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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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Teen Summit hosted by Black Police Officers Association builds bridges, provides insights

Saturday, March 25, 2023

In its ninth year, the Teen Summit hosted by the Black Police Officers Association (BPOA) is producing great fruit and providing important insights from youth.

After a few years of hosting virtual events because of the pandemic, the Teen Summit returned to in person sessions and moved to the Village Empowerment Center.  The impactful event was co-founded between BPOA and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

“We love having the opportunity to engage with the youth in the community in a positive way,” said Marcus Taylor, one of the event organizers and co-founder of the BPOA.

“Hosting the event in person allows for a lot more interaction,” said Ken Fox, another organizer and co-founder of the program.

All youth participants not only walked away with knowledge and new tools to prevent and solve problems, but great gifts ranging from iPads and chrome books to big screen televisions.

“We like to give them an opportunity to reflect on the day and think about what they have learned,” said Curtis Morgan, co-organizer and facilitator of the student panel and discussions.  “The gifts also are a fun way to end the day and send them home with something unexpected.”

Students had the opportunity to attend sessions focused on what they called “real topics.”

One of the participants said, “These are the types of issues we should be talking about at school.”

In a panel discussion at the end of the event others agreed and offered their suggestions to improve the community and outlined priorities they would focus on if they were principals in their schools.

These are suggestions from students in attendance:

  • Schools should have more activities and clubs for Black students.
  • More opportunities to open up to discuss feeling and challenges.
  • Kindness Club.   Intentionally tell students what is good about them.  More messages to show appreciation.
  • More black teachers. Understand our culture.
  • More student voices included in decision-making.
  • Girls should be able to play all sports including football.
  • Create QR Codes that capture student input and then respond to what students are saying.
  • Explain why things are in place.  Example.  No Gum Policy.  Why?
  • Create assemblies on topics they students are actually interested in.  Discuss issues that are actually impacting us.  Like what we did today.
  • Should make community announcements at school.  Kids are dealing with problems at school and at home.  Speak reality during the announcements at school.
  • More people in student government that actually reflect what students want.

Issues that need to be addressed:

  • School too traditional.  Need to innovate.
  • No events at school that touch on tough issues like this and there’s no communication about events like this.
  • These are different times as we are growing up.
  • We can look up the answers through technology quicker than it is being taught.  Need to new teaching methods.
  • Mental health.
  • Everybody is struggling with something. Need to talk about it. Therapy sessions are needed with every student
  • Gun violence.
  • How to balance things.  Home. School. Work.  Family.
  • Depression.   Childhood Trauma.  People aren’t acknowledging the issues we are facing.
  • Addressing the “beauty” standard.  Clear skin.  Light skin.  Dark skin.

“It’s great to see the event return to in person and continue giving our youth a platform to learn and give input on issues important to them,” said Jermaine Ballard, one of the keynote speakers.

He encouraged the students telling them they have already shown leadership.

“You could have stayed in bed or played video games all day, but you chose to come here to learn.  You are all leaders.”

The Teen Summit is hosted annually by the Black Police Officers Association.  Event organizers include:  Marcus Taylor, Curtis Morgan, Ken Fox and David Preston.  Guest speakers included Jermaine Ballard, Keith Station, Jennifer Clark, Jeff Williams, Galat Toung, Johnny Nesbitt and others.

For more information, please go to:

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Branding Leaders Deliver Powerful Messages at Black Business Summit

Revive Black Business Summit

Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Revive Center Omaha

Black entrepreneurs, business owners and support organizations gathered together at the Revive Black Business Summit for a powerful, inspiring and action filled morning of networking, business exchange and sharing insights regarding Branding, Marketing and Resources.

Attendees raved about the experience as national and global branding experts shared their wisdom and experience on delivering on the promise.

George Fraser, CEO and Founder

FraserNet and PowerNetworking Conference

Dr. Fraser jump started the morning with a powerful introduction to branding.  Fraser has worked with Fortune 500 companies and traveled the world teaching about branding, marketing and building strong black communities.  A Black Business Hall of Fame member, Fraser talked about the challenges and opportunities facing Black Businesses nationally.

“The pandemic has forced hundreds of thousands of Black businesses to close, yet there are opportunities for those who are remarkable,” said Fraser.  “Being good is not enough, we must be remarkable and excellent.”

Fraser also emphasized that a brand is a promise.  “We need to find joy in what we do, be comfortable failing our way to success and have faith in the things we do.”

“Are you a brand or a logo,” said Fraser.  “What is your promise and are you delivering on that promise?”

Fraser and his team are preparing for the 22nd annual PowerNetworking Conference which will be held August 2nd – 5th in Houston, Texas, rated by Forbes Magazine as the best conference in the nation for Black-owned businesses.

Devin Owens, Founder

Less the Agency

Devin Owens was then passed the baton and took the group further down the path of branding and marketing.  She began by reflecting on her own personal journey towards simplification and thus the launch of her business, Less the Agency.

She has worked with over 65 global clients and some of Omaha’s most recognizable Black-owned businesses and organizations, I Be Black Girl, the ACLU of Nebraska, STATUS Luxury Goods, Best Burger and others.

She pointed to the importance of brand consistency, voice, compass, promise and the connection between what we say and what we actually do.

One of the key messages was verbal identity:  “An integrated system of words and messaging that differentiate your brand and make it recognizable across channels and touch points.”



Monique Farmer, CEO and Founder

Avant Solutions

Farmer has won national awards for her innovative leadership with branding, communications and PR.  She has vast experience with corporate, public sector and small business marketing, communications and branding campaigns.

Farmer reminded the audience that in addition to our business brand, we also have a personal brand.

“What do people say when you are not in the room,” said Farmer.  “That is your personal brand.  What are you known for?”

Farmer walked the participants through some key components of branding:

  • Brand reputation
  • Experience
  • Research
  • Visual representation
  • Embedding the story
  • Brand promise

Farmer is also a college professor for the University of Texas at Austin and has a compelling and engaging style of presenting.


Teddy Young, Co-Founder

Stable Gray

Young is the Co-Founder of Stable Gray with his business partner, CharDale Barnes.  Young is known for his creative and industry leading approach to branding focused on understanding the emotional connections and problem-solving approach to business.

Stable Gray was named Small Business of the Year by the Greater Omaha Chamber and recently opened a second location in the heart of the historic 24th and Lake District.

Young brought a fresh approach by introducing the attendees to the importance of the emotional connections to brands.

“What does life look like when customers experience your product?”

To become better at branding and marketing, Young said business must understand how customers feel.  What are their pain points?  What do they want?  What is the customer’s problem that you can help solve?

“How does your business help solve that problem and how does it leave the customer feeling?”

Farmer and Young tagged team and provided a list of questions for businesses to answer in order to conduct a meaningful audit of the brand.

The summit ended with a panel presenting local resources, funding and opportunities available through the Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center, Small Business Administration, Nebraska Enterprise Fund and the Carver Legacy Center in partnership with American National Bank.  Click here for more information on these resources and funding opportunities.

Resource Panel:  Ernest White, Carver Legacy Center Ambassador and Vice-President for American National Bank; Jim Reiff, Executive Director with Nebraska Enterprise Fund; April Hibbler, Small Business Administration; and Eden Butler, Grow Nebraska Women’s Business Center.

Mark Your Calendar.  The next Revive Black Business Summit will be Saturday, April 22, 2023!

Click here for more information.





Mark Your Calendar.  The next Revive Black Business Summit will be Saturday, April 22, 2023!

Click here for more information.


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City of Omaha receives $34 million for Lead Remediation

City of Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Deputy Administrator Edward Chu, EPA Region 7

Regional leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development joined together to renew their commitment to helping the City to Omaha to remove lead from the soil and paint in North Omaha.

EPA is investing nearly $30 million and HUD added $4 million.

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