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:
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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
“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.
“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
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.
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.
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:
COVID-19 Resources and Opportunities: Healthy Village Collaborative
Get connected to vitally important resources through the Empowerment Network’s Healthy Village Collaborative. You can find links to food, housing support, health care, jobs, job training and more here.