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Published:  June 15, 2020

10 Point Plan officially approved and released on May 22, 2020

Governor Pete Ricketts agrees to partner with African-American and North Omaha communities to prevent the spread of COVID 19 and address economic gaps.

A group of leaders representing hundreds of African-American led and North Omaha organizations, businesses, neighborhoods, churches, faith communities and thousands of residents have met with Governor Pete Ricketts and key department leaders over the past two months to identify ways to work together to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 Coronavirus and address long-term economic issues.

Governor Ricketts recognizes that in Douglas County a disproportionate number African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Asians and other people of color have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus.

The North Omaha and South Omaha communities have the highest number of documented cases in Douglas County.

The leadership groups and Governor Ricketts have also discussed the economic gaps, health disparities and underlying conditions that existed well before the virus and in some cases have been in place for decades.

Both groups acknowledge some important progress has been made during the previous 10 years, but much work lies ahead to fully close economic and health gaps.

Building on successful gains made in Omaha through collective work and the historic collaboration now occurring in North Omaha, Governor Ricketts and his team have agreed to work with the community in the following specific areas including, but not limited to:

Tracking of data by race, ethnicity and geography; assuring residents with COVID related illness have access to health care; expanding testing efforts; increasing access to masks; partnering with community-based health organizations and entities; engaging with North Omaha media; sharing plans designed to prevent the spread of the virus in prisons and jails; and assuring organizations and businesses in areas hit hardest by the virus receive equitable funding from federal, state and county allocations and investments.

Governor Ricketts has assigned Directors Dannette Smith – Health and Human Services, Anthony Goins – Economic Development and Scott Frakes – Corrections, to work with the African-American and North Omaha communities.

For more details, please review the 10 Point Action Plan, Commitments and Initial Actions. (Below)

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Official Press Release (May 22, 2020)

Gov. Ricketts Highlights Progress on Partnership with Omaha Communities on Coronavirus Response 

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Ricketts provided an update on the State of Nebraska’s efforts to help communities in Omaha combat coronavirus disease (COVID-19).  Since early May, Governor Ricketts has been engaging leaders in North and South Omaha during the current public health emergency to help slow the spread of the virus. 

“Throughout the country, our minority populations have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus ,” said Governor Ricketts.  “We are working with leaders in communities of color throughout the state to ensure all Nebraskans have access the health care, education, and resources for this public health emergency.  Thank you to the leaders in North and South Omaha for working with the State to help address the issues that are most prevalent in their communities.”

The ten-point plan includes the following initiatives:

·     Data Reporting: Tracking health data related to coronavirus based on race, ethnicity, and geography across the State.

o  The State is working with local public health departments to track cases by race and ethnicity in statewide data reporting.

·     Access to Care: Working with health care leaders in the community and with the State of Nebraska to ensure that no one is denied coronavirus related health services.

o  Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been working with healthcare providers in the community to assure them that they will be reimbursed for coronavirus related expenses.  The Governor’s Office is working with community leaders to inform the public that testing is free even if an individual does not have health insurance and that no one will be denied treatment for coronavirus because of an inability to pay.

·     Supporting Community Providers: Providing resources through healthcare facilities in North and South Omaha.

o  The State is engaging directly with Charles Drew and One World Health to ensure testing and other resources are being provided to the community.

·     Testing: Expanding testing in Omaha.

o  In addition to working with community federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), the State is deploying Test Nebraska testing sites in Omaha to increase testing capacity and assist in alleviating the burden on local healthcare providers in the community.  

·     Masks: Increasing availability of masks for the community.

o  DHHS and Governor’s Office are partnering with community leaders to increase messaging regarding the importance of wearing masks when out in public. 

·     Tracking Funding: Providing and tracking State and Federal coronavirus related funding for North and South Omaha.

o  The State is working with Omaha leaders to establish a guideline for tracking coronavirus related funding as it relates to the communities of North and South Omaha.

·     Corrections: Updating the community on the State’s plan to prevent spread of coronavirus in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS).

o  NDCS Director Scott Frakes participated in a call with Omaha leaders to address their concerns regarding the virus’ impact on the State’s correctional system.

·     Unemployment: Assuring timely response regarding unemployment applications.

o  Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) Commissioner John Albin and NDOL have improved access to unemployment benefits by contracting with North End Teleservices to create a new call center for unemployment benefit claimants, with multiple bilingual customer service representatives available.  NDOL has provided additional access to the unemployment program by teaming with Metro Community College (MCC) to create an access point at the Fort Dodge campus of MCC.

·     Public Awareness: Collaborating with the Omaha community to expand messaging and education regarding coronavirus.

o  The Governor’s Office has been working directly with the Black Media Collaborative/North Omaha Media Collaborative to deploy coronavirus messaging as part of a month-long communications campaign.  The Governor’s Office is also working with Spanish media outlets to get messaging to those in which English is not their primary language.

·     Future Growth: Partnering with leaders to address long-standing economic and health issues in North and South Omaha.

o  Governor Ricketts has directed Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Tony Goins and DHHS CEO Dannette Smith to work closely with the communities of North and South Omaha to address these issues.  To date, task forces have been established that involve state, local, and industry leaders to focus on both of these areas.

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The North Omaha groups consist of hundreds of organizations, businesses, churches, neighborhood associations, media outlets and others representing and serving thousands of residents.

10 Point Action Plan to Prevent the Spread of COVID 19 and Work to Begin Addressing Short-term and Long-term Economic and Health Issues in North Omaha.

Developed with North Omaha Leaders/COVID Task Forces in partnership with Governor Ricketts and leaders from State Departments (April – May 2020; approved May 15, 2020)


1. Tracking data by race, ethnicity and geography across the state in a similar format to what Douglas County is currently implementing.
Commitment: Governor Ricketts agreed to have the Department of Health and Human Services to work with county officials to collect this important data.

Initial Action:  The first report was released on May 30, 2020.  Douglas County has gathered and reported data by race, ethnicity and geography from the beginning.

 

2.  Working with Health systems CEO’s, DHHS and others to assure that no one facing Coronavirus issues is denied health services during this time. 

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to have his team work with CEO’s and other health organizations to assure that no Nebraskan will be turned away from health services related to COVID.  And, Governor Ricketts made the commitment that health organization would be reimbursed for services provided to those with COVID related sickness.

Initial Actions: Meetings have been held with health organizations and this message has been communicated.  No Nebraskan will be refused access to healthcare related to COVID 19.  Cares funding also assures no one will be turned away because of COVID 19.

 

3.  Provide funding to support Charles Drew Health Center, One World Health Center, Center for Holistic Development and North Omaha Area Health clinic who all provide culturally specific and valuable leadership and health services in North and South Omaha. The funding opportunities will address physical and mental health.

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to identify funding opportunities for communities most impacted by COVID 19 including North and South Omaha.

Initial Actions:  Governor Ricketts and his team are identifying opportunities that can be connected to North and South Omaha and other areas severely impacted by COVID 19.  Follow up meetings are scheduled to identify and secure specific funding through grant application processes and direct allocation to communities most impacted.  Several meetings have been held with HHS Mental Health team.  A proposal is under consideration by DHHS.

 

4.  Increase the access to testing. Reinforce the need for testing.

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to the importance of expanded testing.

Initial Actions:  Governor Ricketts launched TestNebraska, a major statewide initiative which will help identify geographic areas to focus on and lead to contact tracing to prevent further spread.  The state of Nebraska will partner with Charles Drew and One World in the local community.   The One World implementation started on Thursday, May 14th.  Charles Drew implementation has also started.

 

5.  Push for more masks and face coverings to be made available in North and South Omaha.

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to support efforts in Douglas County to make more masks available.

Initial Actions:  Douglas County and others have made over 26,000 masks available within the past two weeks for North and South Omaha.  African-American and North Omaha leaders will be working with Douglas County and other to make more masks available.

 

6.  Identify the funding allocated for Nebraska through the Federal Cares program which has made $1.099 billion available to the State and $160 million to Douglas County to address COVID 19 issues.   Assure that North and South Omaha receive equitable funding from Federal and State sources. And, use scorecards for tracking and reporting purposes.  

Commitment:  The State has agreed to track by category and department the amount allocated and invested/spent with North and South Omaha organizations.

Initial Actions:  A draft tracking report has been created and a diversity and inclusion scorecard.  The State of Nebraska has identified plans to allocate the funds by category.

 

7.  Formally address the plan to prevent spread of COVID in State Corrections without sharing sensitive safety procedures.

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to have Director Scott Frakes share plans without sensitive safety procedures.  Governor Ricketts also committed to testing incarcerated individuals if an incident occurs.

Initial Actions:  A follow-up conference call with State Corrections Director Scott Frakes and DC Jail Director Michael Myers was very productive.  As of June 13, 2020, nine state employees have been diagnosed with COVID and have been quarantined.  One incarcerated individuals has tested positive in State Corrections.  All institutions have comprehensive plans in place.  As of June 11th, all incarcerated individuals can be tested within the state corrections system.

 

8. Assure that unemployment claims are met on a timely basis.  

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts and his team were already working to increase staffing to support faster service.  Staff has increased from 35 to over 160.  Governor Ricketts was open to a proposal to help increase capacity in Douglas County with emphasis on Heartland Workforce Solutions.

Initial Actions:  Staff has been increased from 35 to over 160.  Barriers are being reduced.  Governor Ricketts is considering additional funding to support Heartland Workforce Solutions to assist with unemployment work in North and South Omaha.


9. Working with North and South Omaha media to spread the Stay Home, Stay Safe and Support the Village campaign which also incorporates the Governor’s six point plan to Stay Healthy.
  (campaign should include physical and mental health)

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to support PSA’s and personal participation with radio interviews.  The communications team is reviewing COVID 19 funding to assess the ability to invest in education campaigns.  Governor Ricketts also committed to assuring communications materials for education, resources and promotional materials will be culturally specific.

Initial Actions:  Governor Ricketts has been a special guest on three African-American radio stations in North Omaha.  In addition, the State of Nebraska has actively participated with the communications strategy in North Omaha and South Omaha.  The leadership group working with Black/North Omaha media and Hispanic/South Omaha media are presenting a long-term communications and outreach plan.  The State of Nebraska has started advertising campaigns on the three radio stations.

10.   In addition to the 10 Point Plan, Governor Ricketts and his team will work with North and South Omaha on an expanded short-term and long-term economic and health transformation strategy to address long-standing issues and gaps. Make the state of Nebraska a thriving and prosperous state in every county for all people including all races, ethnicities and zip codes in rural and urban communities with a special and intense focus on North and South Omaha which have suffered decades of health disparities driven by socio-economic issues.

Commitment:  Governor Ricketts agreed to partner with the North and South Omaha leadership groups to develop and implement strategies to address short-term and long-term economic and health issues that addressed before COVID 19.  Some of the immediate needs are directly related to the success of small businesses.

Initial Actions:  Governor Ricketts and Tony Goins, Director of Economic Development for the State of Nebraska have created task forces to specifically address COVID related business issues.

Governor Ricketts has agreed to on-going planning and strategy sessions to work with the North Omaha and South Omaha leadership groups to implement targeted strategies.

Governor Ricketts is working with African-American leaders to implement the programs and Anthony Goins, Director of Economic Development, Dannette Smith, Director of Health and Human Services and Scott Frakes, Director of Corrections are working directly with leaders to move things forward.

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Community Features

Thousands attend 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake

The sun made it better, but it was cold!

With weather making it feel as low as 0 degrees in the morning, thousands still made their way to historic 24th and Lake in North Omaha for the Empowerment Network’s 12th annual Christmas in the Village.

“When we started the event 12 years ago, we wanted to create a cultural community celebration and holiday tradition for kids and families that they look forward to every year,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network. “The fact that thousands would come out in this weather and enjoy themselves with smiles, hugs and laughter shows us we are accomplishing that goal.”

Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is presented by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation. Major sponsors include:  American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, North Omaha Turnback Tax and Veridian Credit Union.  Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.

Braving the cold, kids were lined up to see and take a picture with Santa inside the Revive Center and Lake Point building.

Heaters stood next to the area where families could board the free carriage in front of OEDC.

Parents and community members packed Dreamland Park to watch the Burke High Drill Team, Pear Tree Performing Arts and the Hope Community Choir.

Throughout the day visitors could hear the beautiful sounds of Omaha’s top artists and musicians in the background as they walked through the district celebrating the holiday.

“It was a wonderful time,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice President of Community Development and Operations for the Empowerment Network, and event manager.  “So many families having a great time and enjoying all of the activities put on by our partners. Absolutely wonderful.”

The event started with the Bulldogs Drill team marching down 24th Street in front a horse drawn carriage holding Santa and Mrs Claus.  Guests lined the street and followed along as families and cartoon characters followed next in the carriages.

“The Drill team did an amazing job,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “They were excellent and brought great energy to kick off the day.”

From there kids, families and community members had dozens and dozens of options of where to go.

Face painting, Raku pottery, balloons, snacks, arts and crafts, letters to Santa, live nativity animals, free family photos, snack bags, hot cider, cookies, and hot chocolate all free for families.

The Omaha Police Department and Fire Department were both on hand.  OPD handed out candy canes and stickers.  The Fire Department had many youth excitedly sitting in the fire engine.

One of the most popular stops was the Black Votes Matter Toy Give Away sponsored by UNO Athletics.

“We gave out over 1,200 toys in less than an hour,” said Preston Love, Jr, Founder of Black Votes Matter and 4 Urban.  “This is our third year for the partnership and it feels great to help families, many of which couldn’t afford to purchase toys for the kids even though some are working two and three jobs.”

Kids and parents could be seen walking throughout the district with large boxes and bags with gifts, toys, snacks, gloves, hats and other goodies.

Excitement was in the air as children caught a glimpse of Santa for the first time or had the opportunity to see and touch a donkey, camel and other animals.

The Fair Deal Village provided delicious snacks, cookies, goodie bags and included face painting.

Another popular spot was the Big Tent on the Northwest Corner of 24th and Lake. The Empowerment Network hosted the Holiday Boutique with over 20 small black businesses and entrepreneurs.

“It was our first time during the 12 years that we had the heated tent for the Boutique and it took some adjustments with the weather,” said Aisha Conner, Village Empowerment Center Manager and coordinator of the Boutique.

“But, our vendors did very well.  Many of them selling out of merchandise or close to it.”

Local businesses like Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living and Fair Deal Marketplace attracted hundreds of visitors.

Styles of Evolution recently celebrated 18 years and a grand opening as they moved back into their restored, renovated and expanded spaced. Owners Don and Yvonne McPherson once again sponsored a free drawing to win a 40” big screen television.

“One of our main goals when we started was to connect families to small businesses for the holidays,” said Barney.  “This is awesome to see over 70 businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, contractors, media companies and musicians generating income and recycling dollars in the community.”

Ital Vital Living always has a creative display and activity at their location for community festivals.  For this year, they featured “Whoville” complete with the Grinch and some tasty smoothies and snacks.

The Elks gave out toys and provided food for kids.   Next door, the Carver Legacy Center gave out reindeer antlers, pop its and other items for kids.

Arts and cultural venues also attracted some large crowds.

The Union for Contemporary Art featured an exhibit and housed the Empowerment Network community partners showcase that highlight their services and hosted interactive activities for kids.

NorthEnd TeleServices, a first-time partner, gave out stocking stuffers and hosted a Make a Wish Tree.

The Great Plains Black History Museum presented three exhibits and hosted a balloon artists.

“We want to thank all of the community partners that worked with us to put on the event,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “We have families that have attended every year and a lot of new families this year as well.”

“Many of them said they had no idea all of these buildings, stores and venues were here.  They look forward to coming back even beyond Christmas in the Village which is exactly what we wanted to see happen.”

Photo Credits:  Surreal Media Labs

Initial Photo Gallery:  Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake 2022

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Community Features

60+ Black Businesses and Entrepreneurs supported through Christmas in the Village

One of the direct and measurable outcomes from Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is the involvement and engagement of black businesses, artists and creatives.

Between the businesses located in the district and the vendors, food trucks, artists, musicians, contractors and service providers that take part, over 60 Black businesses generate income by being part of Christmas in the Village.

“It’s a great example of keeping money circulating in the community,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network and owner of several businesses with his wife, Yolanda.

Many businesses have reported in the past that the event represents their highest day of sales for the year.

The sales were not as high this year, but even with the cold weather, thousands were in attendance at the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake.  History shows that many of the visitors will come back once they realize the stores and businesses are in the community.

The Empowerment Network’s Holiday Boutique was held in a heated Big Tent on the northeast corner of 24th and Lake.  It housed 20 businesses in a new setting that presented some challenges with the weather but served the need when the normal venue was not available.

“Most of the businesses did well and some sold out or nearly sold out of their merchandise,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Boutique.

Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living, Revive Center, Omaha Star, Carver Legacy Center, 95.7 The Boss Radio Station and others located in the Village also benefit by creating awareness of their products and services and generating sales.

“We had a really great day of sales,” said Imani Murray, co-owner of Ital Vital Living.  “We had over 400 come to our store.”

Eight additional businesses are located at the Fair Deal Marketplace.  The innovative small business center made of shipping containers is now full including three new businesses that are currently undergoing grand openings.

Locally owned food trucks including SoCo Cafe, Boiling Claws, Haven Express Omaha and Smokin’ Guns served up wings, BBQ, seafood, soul foods and other tasty dishes.

“We had a good day,” said Devaute Nunn, co-owner of Haven Express.  “We really appreciate the Empowerment Network creating this opportunity for us.”

Creatives, artists, musicians and sound engineers also benefit from Christmas in the Village through the Holiday Concert in Dreamland Park.

This year included another impressive line-up with the following artists:  Big Wade and musicians, Gus McNair, The Arvies, Jarron Taylor, Millicent Crawford, Kathy Tyree and Eric and Doriette Jordan.

The artists receive honorariums for their dedication of time and using their gifts to provide beautiful holiday music for the event.

“The Holiday Concert has always been a major part of the event,” said Barney.  “Not only is there amazing music, singing and dancing, we want to provide this platform for the artists and make sure they are compensated for their time and using their gifts.”

Dozens of other contractors, entrepreneurs and businesses ranging from photography, videography, branding, security, marketing, design, print media, radio and other industries are paid for their services as part of the event.

While the primary focus is bringing kids and families together for a cultural celebration and holiday tradition, creating opportunities for businesses to generate income, create jobs and recycle money in the community are also important goals.

 

Comments from some of the Holiday Boutique Vendors:

Dawawn

Owner, It’s Not a Game Apparel

One of the best and most successful events I have attended in a while. I will definitely will be there next year. Thanks for the opportunity.

 

Sarah

Owner of Kreative Ways

The event gave a great opportunity for my business to be highlighted and show the community that Kreative Ways exist. Everyone that came to the table loved it and I ran out of business card. Gave out 250 to people.

I was able to connect with all customers, first time customers that patronized me four years ago when I started and also met new ones that loved my products.

 

Rehab Luka

Owner of Yass Beautiful

The Holiday Boutique was amazing. This is a great way to get exposure for my local business. I was so grateful to be there because I didn’t know how to get myself out there for the community to know about my business.  I want to thank you so much for doing this for the community.

 

Ida Causevic

Owner of Moss Lady

I feel it was great exposure…All and all it was definitely worth it.

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Community Features

Eric and Tawanna Black travel from Minneapolis to enjoy Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

“It was such a blessing,” said Tawanna Black, founder of the nationally recognized Center for Economic Inclusion based in the Twin Cities.

She and her husband, Eric, drove over six hours with their children, Traviata and Christian, to take part in the Empowerment Network’s 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake in North Omaha.

“We have been wanting to come down the last few years, but it hadn’t worked out,” said Tawanna.

“Watching the videos and seeing all of the promotional materials on social media, we just knew it was something we wanted our kids to experience. There’s nothing like this in the Twin Cities.”

The family came early and stayed nearly the whole day as there were so many activities and they wanted to see them all.

“We loved, laughed, smiled, hugged and literally shopped til we dropped,” said Black.

“We rode the carriage ride, took family photos, shopped with the vendors, visited the live animals, walked through the exhibits, took pictures with Santa and sang and danced in Dreamland Park. We got it all in.”

Traviata and Christian also shared their perspectives about that event.

Christian shared his excitement:

Going to Christmas in the Village was so fun. Seeing everyone so happy made me happy.

Riding the horse and carriage was my dream. It was so good. The choirs sang very well. And there were so many places to shop!

 

Traviata added these comments:

Christmas in the Village was amazing. It was exciting to see my parents loved by so many and excited to see people they used to work with.

I loved seeing Santa and so many other kids who were excited to get a photo with Santa and I couldn’t believe that there were live animals there and that we could touch a donkey, camel, and goat.

I also loved being able to see a lot of people I could relate to, everyone was so happy to see other Black people and seeing them smile made me smile.

 

“Hearing those comments is so encouraging and makes everything we do worth it,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice President of Community Development and Operations at the Empowerment Network and event manager for Christmas in the Village.

Eric and Tawanna once called Omaha home.

Tawanna is well known for her leadership and economic development work with Destination Midtown and was one of the first diversity and inclusion directors in the city working with Cox Communications.

After relocating to Minneapolis 12 years ago, she has led the Northside Funders Group, a collaborative of 12 foundations and then stepped out in faith to create and launch the Center for Economic Inclusion.

The mission of the Center for Economic Inclusion is closing racial employment, income, and wealth gaps, and building racially inclusive and equitable regional economies.

Eric worked for two decades serving in a number of global business Development and integrated marketing leadership capacities and rising to the level of executive with Cargill.

He has now ventured into the non-profit industry as an executive director for Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI). MDI is a Minnesota manufacturer and nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to provide employment opportunities and services for people with disabilities.

“One of things I love about Omaha is the way people collaborate,” said Eric. “To see nearly 100 organizations, businesses and ministries work together to make something like this happen is inspiring.”

Both Eric and Tawanna are committed to equity, economic advancement and elevating the culture. They see events like Christmas in the Village as essential and vitally important.

“It is incredibly meaningful to have Tawanna, Eric, Traviata and Christian make the six hour trip to Omaha to join us for Christmas in the Village,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.

“Hearing their heartfelt comments and the impact of the event on them and their children is inspiring and opens our eyes to even greater possibilities.”

“Thousands of kids and families attend each year and it is beginning to draw from a larger region. It reinforces the original vision we had for creating this event. 24th and Lake is the hub that can bring people from all over the country to celebrate our culture through music, food, arts, entertainment and business.”

“This is such an amazing cultural experience. Absolutely phenomenal,” said Tawanna. “Willie and Yolanda Barney, Vicki Quaites-Ferris and all of the partners who help make this happen have created a masterpiece.”

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