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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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Community Features

Thousands attend 11th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

The streets were once again full of smiling, laughing and dancing children, families and community members celebrating the holiday spirit at 24th and Lake.

After making the decision to convert the event into a drive thru in 2020, Christmas in the Village returned to the streets of 24th and Lake in a big way.

“Though last year turned out to be an excellent event and much needed escape from the pandemic with over 1,000 cars driving through, it was amazing to see children and families return to 24th and Lake to enjoy themselves and celebrate the season at Christmas in the Village,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years since we launched the event and inspiring to see how much it has grown and the impact that it has made.”

Christmas in the Village is presented by the Empowerment Network and OEDC in partnership with dozens of organizations and businesses.  Major sponsors include American National Bank, Douglas County Visitors Fund, North Omaha Turnback Tax Committee, Nebraska Arts Council, KETV, Revive and main stage sponsor, Veridian Credit Union.

It started as a vision from Barney. He presented the idea for the event to Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Stacy Henry, Deb Bunting, Michael Maroney and the OEDC team.  They jumped on board and the first event was planned in just four weeks back in 2011.

Over 70 businesses, organizations, artists and ministries worked together to make the event possible this year.

“Christmas in the Village is a great example of what is possible when we collaborate and each business and organization does their part,” said Barney. “We have been able to create a high quality and well attended event with the help of so many partners. It has also served as a catalyst to show what’s possible here in this historic district.”

The day started with volunteers and businesses working together to place inflatable balloons and characters up and down 24th Street. Business owners swept sidewalks. Volunteers raked leaves. Tents and games were set up early in the morning.

By 10 am, children and families started arriving to receive free gifts from the toy giveaway arranged by 4 Urban and sponsored by UNO.

By 10:30, teams had put Street barricades in place and the event officially started at noon with the Bryant Center’s Condor Drum Corp leading Mr and Mrs Claus down N 24th Street in a horse drawn carriage.

“It was a beautiful sight,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network and event manager.

“The streets were lined with families who were excited to see the drum team, elves, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

That was just the beginning of a day full of interactive and fun activities. Some have called it a “Winter Wonderland.” People come from all over the region and some as far away as St Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis rave about the event.

Visitors were treated to free carriage rides sponsored by the Network.

There were face painters in the Fair Deal and families could receive discounts and specials from the local businesses. One of the businesses, Still Poppin, was also celebrating five years in business.

At OEDC, children could wave to Mrs. Claus, receive a free goodie bag and play interactive games.

Tasty food was available on both ends of the event. Smoking Guns and A Taste of New Orleans food trucks were on the street and the Revive Center served customers throughout the day. Between the trucks and Revive those in attendance had a wide range of options.

Some new businesses experienced Christmas in the Village for the very first time. Ital Vital Living which opened this past summer selling smoothies and juices in the former location of the Cooler, hosted a Selfie photo booth and sold their delicious products.

“We had a great turnout and response throughout the day,” said Imani Murry. “24th and Lake is a beautiful place to celebrate the holidays and it was so awesome to see so many kids and families here. We’ve had some great events this fall and this was the largest.”

Just to the North, the Union returned as a participant with a balloon artist, interactive children’s activities and the highly popular Raku pottery.

The largest crowds always gather in Dreamland Park for an awesome holiday concert featuring some of Omaha’s top gospel and jazz artists, including Millicent Crawford, Kathy Tyree, The Arvies, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Chad Stoner and Big Wade.

Pear Tree Performing Arts wasn’t able to perform in 2020 but returned once again to deliver inspiring dance routines in front of a packed audience. The Sacred Heart children’s choir also joined in for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Another crowd favorite is the live nativity scene complete with a camel, donkey and other animals. The Empowerment Network partners with Mt. Moriah and Scatter Joy Acres on the attraction that draws great reactions from kids.

There was plenty of hot apple cider and cookies provided by Styles of Evolution.

“We doubled up this year on cider and cookies and we ran out midway through the event there were so many people,” said Don McPherson, owner of Styles.

Kids and families enjoyed all their holiday favorites including hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn, cotton candy and other snacks available from different locations.

The Omaha Police Department handed out candy canes and stickers. The Black Police Officers Association has been involved every year as a sponsor and handing out toys and candy bags in partnership with Revive and Santa.  The Omaha Fire Department provided an interactive experience that kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

Bridge Church joined in for the first time with some excellent and engaging activities outside on Lake Street.

The Great Plains Black History Museum presented a Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and handed out free candy.

The Omaha Star provided a children’s activity book and sold subscriptions.

Families stopped by the Carver Legacy Center and received some swag and information from the Carver team and American National Bank. American National Bank is a platinum sponsor and has supported Christmas in the Village every year since it started.

One of the other major impacts with Christmas in the Village is the support for local small businesses. Many of them reported record sales during the five hour event.

“We truly appreciate the support from our community” said Valerie Bradford, owner of Divine Nspirations.

“An event like this can do wonders for a small business. We did very well and it’s such a positive experience for families.”

Further to the South, LeFlores New Look Fashions, Get N Go Foods and other businesses also participate and see the economic impact of Christmas in the Village.

Because of the pandemic, precautions were implemented to keep attendees safe. Most activities were held outside and masks were required when guests ventured inside buildings. Hand sanitizer was distributed and available at every location.

Although the group would much rather have had Santa interact directly with the kids all day, he was primarily waving through a window from a specially made office on 24th Street. It still created some awesome moments and memories.

“We want to thank all of our partners, sponsors and volunteers,” said Quaites-Ferris. “This wouldn’t be possible without them.”

Another major bonus was the nearly 300 residents that received their vaccinations through a partnership between the IMA, Mocha Docs, Douglas County Health Department, Mt. Moriah and the Empowerment Network.

“We worked with the county and they brought all three vaccinations and the booster as we requested,” said Pastor Portia Cavitt, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Senior Pastor of Clair Memorial Church.

“I was out talking with the people and encouraging them to come get vaccinated right there on the spot. There was a tremendous response. We want the County to do more of this. Meet the people where they are.”

That was music to the ears of the organizers.

“The Village is a now a place where you can play, eat, shop, sing, worship, enjoy family, get healthy and have a great time throughout the year, not only during the holidays,” said Barney.

“When we created Christmas in the Village 11 years ago, part of the vision was to bring people back to 24th and Lake and to serve as a catalyst for holistic revitalization.”

“The momentum is building. We’ve come a long way, but even greater things are just ahead. 2022 will be the best ever.”

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2021 Photo Gallery

 

 

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Community Features

24th & Lake Holiday Schedule. Shop. Eat. Play. Sing. Enjoy.

Building on ten years of success with Christmas in the Village, the Empowerment Network, OEDC, Revive, FHAS, Omaha Star and 30 plus businesses, venues and organizations have come together to plan and host a great series of events for the Holidays.

The businesses are sending an open invitation for families, friends, neighbors and the whole community to come down and celebrate the holiday season and support small black businesses.

“We have something for all ages,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network and co-owner of the Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center in the district.

“It’s an opportunity to continue the positive momentum at 24th and Lake, provide some fun activities for children and families and continue the development of our business, food, arts, culture and entertainment district.”

Friday, November 26th is Black Friday in the Village.  Shoppers are encourage to visit and shop at all of the stores in the Village.  Most of the stores are offering 20% off this weekend, including special deals, discounts and gift cards.

Saturday, November 27th is a great day to celebrate Small Business Saturday and support Black-owned businesses.  Stores are once again offering 20% discounts and there will be a holiday lighting ceremony starting at 4:30 pm at Dreamland Park.  Music will be provided by Millicent Crawford and Big Wade.  Trolley rides will be available from 1 to 5 pm.

Next Saturday, December 4th, is the 11th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake.  Over 50 organizations and dozens of businesses come together annually to host the event which has become the largest community celebration and holiday tradition in North Omaha.  Visitors from all over the region attend the event.  The hours are Noon to 5 pm with special activities for the whole family.

The Village at 24th and Lake Partners are also working with the community to host a series of events during Kwanzaa.  Stay connected on the Village facebook page.

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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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