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.
Ted Lampkin: Rising to Meet the Challenge
Charles Drew Health Center
Growing up down the street from Charles Drew Health Center, Inc., it was no question for Ted Lampkin to give back to the community that helped raise him.
“I’m passionate about public health because I am a product of public health services. Coming up, my family and I used the services at Charles Drew.”
As the Associate Director of Behavioral Health Services, Ted has been on the front-line teaching and training team members in new approaches to behavioral health. It’s no surprise that when COVID-19 struck, Ted was front and center.
“My role was to help transition the Behavioral Health department from doing face-to-face therapy to telehealth therapy.”
While COVID-19 began to escalate, increasing evidence highlighted racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“We made it easy for the patients, providing traditional face-to-face, telehealth, and when needed telephonic sessions. A lot of patients had anxiety about COVID-19 and being in the middle of a pandemic, in addition to their other stressers.”
“The benefit of telehealth is we can continue to provide quality service during a pandemic. You take out the barriers to care with telehealth.”
Brenda Avant: Providing Quality Healthcare in the Midst of COVID-19
Charles Drew Health Center
As a North Omaha native, Family Nurse Practitioner, Brenda Avant, understands educating her patients about their healthcare choices is a foundational principle to accessing safe and quality healthcare.
When the pandemic shut down Omaha metro schools, Brenda and the team members at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. School-based Health Centers had to switch gears. While still providing in-person care, the SBHC Medical providers began utilizing telehealth to remain in contact with their patients.
“The telehealth program at Charles Drew really grew at that time. As Medical providers, we were able to continue serving our student patients through telehealth. The parents really enjoyed it because they felt even through a pandemic their child’s provider is still in tune with their needs.”
As the pandemic surged, the healthcare inequalities within the American health system began to come to the foreground. “It made me proud to see that Charles Drew was a front runner in COVID-19. The community was looking to us to help guide them through.”
“Charles Drew made it very easy for the population we serve to continue receiving care. We may be small, but we are mighty.”
Larry Duncan: Resiliency in the Face of a Crisis
Charles Drew Health Center
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Larry Duncan, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. has always had a passion for helping others. “My passion, at first, started off with a drug and alcohol emphasis based on my own experiences and knowledge. As I grew and received more education, mental health became the next umbrella. It rests with my understanding that there are unique issues that affect black and brown people, and people who are marginalized.”
Within the first year serving at Charles Drew, Larry faced his biggest challenge yet, leading a team while in the mists of coronavirus. “The number one thing we did quickly was become active.” As COVID-19 began to highlight the care gaps within marginalized communities, the Behavioral Health team at Charles Drew looked to bridge those gaps within the community.
“For our population it was a dual threat. On one side of the coin, the crisis becomes an additional stress to a population of people who already live with stress. On the flip side of the coin, the lack of community and social interaction increased depression, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness.”
The message was simple, but practical: Practice the Five Cs–Connection, Commitment, Communion, Contain, and Continue.
Looking back, one of the greatest strengths of Charles Drew, in Larry’s eyes, was the ability to remain active. While most were waiting, frozen in their activity, Charles Drew advanced forward.
“We got better and better at it. We were doing testing on the front line when testing was just starting. As masks began to be required, we were handing them out to the community members in need. Whatever needed to be done in the face of this virus, we did it.”