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Over 300 leaders gathered virtually for 9th Annual AALC

Published:  September 27, 2020

The Empowerment Network’s 9th Annual African-American Leadership Conference was held virtually on Thursday and Friday, Sept 24th and 25th.  

Hundreds of leaders and influencers convened with the understanding that the economic progress of African-Americans has a direct and positive impact on people of all races and ethnicities.

Research conducted by MAPA shows that in the Omaha/Council Bluffs region, the area would experience an increase of $4 billion in economic activity by addressing racial inequities and maximizing its diversity.    

The AALC event has grown into one of the largest gatherings of African-American leaders in the nation focused on economic progress and closing wealth, health and educational gaps.

The theme this year was “The Turning Point and a New Path Forward.”

“After an unprecedented year of addressing what can be considered as four pandemics, including health, economics, police/community tensions and racial justice, African-American leaders and allies from across the country gathered virtually for two days of inspiring and results-oriented discussion, strategy and action,” said Willie Barney, President of the Empowerment Network.

“We believe this year, even with all of its challenges, can be a year of transformation for African-Americans and others.”

“We really focused attention on ownership, wealth and career advancement,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network.  “This was one of the best groups of national, regional and local speakers we’ve ever had for the conference.”

National strategist and thought leaders joined local and regional experts to focus on solutions including career advancement, entrepreneurship, home ownership, revitalization, reducing violence, educating and preparing our youth, improving access to health and healthy foods and building stronger communities.

Thursday night kicked off with a powerful presentation by Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO of BCT Partners, on the benefits of racial equity and diversity.  And, for the first time, the conference featured a special regional panel.

Leaders from Minneapolis, Ferguson/St. Louis, Kansas City, Madison, Quad-Cities and Cleveland discussed the racial disparities faced by African-Americans in the Midwest and the innovative solutions being implemented on the ground in those cities to address the gaps.

Mayor Melvin Carter, the first African-American mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota participated in a lively and informative session focused on public policy to directly address poverty and building wealth.

Teresa Hunter, CEO of Family Housing Advisory Services and John Ewing, Douglas County Treasurer, shared briefly about the collective and collaborative strategies that resulted in measurable outcomes for African-Americans in Omaha, pre-Covid, and new recommendations to maintain and accelerate progress during and beyond the crisis.   Cities from across the nation have expressed an interest in replicating models developed and implemented in Omaha to reduce unemployment, decrease gun violence, improve educational outcomes and catalyze large scale revitalization.

Hall of Fame business leader, George Fraser, CEO of FraserNet along with Dr. Pamela Jolly, CEO of Torch Enterprises and Jaylen Bledsoe, 22 year old CEO of Bledsoe Collective, closed out the evening with a national panel examining how the simultaneous pandemics are impacting African-Americans across the country and outlining strategies to transform this moment into a turning point.

Friday was a full day of large group keynote presentations from the main auditorium and interactive breakout sessions featuring national and local speakers focused on addressing poverty and closing gaps by building wealth.  The virtual conference web-site was designed by Michael Young of Technology Consulting Solutions and Jonathan Chapman of the Empowerment Network and Church on Purpose.  Chapman also managed the production of the two days of interactive media and speakers.

The day started with a historical look at how policies and systems have impacted African-Americans and created some of the issues faced today including tension between police and black communities and the large and growing wealth gap.

Barry Thomas, Director of Equity and Inclusion at Omaha Public Schools and former Director of Social Studies, gave a compelling presentation on the history of African-Americans in the state including the parents of Malcolm X.  Thomas pointed out that the state of Nebraska came in to existence partly because of the Haitian revolution which caused France to sell land to the United States known as the Louisiana Purchase.

Morning presentations and panels followed focused on building wealth, scaling black-owned businesses, advancing careers, and implementing effective equity and diversity plans.

Dr. Pamela Jolly delivered an insightful piece on key aspects for building wealth and announced the launch of 2nd cohort of the Omaha Legacy Wealth Initiative.  David Stevens, Senior Financial Consultant and Certified Financial Planner at TD Ameritrade provided an insightful overview of key considerations for making strategic investments.

Pastor Martin Williams, pastor of Ambassador Worship Center and CEO of Barak II, LLC, a real estate development and investment company, provided attendees with the ACCESS code for scaling black businesses.  BC Clark, manager at Nebraska Enterprise Fund, gave 12 key elements and secrets to help black businesses create jobs.  Candice Price, owner of two businesses including HomeTeam Auto, highlighted important solutions to help black business with growth.

Dr. Randal Pinkett and three members of the Redefine the Game cohort gave a stirring, challenging and empowering presentation on the topic bringing our authentic selves into the work environment.  Pinkett played a video clip featuring the late Chadwick Boseman as he played one of his most memorable roles, Jackie Robinson in 42.  “God made me to last,” Robinson replied after being challenged by racists as he broke the color barrier in the major leagues.

Dr. Strong, Director of Inclusion at UNMC, sent a special message for women in the audience in recognition of the decision regarding Breonna Taylor.  Dr. Chris Whitt, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Creighton University, reminded attendees that they cannot leave their identity and who they are at home.  And, LaKeisha Gatson-Dunham shared wisdom about advancing in the corporate Omaha while still being authentic.  All said the Redefine the Game Institute was a great place to network, build a cohort of strength and helped them to confirm their purpose.

For the fourth year in a row, a panel of local CEOs highlighted their personal and professional commitments to support African-American led initiatives and strategies.

The conference included announcements of Big and Bold Commitments and Actions from CEO’s and other leaders as part of the next phase of the Transformation 2025 plan.

One CEO gave a preliminary report of partnering with the Network and others to bring as many as 200 jobs to North Omaha.  A formal announcement is coming soon.

Another CEO provided an updated on the innovative partnership with the Carver Legacy Center and a commitment to assist with community revitalization efforts.

The final CEO on the panel gave an overview of his companies commitment to do more business with black-owned and minority-owned businesses.

These are just a few examples from three of 15 CEO’s that have made Big & Bold Commitments.  More announcements are coming in the next few months.

Participants were encouraged to purchase lunch from black owned restaurants.  In addition, throughout the day attendees participated in online networking sessions, interacted with speakers and attended a virtual black business expo.  A number of businesses presented their products and services in a virtual environment.

John Beasley, a North Omaha native, was recognized with the African-American Legends Award for his international work and success in the areas of acting, directing and producing.  

The afternoon featured well-attended sessions on:   addressing racial unrest and the health pandemic; preparing youth to lead; creating new models for black-led revitalization; developing districts and spaces where African-Americans and others can gather socially for arts, culture and entertainment; and mobilizing voters to impact policy.

National leaders and Strategic Advisors included:  George Fraser, CEO – FraserNet; Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO –BCT Partners; Dr. Pamela Jolly, CEO – Torch Enterprises; Marshawn Evans-Daniels, CEO – FaithPreneur; Jaylen Bledsoe, CEO – Bledsoe Collective; Shawn Dove, CEO – Black Male Achievement and Mayor Melvin Carter, first African-American mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Regional speakers and panelists included:  Tawanna Black, CEO and Founder – Center for Economic Inclusion; Dr. John Odom, Founder of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute; Dr. Lance McCarthy, Founder – Ferguson 1000; Klassie Alcine – Executive Director – KC Common Good; and Tracy Singleton, Director Quad-City Empowerment Network.

Local leaders included:  Dr. Cheryl Logan –Superintendent-Omaha Public Schools; John Ewing, Jr. – Douglas County Treasurer; Ben Gray – City Councilman – District 2; Richard Webb – CEO – 100 Black Men of Omaha; and 30+ speakers and panelists.

Community Features

Great opportunity to support Black Businesses at Christmas in the Village

Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing and Enjoy!  

70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!  

Black-owned businesses located in the Historic 24th and Lake District are ready to serve you during the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village!

  • Styles of Evolution
  • Revive Center Omaha
  • Revive Store
  • Ital Vital Living
  • Fair Deal Marketplace
  • Divine Nspirations
  • Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn
  • D-Marie’s North 24th Street Beauty Supply
  • Haberdash ONE
  • This and That Boutique
  • Rooted Synergy
  • Juanita’s Creations
  • Snkrr Haven
  • Carver Legacy Center
  • Omaha Star

Plus, The Holiday Boutique returns in a new location under the BIG TENT at 24th and Lake.  The Boutique will feature over 20 vendors with beautiful and unique products.

Vendors under the heated tent include:

  • Black Bottom Biscotti
  • She So Hollywood
  • The Love Movement
  • YanantaKe’s Apotheracy
  • Kreative Ways
  • Zuri and Me
  • Still Poppin’ Gourme
  • Queen Sparkle Diva
  • Brilliant and Resilient
  • Fashionably Late
  • Sonya’s Diva Boutique
  • It’s Not a Game Apparel
  • Moss Lady
  • Simply Fab Luxury
  • Mommy and Me Scents
  • Tory’s Signature Teas
  • On the Go
  • Islasimone Candles
  • Water Rocks Publishing
  • Super Bros
  • Yass Beautiful

Mobile Food Trucks with TASTY menus will also be available!

  • Smokin Guns
  • Haven Express Omaha
  • Soco Cafe
  • Boiling Claws 

Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake 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.

The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am: 

  • 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
  • 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street

Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.

Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 11 years ago.  It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.

 

 

 

 

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Community Features

Empowerment Network & partners present 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

Tis the season to join in the holiday spirit at the 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake on Saturday, December 3rd from Noon to 5 pm.  

The Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation in partnership with dozens of community partners are inviting residents to attend this one-of-a-kind cultural community celebration and holiday tradition.

Christmas in the Village is the largest holiday event in North Omaha and draws thousands of visitors from the region to the historic 24th and Lake district each year.  Attendees have come from as far away as Lincoln, Kansas City, St. Louis, Minneapolis and other cities.

The event will kick-off at noon with the Burke High “Marching Bulldogs” Drill Team followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus on a horse-drawn carriage.  “We encourage the community to come out early and line 24th Street for a special kick-off with the drill team, Santa and Mrs. Claus and all of our cartoon characters,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network and Event Manager for Christmas in the Village.

Get ready to Play, Sing and Enjoy!  There will be plenty outdoor activities for children and adults, including:  holiday music featuring local recording artists, choirs and dance groups; live nativity scene including a camel; free carriage rides; free toys, gifts and candy while supplies last; face painting; balloon artist; cartoon characters; interactive games and activities, handmade pottery; and, much more.

Some of the Omaha’s top artists will perform again this year:  Millicent Crawford, Gus McNair, Chad Stoner, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Jarron Taylor, Big Wade and Ed Archibald, The Arvies and Kathy Tyree.  Hope Community Choir and Pear Tree Performing Arts will also sing and dance.

Come ready to Shop and Eat!  Businesses located in the district will offer special discounts and holiday items for sale.  Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living, Fair Deal Village Marketplace, Divine Nspiration and others.

Plus, The Holiday Boutique will return this year with over 30 different vendors showcasing unique merchandise.  Vendors will serve the community under a heated BIG TENT on the corner of 24th and Lake.  Food trucks and local restaurants will have food for purchase.

“We’re excited to bring back the Holiday Boutique, which has always been one of the most popular attractions,” said Aisha Conner, manager of the Village Empowerment Center and coordinator of the Christmas in the Village Holiday Boutique.  “We have some amazing vendors that you will want to check out and support.”

Get Ready to Shop, Play, Eat, Sing, See and Enjoy!  70+ small businesses, organizations, ministries and artists have teamed to make this the largest and best ever!  

Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake 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.

The Christmas in the Village partners want to remind the community that street closures will take place at the following major intersections beginning at 10 am: 

  • 25th to 22nd and Lake Street
  • 24th & Maple to 24th & Burdette Street

Streets will reopen @ 5:30 pm.

Christmas in the Village is part of the on-going re-establishment of an arts, culture, business and entertainment district at 24th and Lake envisioned in the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan facilitated by the Empowerment Network, OEDC and community partners over 11 years ago.  It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.

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Community Features

Atlanta Congresswoman Nikema Williams visits North Omaha

Williams was elected to serve in the district formerly held by the late legendary Congressman, John Lewis

While in Omaha, Williams stopped by Pleasant Green Baptist Church led by Pastor Brian Page for morning services, attended a rally to support congressional candidate Tony Vargas and was the keynote speaker for a luncheon sponsored by the Nebraska Democratic Party and Team Vargas on Sunday, October 30, 2022.

Williams emphasized the importance of voting and mobilizing others to vote.

“Tell your family, friends and everyone you know to get out and vote.”

Specific to Nebraska, Williams encouraged voters to support the $15 minimum wage, reject voter ID and vote for candidates that support health care, voting rights and economic advancement for all.

Her primary message was democracy is not a spectator sport. Everyone must use their voice.

“Your vote is your voice,” said Williams. “This is a vitally important time in our country. Nebraska is a crucial state. That is why I am here. You cannot sit this one out.”

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