and developed with the input of 800+ adults and children.  It was approved unanimously by the Omaha City Council in 2011.

Major projects, events and developments have happened in the “Village Zone” since the passage of the Village plan.  It has served as a catalyst for hundreds of millions in public and private investments.  The theme of the plan:  Connecting a Rich History to a Thriving Future.

Barney came up with the idea for Christmas in the Village and shared a vision for the event with Quaites-Ferris, Deb Bunting and Stacy Henry Westbrook.  They worked quickly to develop the initial plan and implemented the first event in less than four weeks.  Michael Maroney and the team at OEDC also agreed to partner on the first event and have co-presented for 10 years with the Network.

“When Willie first shared the idea,” said Quaites-Ferris, “I said that sounds great, let’s do it next year.  He said, no, we need to do it this year.  We need to start bringing people back to 24th and Lake, even without any new buildings.”

Bunting had consistently shared that the arts can play a major role in rebuilding urban communities.  The strategy has had a very positive impact.  The initial attendance has grown to annually attract 3,000 to 5,000 attendees to the Village at 24th and Lake.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

The pandemic forced the team to innovate and do things differently.

“Even from their cars, participants were able to receive a free bag of groceries, see cartoon characters, listen to some amazing holiday music, wave at Santa, see live animals including a camel and donkey and get a free goodie bag,” she said.

“We essentially brought all of the activities outside so everyone could participate from their vehicle.”

Organizers couldn’t have asked for a better day.  With the sun shining bright and temperatures near 50 degrees, God smiled again on Christmas in the Village.

Along the route attendees could see Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Olaf, Ninja Turtle, Elsa, a dancing Doc McStuffins and for the first time, Black Panther.

“The children loved the characters,” said Ernest White, Vice President at American National Bank, one of the major sponsors and a lead volunteer at every one of the 10 Christmas in the Village Celebrations.

“Look mom, Look, Black Panther!, WOW!” said one child.

“Oooo wee, there’s a Ninja Turtle”, said another.

Those comments of pure fun and delight could be heard thousands of times all day.  Balloon characters were also very popular including Frosty, Snoopy, a giant black Santa and a holiday Minion.

There was a constant stream of cars throughout the event.  Some even started to line up as early as 10:30 am, even though the event didn’t officially start until noon.

This was the first year for the drive thru version, so getting the traffic organized along 24th street took some time.  Overwhelmingly, community members were very understanding as thousands waited patiently waving and thanking organizers for not cancelling the event.

“We’ve been a part of every event since its inception,” said Michael Maroney, President of Omaha Economic Development Corporation, one of the presenting organizations.  “It was amazing to see so many cars come through the event.  It’s great to see what the event has become for the community.  Before Christmas in the Village, we hadn’t ever had anything like this in North Omaha.”

OEDC staff Geneva Lopez, Cynthia Hume, Mike Schulz, Toni Tyree, NAACP president Vickie Young and a large team of volunteers welcomed families to the event by providing a bag full of groceries from the Fair Deal Grocery Marketplace.  Families were incredibly appreciative as COVID has been extremely challenging in many ways.  800 bags of groceries were distributed during Christmas in the Village.

The food was made possible through the Healthy Village Collaborative facilitated by the Empowerment Network and supported with Cares funding provided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The whole route was full of surprises for the kids, but the most popular moment seemed to be the opportunity to see Santa standing near the street waving and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.  Children and adults alike were smiling ear to ear with eyes wide open.

Santa was positioned right next to a new stage brought in to bring the singing and music closer to the cars.  Santa’s visit each year is coordinated by Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha Magazine and Revive Center.

The music, always a huge part of the event, was even more amazing this year as it was pumping up and down historic North 24th Street.  Duke Rigg and his team have excellently managed the sound every year for ten years.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“We had an awesome lineup again,” said Barney.  “We kicked off with Big Wade and the Last Few, and continued music all day with Gus McNair, Chad Stoner, Millicent Crawford, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Jarron Taylor and LaShaun McCroy.   Most have been with us every year.  Some of the best artists in the city.”

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

People were literally dancing in the streets and singing along in their cars as they drove past.  The warm holiday spirit could be felt throughout the event.  Volunteers were smiling and waving, and wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

Jonathan Chapman of the Empowerment Network and owner of a video and media company organized for the first time, a live broadcast of the event.  He used it as an opportunity to train youth to bring a “Macy Days Parade” approach to Christmas in the Village.  The video was available and can still be seen on the Empowerment Network’s Facebook page.

And though the event wasn’t able to host the Holiday Boutique, Aisha Conner of the Network and organizer of the annual Boutique found ways to incorporate Black Business owners into the event.

Candice Price, co-owner of Hometeam Auto, brought cars from her lot and positioned them at key points along the route.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“To sum up 2020 Christmas in the Village in two words… Simply Ahhmazing!  It was a spectacular event enjoyed by thousands in the community.  From live music, to giveaways including groceries for families, to local black owned businesses being given an opportunity to introduce their companies to so many, and even a fabulous manger set up with live animals!  There was truly something for everyone!  And to set it all up safely, in the midst of COVID-19, for all to enjoy is exactly what made it the event of the year,” said Price.

Leo Louis, CEO of his new moving company, Somebody with a Truck, was contracted to pick up and deliver items for Christmas in the Village and was able to post up his truck to help with distribution.

Ashley Reddick, owner of Mise En Scene Events, designed and installed beautiful balloon displays along the route.  Entrepreneur and decorating consultant Carolyn Holmes wrapped the street poles beautifully with garland and flowers.

Jason Fischer, CEO of Surreal Media Lab, roamed the streets looking for the perfect moments to capture via video and photography.  Jason is another partner who has partnered every year, producing excellent videos and capturing the essence of the event.

All of the traditional small businesses that participate in Holiday Boutique can be found on the Revive Omaha special edition online.

“You can support those businesses and others online with the virtual shopping guide,” said Conner.

Another black owned business that played a huge role was Calvin Jones and his team from Lions Gate Security.  Jones went above and beyond by jumping in to help save the day and directing traffic at the 24th and Hamilton intersection.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “I want to thank all of the partners and volunteers for being a part of the event.  Others from the planning team included the Omaha Star, Great Plains Black History Museum and OPD.  The FBI Community Outreach Team, Bryant Center, UNO and Kappa Leaguers also came through big time.”

“This is the Village in action.  Everyone working together, loving on each other, helping and supporting each other,” said Barney.  “We will keep building on this community spirit.  Now, we are moving to monthly events at 24th and Lake.”

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

Christmas in the Village is presented by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation.  American National Bank is the gold sponsor and has supported the vision for 10 years.  Other major sponsors include the Nebraska Arts Council, Douglas County Visitors Bureau and the North Omaha Turnback Tax Committee.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive Omaha Magazine.

Over 100 community partners have worked with the Empowerment Network to host the event each year.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“The holidays bring about a true sense of community. Anytime organizations, businesses and volunteers can share a few laughs, listen to the soulful sounds of Christmas, all while serving a need in our community, that’s a beautiful blessing. Despite the pandemic, we were determined to make CITV20 a success.  CITV is a family tradition. Four generations strong for my camp. We look forward to it every year.”  – Vickie Young

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“This year’s drive through celebration of Christmas in the village was nothing shy of breath taking.  Being able to see so much of the community still gather and celebrate the season in a safe way definitely helped lift my spirits during this difficult time.” – Sha’lise Oliver, college student and volunteer.

All rights reserved.  Photo by Neo Barney

“There was an individual who came thru the line – he wasn’t sure what was going on but said he was ‘just following traffic.’   When we handed him the bag of groceries he was appreciative as he didn’t know he was getting food – Gave him the bag and he said:   ‘Oh thank you I’m so appreciative because I don’t have any food right now.  It’s going to help out a lot.’  He had tears in his eyes because he was so appreciative.” – Cynthia L. Hume, Manager, Fair Deal Village MarketPlace

Source:  Revive Omaha Magazine

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Community News

Community COVID-19 Task Force: Focus on African-Americans and North Omaha

Since March 2020, hundreds of African-American and North Omaha leaders have worked together to educate the community, prevent the spread of COVID-19 and connect residents to resources.

The collaborative effort worked together to develop a comprehensive campaign with the theme of:

Stay Home.  Stay Safe.  Support the Village.

STAY HOME!

1.  Only leave home to shop for groceries, work or emergencies.

2.  Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.  Cover your cough and sneeze with tissue/covered elbow.  Wash your hands afterwards.

3.  Don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

4.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Clean your food after purchasing from store and sanitize other items brought into your home.

 

STAY SAFE!

5.  Get accurate information and stay informed. Reduce the stigma attached with Coronavirus.  Show love & respect for those impacted.

6.  Keep personal distance.  Stay six feet apart. Don’t shake hands.

7.  Wear a cloth face covering or mask.Call to get tested if you believe you have been exposed or have symptoms.

8.  Call your health provider first.  Additional test sites are available.

Charles Drew Health Center  – 402-451-3553 (Please call in advance)

If contacted by a contact tracer, please cooperate.  This is vital to help stop the spread of the virus.  Contact others if you are positive.

 

SUPPORT THE VILLAGE!

9. Request and vote by mail.  Complete the census. 

10.  Support black businesses and businesses in North Omaha including community-based media(Follow social distancing guidelines)

 

Click below to view one of the feature campaign commercials:

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Community Features

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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