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Step-Up Omaha Alumnus, Elijah Mitchell, Meets with President Barack Obama

Step-Up Omaha Alumnus, Elijah Mitchell, Meets with President Barack Obama and Steph Curry at MBK Rising!

All eyes were on Elijah Mitchell as 2000 attendees were looking at him on stage.

“Did I really just meet and speak with President Obama and Steph Curry? Unbelievable. It’s all starting to sink in,” Mitchell said after the experience.

He posted images and videos of himself and President Obama on social media. His Facebook page and Snapchat lit up with hundreds of likes and shares. Mitchell, a Step Up alumnus joined an Omaha contingency on the trip to Oakland, California to attend the Obama Foundation’s first MBK Rising! national conference. The event marked and celebrated the five year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Movement (MBK) after the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin. The movement focuses on the success of boys and young men of color.

Photo: ©2019 Revive! Omaha

Thousands of young men, mentors, non-profit executives, local and national leaders, and celebrities from across the globe came together for an inspiring, challenging and power-packed three-day event. In addition to President Obama and Golden State Warrior’s Steph Curry, internationally known figures including John Legend, Michael B. Jordan, Susan Taylor, and many others participated in the groundbreaking gathering.

Every aspect of the conference was full of energy and incredibly moving. It started with a day of service at local schools and included a town hall, music, food, main stage interviews, and informative breakout sessions. Topics focused on equity, policy, mentoring, violence prevention and story-telling. The entire conference was intentionally inclusive, featuring Native American, African-American, Hispanic and Asian youth.

Photo: ©2019 Obama Foundation

Mitchell joined Willie Barney, President of the Empowerment Network; Shelley Henderson, MBK of the Heartland Leader; Moniki Cannon, Step-Up Omaha Employment Director for the Empowerment Network; Deborah Neary, Executive Director for MentorNebraska; and, Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers.

Mitchell and twenty three other young men were selected to share the stage with President Obama and Golden State Warriors Steph Curry in a town hall format. Obama and Curry took questions from the young men and provided insights based on their own life experiences. Mitchell was also provided the exciting opportunity to pose a question directly to President Obama. He was also able to take photos and spend time with President Obama and the other young men, including new found friends from across the U.S.

Photo: ©2019 Revive! Omaha

“How many 17-year-olds have this type of experience or even adults for that matter?” asked Moniki Cannon. “To have the chance to meet, talk with, shake hands and even dap up the 44th President of the United States. This reinforces our vision. There are no limits to where Step-Up Omaha can take you.”

Mitchell started as an intern with Step-Up and worked at American National Bank for the summer. He did such an exceptional job and was offered a year-round position while completing his senior year at Central High School and has become a lead teller.

“We are so excited for Elijah,” said Wende Kotouc, Executive Co-Chairman for American National Bank. “He is an outstanding young man and we are honored to have him on our team.” Kotouc and American National Bank were the first business sponsors of Step-Up Omaha and have hired over 50 interns since the inception of the program. Like Mitchell, a number of them have become full-time employees.

Photo: ©2019 Revive! Omaha

Obama Foundation Selects Empowerment Network and MBK of the Heartland

In November 2018, Omaha, represented by The Empowerment Network and MBK of the Heartland was selected by the Obama Foundation as one of 15 cities to receive an Impact or Seed Award after a nationwide community challenge. Over 200 applicants submitted detailed applications with the Empowerment Network receiving a SEED grant of $50,000 to help grow Step-Up Omaha!

The goals are to serve a more diverse group of participants, connect them to mentors and expand STEM opportunities. Step-Up Omaha has helped to connect 5,000 youth and young adults to career exploration, jobs, and careers over the past 12 years.

Photo: ©2019 Obama Foundation

“Our goal is to build a long-term partnership with the Obama Foundation to accelerate the pace of progress in Omaha,” said Barney. “We are thankful for the amazing partners that have worked with us the past 12 years and look forward to even greater things ahead as we work with the Obama Foundation and MBK Alliance. It’s great to be part of this national movement.”

Barney was also invited by the Obama Foundation to serve as a speaker during a breakout session at the MBK first national convening. The session was facilitated by Michael McAfee, President, and CEO of the PolicyLink.

“We are honored to be a part of this collaboration,” said Deb Neary, Executive Director of MentorNebraska and Nebraska Board of Education member. “This is an amazing opportunity for Omaha.” It was Neary who notified the team and recommended that the Empowerment Network become the lead applicant for the Community Challenge.

Photo: ©2019 Obama Foundation

Based on its collaborative work and twelve years of collective success, the Obama Foundation has also identified the Empowerment Network as a model that should be expanded and replicated across the United States. Another key aspect of submitting a strong application was the Network’s experience with leading the Omaha African-American Male Achievement Collaborative in partnership with the National League of Cities, PolicyLink, City of Omaha, Omaha Public Schools and forty plus community partners.

Representatives from the Obama Foundation visited Omaha last year to make the final selections. They were impressed with the extensive collaboration, partnerships, and results generated in Omaha. The Obama Foundation will work with the Empowerment Network and MBK of the Heartland for the next two years to advance and expand their local models focused on the success of boys and men of color. An executive from the Obama Foundation will visit Omaha in the spring of 2019.

Photo: ©2019 Obama Foundation

“It was obvious to us that the team in Omaha is working together consistently to make a positive impact,” said Burnell Holland, Obama Foundation representative. “They didn’t just come into a room to impress us, it was obvious they have established powerful and productive partnerships.”

Omaha and the Empowerment Network would not have had the opportunity to apply for the community challenge grant if not for the efforts of Shelly Henderson, Earl Redrick, Regional HUD Director, and Commissioner Chris Rodgers. They along with 200 other cities took up the challenge offered by President Obama before he left office. Henderson led efforts to host a series of events and facilitated the development of a local action plan.

“I’m glad that we were able to bring together a regional collaboration of groups representing African-American, Native American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian communities,” said Henderson. “Creating the MBK action plan allowed us to keep the door open for the transition to the Obama Foundation.”

Commissioner Rodgers had this to say, “This is an extreme honor and should be seen as a high vote of confidence that Douglas County and the City of Omaha were selected to be a part of this gathering. We have done some trend-setting work, and it renewed me personally.  I hope it renewed all of us to dig in to go to the next level to address the specific issues of young boys and girls of color over the next five years.”

The goal for the team is to help more Omaha boys and young men of color to connect with their purpose, establish big goals and experience high levels of success in school, life, careers, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Young men, just like Elijah Mitchell.

Photo: ©2019 Obama Foundation

Mitchell, along with other Step-Up Omaha alumni, was a part of the team that presented to the Obama Foundation when they visited Omaha. He is excited to be a part of the next phase. As he prepares to enter college next year to study finance, Mitchell is reaching out to other students to share his once in a lifetime experience and get more youth engaged with Step-Up and other community initiatives.

As Moniki Cannon, Employment Director for Step-Up Omaha says, “There are no limits.”

To learn more about MBK Rising! visit

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Magic Johnson inspires and invests in Omaha at Rebuilding the Village Conference

Over 1,100, including 400 youth participate in 3 day national Empowerment Network conference in Omaha, Nebraska.

By Willie Barney

It’s hard to believe it has already been a week.  Thank you, Omaha and national friends.  The Empowerment Network team and our partners went all in for the 16th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference.  Omaha responded. 23 cities from across the country responded.

When I was in prayer after last year’s event, the words “Run It Back” came into my spirit!   Bring Magic back and build on the experience.

GOD has blessed in amazing ways.  We stepped out in faith and followed what we believed He was telling us to do.

Some wondered.  Would people come back?  Would the community support it?  Could it be bigger and better?

Over 1,100 participated, including 400+ youth and the experience was even more magical!

Magic took things even higher than last year providing even more wisdom, full ride scholarships, internships in Los Angeles and business opportunities with his companies.  Plus, he unexpectedly raised $90,000 to support the Network!

The six national keynote speakers were phenomenal, and the sessions were well attended.  Made for a difficult decision about which breakout to attend.  The feedback has been off the charts.

Representatives from over 20 cities attended including partners from Kansas City, Tulsa, New Orleans, Columbus GA, Denver, Little Rock, Atlanta, Chicago, Davenport/QC, Sacramento, Washington DC and other communities.

20 major sponsors invested.  Dozens of volunteers supported it.

50+ local and national speakers shared their wisdom and insights to help build safe and thriving communities.

We had over 400 youth engaged in the event.  They joined us for panels, main stage sessions and the Step-Up Omaha Interns and Youth 360 also had their own summit within the conference in partnership with J Shannon, David and Next.

The federal government including USDA, Dept of Justice and Health and Human Services all had key leaders in attendance.

The 4 tours (Black owned trolley and bus companies), three covering North Omaha and one citywide were well received.

30+ Black businesses benefitted directly.  We supported Black restaurants and organizations.

The Village at 24th and Lake reception was well attended and featured music, food, shopping and visits to the museums and new businesses.

Businesses throughout the whole city experienced economic benefit including hotels, airlines, transportation, shopping, food, and entertainment.

We cannot thank you all enough.

Thank you, Magic.  Thank you to the Empowerment Network team.

Thank you to the board.

Thank you, speakers, panelists, sponsors, and volunteers.

Thank you to our national guests.  Thank you, Omaha, for being amazing hosts.

Thank you to my wife, son and daughter who helped in so many ways and have sacrificed greatly over the years.  Love you and appreciate you!

Let’s Win Together Omaha!   Let’s win together national partners.  Let’s build safe and thriving communities in every zip code.

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Celebrate North Omaha! Native Omaha Days returns July 24 to July 31

Celebrating 47 years of memories, culture and community spirit in North Omaha!  

The Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee, Native Omahans Club, Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Empowerment Network, and community partners present…The 24th Biennial Celebration.

The Native Omahan Club has once again joined forces with the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Empowerment Network and dozens of community partners engaged in the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee to develop and present their 24th Biennial Celebration.  Attracting thousands, the Native Omaha Days Festival will once again help to accelerate the positive momentum in the community.  The events have a major economic impact and now has expanded to venues city-wide.

Event organizers are preparing for the biggest and best celebration to date, featuring traditional events: Gospel Fest at Morning Star Baptist Church; Stroll Down Memory Lane in the Village at 24thand Lake; Native Omaha Days Homecoming Parade along North 30thStreet; Native Omaha Day Event, Omaha Day Classic Golf Tournament; Sunday Worship Services; Blue Monday and more!

In addition to the long-standing traditional events, this year’s full week of activities will again include:  trolley tours, golf outings, jazz and gospel music, class and family reunions, Culture Fest with children’s activities and something for all ages and more!  The parade, always a crowd favorite, is planned for Saturday morning between 10 am and noon from 30th and Lake to 30th and Sprague.

Attractions added in 2021 are back including the Village Festival Square at the Bryant Resource Center at 24th & Burdette with food trucks and small business vendors for locals and visitors to shop and explore unique crafts. 

New this year…Excellent exhibits and an African American Book Signing will be featured at the Great Plains History Museum.  The Culxr House will present Divisible Documentary – film that explores the impacts of redlining in Omaha; specifically in Near North Side.  All activities and updates will be posted at

The Food Vendor Informational Meeting hosted by the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee will be held again this year.  The event will be held on Saturday, June 10, 2023 from 10 am to 11 am at American National Bank, 3147 Ames Avenue.  It will serve the purpose of having food vendors learn the requirements and guidelines to obtain a food permit.  Representatives from the Douglas County Health Department will be on hand to share information.  Go to for update information on date and location.

“We are excited to see the community partnering again to make this a tremendous community event,” said Michael Maroney, President and CEO of Omaha Economic Development Corporation.  “We are working with the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee, Omaha Police Department and dozens of other organizations to make this a safe, fun and enjoyable experience for the entire community.  We’re also looking forward to showcasing more of the projects that have come to fruition since the last Native Omaha Days celebration.”

The organizers are calling on the whole community to play a role in making the Native Omaha Days celebration a major success. 

For more information and a complete schedule of activities, please go to

Click here to register for the Parade

Click here to Advertise in the Native Omaha Days Guide

Click here to Become a Vendor

Click here to Become a Volunteer

Initial List of Events (Full list will be available at

Monday, July 24


Great Plains Black History Museum invites you to attend their African American Author’s Book Signing, Help support our local authors and Museum by stopping by.

Where:  2221 North 24 Street
Time:  12:00-3:00 p.m.
Contact:  Eric Ewing @ (402) 932-7077



Tuesday, July 25


Great Plains Black History Museum invites you to attend their African American Author’s Book Signing, Help support our local authors and Museum by stopping by.

Where:  2221 North 24 Street
Time:  12:00-3:00 p.m.
Contact:  Eric Ewing @ (402) 932-7077



Wednesday, July 26

FESTIVAL SQUARE (Food & Retail Merchants)

GospelFest at Morning Star

6:00 pm



Thursday, July 27

FESTIVAL SQUARE (Food &  Retail Merchants)



Presents a screening of Divisible, an educational documentary film that explores the impacts of redlining in Omaha, specifically the Near North Side.

Where:  Culxr house
3014 North 24 Street
Time:  7:00 p.m.
Contact: Lizzy Barrett
(607) 220-8927


Social Mixer



Classes of 1975, 1976 and on.  School dance featuring Ed Archibald
Where:  Highlander
2120 North 30 Street
Time:  6:30 p.m.
Cost:  $15
Contact:  Darlene Brown @ (402) 880-3929


Friday, July 28, 2023

Omaha Days Golf Classic


FESTIVAL SQUARE (Food & Retail Merchants)


Stroll Down Memory Lane
24th and Lake
Presented by:  OEDC and Empowerment Network
6:00 to 9:00 PM



Saturday, July 29, 2022

Native Omaha Days Parade
10:00 AM
North 30th from Lake to Sprague


Native Omaha Days
Day Party
Native Omahan Club
North 30th from Lake to Sprague


FESTIVAL SQUARE (Food & Retail Merchants)


Native Omaha Days Festival

Presented by:  The Native Omaha Days Festival is presented by the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee, Native Omahan Club, Omaha Economic Development Corporation and Empowerment Network.  

The Native Omaha Days Organization Committee and community partners include: Omaha Star Newspaper, EverGreen Capital Management, 24th and Lake Businesses, American National Bank, Omaha Police Department, Bryant Resource Center, Vickie Young, YouTurn, Freedomtainment, North End Teleservices, Revive! Omaha Magazine, Great Plains Black History Museum, Leo Louis II, NONA, Ital Vital, nocredevelopmentgroup, Long School Neighborhood Association, North Omaha Business Improvement District, MAYS and the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan.

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Paul Bryant returns to Omaha to keynote at Conference featuring Magic Johnson

Paul Bryant will be one of the national keynote presenters during the Empowerment Network’s 16th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference in Omaha, Nebraska on Friday, June 9th.  The conference features Earvin Magic Johnson as the luncheon keynote, six national speakers including Bryant and representatives from 20+ regional and national cities.

Bryant is the Vice President of External Affairs for the H.J. Russell & Company, the largest African American owned business in the state of Georgia and the 14th largest Black business in America. He plays a significant, public-facing role extending the Russell brand into communities they work, build, and invest.

Bryant will return to Omaha to share national best practices in a keynote entitled:  The Herman J. Russell Story…Building Community through the Intersection of Public Policy, Partnership and Scaling of Black Businesses in Atlanta.  He will then lead a breakout session to walk through the key principles required to scale Black businesses in today’s environment.

Paul Bryant is an Omaha native.  He is a recognized innovator and leader who has invested greatly in creating the next generation of talented young men and women.  In Omaha, he held key leadership positions in both the corporate sector and non-profit arena.

In the corporate sector, Bryant launched major initiatives in the banking and research industries.  He encouraged Gallup to field important polls regarding Black and urban communities.

He started the groundbreaking Wesley House Leadership Academy where he focused his attention on the development of young Black men well before other national programs started to launch their efforts. Bryant was also one of the founders of the Striving for Succes:  Black Male Summit in partnership with the Empowerment Network, Urban League and 100 Black Men of Omaha.

Bryant has lectured at Morehouse College, Creighton University, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha.  He is a Pulitzer Prize nominated author of 3 books and his leadership influence extends to more than ½ million students through an international network of over 1,500 schools.  He relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where he and his wife have both excelled in new positions.

No stranger to leadership, Paul previously served as the CEO of three nonprofit agencies:  The United Minority Contractors Association; Urban League of Nebraska; and, United Methodist Community Centers, Inc.

His corporate career also includes a Senior Vice President post with The Gallup Organization; and Officer Positions with Wells Fargo and the First National Bank of Omaha.

Paul earned two master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska and attended Creighton University school of law.

Paul is the recipient of numerous awards:

  • The 2017 Mentor of the Year – 100 Black Men of Atlanta
  • The City of Omaha’s Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” award.
  • The University of Nebraska’s Alumnus Achievement award.
  • The Teacher of the year for the Creighton University “Upward Bound program”
  • Named “Facilitator of the Year” by INROADS Inc.
  • Named “Achiever to watch in the Millennium Success Guide”
  • Named a Black Achiever by the YMCA
  • One of the Ten “Outstanding Young Omahans by the Junior Chamber of Commerce

Paul is also a member of the prestigious Benson High School Hall of Fame, along with another noted Omahan, investor Warren Buffet.

Paul and wife Robin have been married for over 30 years and have 3 children.  He is an unapologetic believer in God and says his most cherished accomplishment was having his family recognized as the Community Service Family of the year, by the Heartland Family Service.

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