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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

‘It was phenomenal’ Hundreds attend Fall Festival in the Village

It’s a beautiful thing when the village comes together. The weather was beautiful, too.

30 small businesses, venues and organizations came together to host the very first Fall Festival in the Village at 24th and Lake. The new event builds on the successes of Christmas in the Village and Native Omaha Days activities hosted at 24th and Lake.

“The goal since we launched Christmas in the Village ten years ago and developed the North Omaha Village Plan was to build towards having large monthly and weekly events at 24th and Lake to further advance the district,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network and co-owner of the Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center.

“It was phenomenal,” said Terri Sanders, publisher of the Omaha Star. “They had a chance to have fun and learn about the history and see the future of the Omaha Star when they stopped by.”

“Seeing the kids having such a great time was the best,” said Cynthia Hume, site director for OEDC’s Fair Deal Village. “They were all enjoying the games and petting zoo and I remember one little girl skipping across the parking lot saying ‘this was so much fun’ as she was leaving. That’s what it is all about.”

The Empowerment Network, OEDC, Revive, FHAS, Omaha Star and others teamed together to host the first Christmas in the Village and new businesses and venues have joined in along the way in the historic district at 24th and Lake.

Barney started bringing the businesses and venues back together for additional planning in late August of this year following one of the most successful Native Omaha Days on record, planned and hosted by the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee.

He felt this was the time to create a collective master schedule and calendar to keep the great things happening at 24th and Lake front and center.  The initial planning team has continued to expand and now includes 30+ businesses, venues and organizations.  Even more are joining now.

“The holidays are a significant time for most businesses. When we work together, 24th and Lake is a great location for music, food, shopping, connecting with history and celebrating black culture,” added Barney.

Fall Festival is a great example of this collective approach.  Each business and venue agreed to take on a part of the event and offer something unique for children and families.  The goal for the team was to start small just like Christmas in the Village and build as they go.

“We were blown away by the turnout,” said Brigitte McQueen, executive director of The Union of Contemporary Art. The Union provided free pumpkins, craft making, a new exhibit and introduced their Pursuing Legacy project with Denise Chapman.

“We ran out of pumpkins and produce, brought more out and ran out again because there were so many families,” added McQueen.

In addition to the face painting, cartoon characters, hula hooping and other free activities, families supported the small businesses in a big way.

“We were excited about all of the families that came out to support the event,” said Yolanda Barney, co-owner of the Revive Center.  “We were pleasantly surprised about the number that attended.  Our team is planning ahead for the Trunk or Treat event.  We really appreciate the support of the community.”

“It was so amazing, such a great turnout,” said Imani Murry, co-owner of Ital Vital Living that offered the free face painting and food for sale by Little Ve’s and their own smoothies and juices. “It went so well for our business and Little Ve’s that we sold out of just about everything.  Plus, we provided face painting for over 300!”

“This was definitely successful and I think we’ve found another annual event,” said Eric Ewing, executive director of the Great Plains Black History Museum. “We had nearly 200 go through the museum in just four hours.  Guests learned a little history and the kids were able to get a treat, too.”

That is exactly the vision and goal for The Village at 24th and Lake.  A long time theme for the village revitalization efforts has been “A Rich History & Thriving Future.”

The event went extremely well even though one of the main attractions ran into a major snag. The hayride was not available as the farmer coming from Springfield, who was providing the trailer, had a flat tire without a replacement.

Organizers said it was disappointing to not be able to host the ride for the community after all of the coordination, but they are now planning to add it to the Trunk or Treat on October 30th.

All of the other activities were in place and fully enjoyed by those in attendance.

“Being a community advocate and business owner, there was something magical in the air Saturday,” said Michael Young, president of Technology Consulting Services and co-owner of Rooted Synergy Gallery. “Live music, activities for all ages and the community coming together to support businesses is exactly what this district needs.”

Based on the attendance and all of the smiles, laughter and positive energy, the future is bright for The Village at 24th and Lake.

Connecting families, friends and community to outstanding events and a positive environment including music, food, activities, arts, culture and small businesses, all within the historic walking district, that’s a beautiful thing.

Stay connected with future events here.

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Community Features

Fall Festival in the Village at 24th and Lake

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 the first Fall Festival at 24th and Lake.

It’s an open invitation for families, friends, neighbors and the whole community to come down and celebrate the start of fall and have a great time together.

“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 build on 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.”

Those in attendance will have more than 20 different activities to enjoy including these highlights:

  • A hayride starting near Dreamland Park at 24th and Lizzie Robinson
  • Free pumpkins and produce, craft activities and exhibits at the Union;
  • Caramel apples, cinnamon rolls and delicious lunch items at the Revive Center
  • A petting zoo and carnival games at OEDC
  • Face painting, smoothies and vegan foods at Ital Vital
  • Hula hooping and snacks at the Bryant Center
  • Free candy at the Great Plains Black History Museum
  • Cider and cookies at Styles of Evolution
  • A fall coloring contest at the Omaha Star
  • Great music at Dreamland Park.

Cartoon characters will be seen outside the Carver Legacy Center, inside the Fair Deal Village Marketplace near the Rooted Synergy Gallery and at 24th and Grant next to the Mildred Brown Park.

The Husker football game will be shown at the Revive Center and Bryant Center for those that want to keep up with the game while also taking part in the festival.

All of the businesses in the area will be open and offering special discounts and fall merchandise.  Still Poppin will have all of the most popular flavors including the Omaha Mix, Cookies and Cream, Caramel Cheddar, Cheese, Cajun Jalepeno and Buffalo Ranch.

“We are really excited to be part of these events,” said Imani Murray, co-owner of Ital Vital Living.  “We opened this summer and we have received great support from the community.”

 

“Our part is the hayride right here in the neighborhood,” said Michael Young, president of Technology Consulting Solutions and co-owner of the Rooted Synergy Gallery. “We are looking forward to providing a fun experience for kids of all ages.”  The Rooted Synergy Gallery also opened this year at the Fair Deal Village.

“The Union team is planning some great activities for families,” said Brigitte McQueen, executive director for The Union for Contemporary Art. “It’s perfect timing as we have reopened and have new exhibits and free produce to offer the community.”

The event planning team encourages everyone to mask up and enjoy themselves in a safe way. The partners have also teamed with Douglas County and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance to offer vaccinations in front of the Mildred Brown Park during the event.

“It’s the first Fall Festival that we are all doing together. If you want to see something added in the future let us know,” said Barney. “We would love to see it grow the same way Christmas in the Village has evolved over the past ten years to include thousands of attendees the first Saturday in December.”

“We will add more partners and activities as we go. And, the businesses and venues in the Village plan to have events like this consistently the rest of this year and moving forward in 2022.”

“This is a great opportunity for the 24th and Lake Street village to come together and show a unified effort in bringing family and fun activities to the area.  The momentum is building,” said Cynthia Hume, Site Manager for the Fair Deal Village Marketplace.

“We’ve been here at 24th and Lake for seventeen years,” said Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution. “It’s great to be a part of the rebirth of this area and working with other businesses to make it happen.”

Mask up and come on down to the Village at 24th and Lake.

 

 

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Community Features

Revive Center welcomes Chef Jamil to 24th and Lake

The Revive Center is excited to welcome Chef Jamil of House of Bah back to 24th and Lake this weekend.

Chef Jamil and his now-famous Jerk Chicken were a huge hit during Native Omaha Days.  Since that time, he has won first place a the PitchBlack competition hosted by the Midlands African Chamber and received overwhelming support at the recent Afro Fest held at Aksarben.

“This has been an unbelievable time for me, my family and all of our partners,” said Jamil.

“In some ways, I tried to leave the kitchen, but it keeps calling me back.  It has been passed down through the generations of my family.”

One of Chef Jamil’s goals is to introduce African food and culture in new ways.  Through his non-profit, Eat N’ Talk Africa, he’s doing exactly that.  The goal is in his words is “to shed light on African Culinary Heritage and offer forums for intercultural exchange.”

This summer he partnered for the first time with the Empowerment Network’s Step-Up Omaha program to offer hands on culinary training to a cohort of 14 and 15 year olds.  The youth advanced to preparing and cooking their own meals and worked with the entrepreneurship and technology cohorts to design and implement the Step-Up Cafe.

“The food is just one part of the vision,” he said.  “I want the food to help create conversation, build bridges across different races and nationalities and create knowledge and understanding about Africa.  It’s bigger than the food.”

Though his vision is bigger than the food, the food is downright excellent.  Jamil brings incredibly delicious food with exquisite African flavor.  Customers have given rave reviews.  The presentation is second to none.

“One of the primary goals for the Revive Center is to provide a platform for chefs and cooks to introduce new foods options to the community and specifically 24th and Lake,” said Yolanda Barney, co-owner of the Revive Center.

“Not only is Chef Jamil bringing fresh new dishes with an African flavor, he’s working with us to accomplish another goal of presenting more fine dining opportunities in North Omaha.”

Chef Jamil will present the Casual/Fine Dining Experience during a Pop Up at the Revive Center on Friday and Saturday.  Reservations can be made here.   Order in Advance or for Take out here.

Chef Jamil will present a three-course meal including Jerk Chicken, Cornmeal Crusted Salmon, Vegan dishes, appetizers and desserts.

On Sunday, Chef Jamil will be the featured Chef at the Revive Center’s popular Sunday Gospel Lunch between noon and 3 pm. Open seating is available as well as takeout.

In addition to these special events and popups, The Revive Center is open every week Tuesday – Saturday for lunch 11:30-2 pm.  Champions Cafe features fried and grilled chicken sandwiches and strips, original gourmet burgers and specialty salads by Darnell Relford.  Thursday – Saturday during lunch Wes Zollicoffer of Feeding Royals features shrimp and grits, rasta pasta, croquettes, and other pasta and seafood dishes.  Open seating is available as well as take out and curbside.

For more information, please call 402-490-1542.

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