Photos: ©2019 Nehemiah Barney, Revive Omaha
Character. Integrity. Faith. Family. And, a captivating voice with an incredible range that will stop you in your tracks.
Revive Omaha was blessed to have a conversation with native Omahan JeRonelle about his experience on the hit tv show, The Four last year. Immediately following his performance on the show, reactions came in from around the world. He blew the celebrity judges and the international audience away with his gift of range, style and a falsetto that generated over 3,000,000 views on social media.
—Omaha Family and Friends
It appears that he has blown up on the national scene overnight. But behind the scenes, JeRonelle has been “praying, preparing, grinding” and stepping out in faith since a very early age. “I started singing when I was 3,” said JeRonelle. His name was formed by combining the names of Jesus, his father Ron and his mother Michelle.
Actually, it was earlier, but 3 was the age that he could officially join the children’s choir at his family’s church, Salem Baptist Church. It was there at church and at home that he began to discover his God-given gift for music and singing. “I began to notice people’s reaction when I opened my mouth to sing and realized it was more than just me singing. It would have an impact on them.”
JeRonelle with consistent and unwavering encouragement and support from his mother Michelle, family members, and friends continued to sing through elementary, middle school and high school.
“I was the kid who was always in somebody’s talent show. Singing in the choir. I was always around music.”
He initially had not planned to go to college, he wanted to pursue music immediately after high school. His mother had other plans. “She wasn’t having that,” he said with a big smile as he thought about that life-changing moment. She insisted that he take at least one year of college. He agreed and was accepted at Clark Atlanta University and earned a music scholarship.
“One year turned into two, two into three and then four,” said JeRonelle. It was there that he had the opportunity to further develop what God had given him.
Immediately after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his life long dream.
“It’s been tough. There have big highs and lows sometimes multiple highs and lows in the same day.”
Auditions. Rejections. Evictions. Bills.
Through it all JeRonelle consistently went back to the foundation that makes him more than a powerful voice. He called on his faith. He called on his family.
“This journey the past three years in Los Angeles has really helped me to develop even greater faith. My family has prayed for me. They have encouraged me with scripture. They have been there in the rough moments. God has always come through. Even when I was asking what now God? What’s going on? How am I going to do this? This journey has shown me how he comes through every time and everything is working for my good.”
Photos: ©2019 Nehemiah Barney, Revive Omaha
Last summer, just about anyone watching the show and listening to him sing Maxwell’s rendition of “This Woman’s Work” on the Fox show, The Four recognized instantly that they were listening to one of the most gifted voices we had ever heard. Even the other talented members of The Four reacted with awe.
From the first note, people in the audience and around the world gasped with their mouths wide open in complete shock as JeRonelle flawlessly sang. JeRonelle “kilt it” and “shut it down” as many said on his social media which collectively have gained more than 50,000 followers since his first appearance on the show.
His first song was exceptionally strong right out of the gate and was enough to earn him a chance to challenge one of the other chair holders. The audience was responding to him with great energy and feeling his stirring rendition of “Too Close” by Alex Clare.
But when he stood and delivered “This Woman’s Work,” Sean “Diddy” Combs, DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainer instantly knew JeRonelle had won the battle and earned his seat as one of the Four.
“Presence means everything and you, you were on point”, said Diddy.
Trainer who was obviously pulling for the other artist said, “I know JeRonelle has won tonight.”
“You got to be hungry,” said DJ Khalied. “JeRonelle, he came to eat.”
Now it was up to the audience. “On television, it appears that the vote comes back in 15 seconds. It actually takes three minutes,” recounted JeRonelle.
He could hear people in the audience: “We love you”. “We voted for you.”
He was praying. Thinking about what this moment could mean for him. Thinking about the encouragement from friends and family. Thinking about the sacrifices, long nights, highs and lows, the challenging and difficult circumstances and obstacles.
Thinking about all of the auditions and working for, praying for, grinding for a moment to break through. Thinking about the “we really love your voice, but you are not what we are looking for” moments he had experienced when applying in previous years for The Voice, American Idol, and even The Four.
And then, the decision came in.
“JeRonelle you have won the battle and you are now the newest member of The Four.”
The breakthrough moment. His gift has certainly made room for him and brought him before great men. With his voice, range, faith, character, integrity, and humbleness, there’s no question God has great things in store for JeRonelle.
The words of one of his original songs capture the essence of the moment;
“Seeds in the ground. New kid in town”
Although he lost his seat to fellow competitor James Graham, he is the first to tell you this was just one step on the front end of the journey. He is preparing now for his next season and what God has for him.
He is working on new music and focused on the opportunity to do some touring. Maybe, just maybe Maxwell or John Legend, or someone else will recognize the gift and come calling.
Follow and support JeRonelle on Instagram.
JeRonelle Talks Omaha, Los Angeles and The Four
We Choose to Build Together…300 leaders convene for Summit & Business Expo
The Empowerment Network’s African-American Leadership Summit and Revive Black Business Expo held at the Hilton Omaha on November 6th were both highly successful. Over 300 local and national leaders from every sector convened for a day of inspiration, development, networking and capacity-building. The theme of the event was “We Choose to Build Together.”
“We normally have a Leadership Conference in the fall but decided to switch things up this year because of so many major things happening in the community,” said Willie Barney, CEO & founder of the Empowerment Network.
“Our goals were to build on our collective work, encourage the tangible support of Black-owned businesses, introduce our national partner cities and launch the next round of capacity-building cohorts,” said Barney. “We choose to do business together. Build community together. Intentionally.”
Thirty small businesses and organizations were visible at display tables and most reported doing great business during the Summit generating thousands of dollars in sales collectively. A new tool was utilized through a Summit app to track sales during the day.
“I did very, very well,” said one of the small business vendors. “It was an exceptional day for my business.”
“The attendees at the Leadership events always do a great job supporting the small businesses,” said Yolanda Barney of Revive Omaha and manager of the Revive Black Business Expo. “Many of them typically sell out of merchandise. We need to keep this going year-round.”
The Summit also featured a panel of small businesses discussing the impact of intentional support from the Empowerment Network and other organizations. Gladys Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering; Jason Fischer, CEO of Surreal Media Lab; Lewade Milliner, national musician and artist based in North Omaha; and, Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution, all shared specific examples of how the Network and its partners have supported their businesses.
All of the small business owners also highlighted their vision for the future and the number of jobs they could create in the community with additional support.
“Imagine what we could do if all of the churches, organizations, neighborhoods and corporations supported these businesses in the same way,” said McPherson.
In addition to the small businesses and panels of local and national speakers, the Empowerment Network introduced representatives from Kansas City, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lansing, Michigan; and Columbus, Georgia. These are cities in the process of starting Empowerment Network and 360 initiatives in their communities. New Orleans, Louisiana and Davenport, IA/Quad-Cities are also part of the national partnerships.
Klassie Alcine, Executive Director of KC Common Good (KC 360 in Kansas City)
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa, OK
“I really want to thank the Network team for the incredible amount of work they put into pulling this off in less than four weeks,” said Barney. “And, thank you to the sponsors, speakers, volunteers and all in attendance. We need to build on this momentum.”
Capacity-Building Cohorts Launched at Summit
The Empowerment Network’s national strategic partners were present to help launch or continue capacity-building cohorts regarding career advancement, leadership development, storytelling, fund development and wealth building.
Dr. Randal Pinkett opened the registration for the 5th cohort and a national edition of the Redefine the Game Institute. Pinkett shared insights regarding the changes in the field of diversity and inclusion and what it will take to be successful with career advancement moving forward.
Dr. Pamela Jolly is working with the Network to launch the 3rd cohort of the Legacy Wealth initiative. Jolly challenged attendees to build on the closed loop economy that has launched in Omaha.
Suzan Hart’s cohort will leverage her internationally recognized approach to strategic, collaborative leadership and storytelling. Hart shared her personal journey towards full empowerment as she found purpose by unleashing the power of her own story.
Anna Barber is launching a cohort to help leaders with fund and donor development strategies to make visions a reality. Barber shared insights from her experience of developing hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions including the African-American History Museum in Washington D.C.
Obama Foundation and Department of Justice Attend Summit
Dr. Adren Wilson, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper and Vice-President of the Obama Foundation, was present to celebrate Omaha as one of four model communities.
Karhlton Moore, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance representing the Department of Justice, attended the Leadership Summit to learn more about the Empowerment Network’s approach to addressing root causes and mobilizing sectors of the community.
Dr. Will Moreland, one of the Network’s national strategic partners had the crowd fully engaged as he emphasized the key message of the Summit: “Be Intentional!”
Dozens of Local Leaders Highlighted Their Commitments
Local speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration and supporting black businesses.
Kimara Snipes, new executive director of One Omaha, highlighted the role of neighborhoods in using asset-based development and specific ways neighborhoods support small businesses.
Pastor Brian Page, Senior Pastor of Pleasant Green Baptist Church, represented churches and highlighted the impact local churches continue to have in serving the community and providing leadership in partnership with community-based organizations.
Tamera Spurlock and Andrea Walker, co-leads with Amplify, PayPal’s Black Employee Resource Group provided powerful examples of what they do to help employees achieve success while also serving and volunteering in the community. Amplify is also very intentional about supporting Black businesses.
Deputy Chief Sherie Thomas of the Omaha Police Department illustrated the power of working together to make change happen in the community. Thomas also noted the way the Black Police Officer’s Association supports small businesses and hosts impactful events with youth and the community.
Barney and State Senator Justin Wayne, Willie Hamilton, President of Black Men United and Leo Louis, business owner and board chair of the Malcolm X Foundation, shared perspectives on what it takes to get past divisions to make a positive impact in the community.
Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network hosted a panel with State Senator Terrell McKinney, Aja Anderson, Executive Director of the LiveWell Partnership, Racquel Henderson, Navigator at Metropolitan Community College and Marisa Hattab, Director of Diversity, and Inclusion for Douglas County. The panel focused on ways to build on the foundation of collective work in Omaha to create the future desired by the community.
The final session of the day featured Nadia Spurlock, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the newest member of the Empowerment Network team and Denzell Dial, a senior at the University of Nebraska Omaha, majoring in aviation.
Both Spurlock and Dial spoke about the impact of their families, the community organizations they were a part of while they were growing up in North Omaha and their hopes for the future as they both lead efforts to help the next generation. They were joined by other young men and women who are working to build out the MBK Omaha initiative for young men and Empowered Young Women’s groups.
“We encourage everyone to stay engaged throughout the rest of the year and into 2024,” said Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives for the Empowerment Network. “Stay connected via our website and Facebook page. There’s something for everyone to do.”
Saturday, Dec. 2nd…Get ready for 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake
Tis the season to join in the holiday spirit at the 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake on Saturday, December 2nd 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 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 Santa and Mrs. Claus and all of our cartoon characters,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice-President of Community Development for the Empowerment Network and Event Manager for Christmas in the Village.
Come 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.
Come ready to Shop and Eat! 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 southwest corner of 24th and Lake next to the Family Housing Advisory Services Building. Plus, businesses in the district will offer special discounts and holiday items for sale. 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.
Major sponsors for Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake include: American National Bank, Mutual of Omaha, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund and Nebraska Arts Council. Media sponsors include KETV and Revive! Omaha Magazine.
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!
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 12 years ago. It has served as one of the major catalysts for the development occurring in the historic 24th and Lake district.
Christmas in the Village is one of the largest events in North Omaha and is part of the ongoing North Omaha Village Zone Revitalization Plan and rebirth of the arts, culture, and entertainment district at 24th and Lake. Christmas in the Village started as a vision from Willie Barney and was initially designed in partnership with Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Empowerment Network Arts and Culture Co-Chairs Deborah Bunting and Stacy Henry; and Michael Maroney and the OEDC (Omaha Economic Development Corporation) team.
Urban League presents African-American Leadership Awards on Nov. 2nd
Congratulations to the 2023 Class of African-American Leadership Award Winners presented by the Urban League of Nebraska.
Join The Urban League of Nebraska and Honorary Chairs Othello & Tulani Meadows as they honor the leaders in our community who have made a difference. Since 1989, the Urban League has convened individuals from across the City of Omaha and from different professional sectors to honor exemplary African-American leaders.
The Urban League of Nebraska (ULN) seeks to build resilience in the North Omaha community by dismantling the wall that stands between our underserved community members and a more prosperous future. Our AALA honorees have achieved milestones that help us in this noble endeavor. Because of their efforts, Omaha is a better place to live and North Omaha is stronger and more resilient.