Based on data provided by the Douglas County Elections Commission, over 21,000 North Omaha residents cast their votes in November, the highest total in the last four election cycles.
The vote total was even higher than the number that turned out when President Barack Obama was elected.
The People of Color Convention, which was planned and hosted by a number of organizations in the Voter Registration, Education and Mobilization Collaborative (VREM), seeks to build on that momentum, not only in North Omaha, but around the city.
“We know we had a historic vote here in North Omaha. It’s vitally important that we participate at the same level in the city elections,” said Precious McKesson, president of the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance and the host moderator for the event.
“Local elections are very important and impact all of us instantly. We want to have the same level of success going forward as we did last fall when we were able to elect people up and down the ballot.”
The event attracted current elected officials and provided the platform for candidates to share their vision, goals and plans virtually to the 300 plus in attendance through Zoom and Facebook Live.
All candidates were invited to submit videos highlighting their priorities. Participating City Council candidates for District II included Ben Gray, Jonathan Lathan and Cornelius Williams. Cammy Watkins running to represent District 3 also shared a video. Naomi Hattaway, Candidate for District 6, was also in attendance.
Mayoral candidates Jasmine Harris, Kimara Snipes, RJ Neary and Mark Gudgel also shared their platforms via video presentations.
State Senators Terrell McKinney and Tony Vargas provided important updates on a number of legislative bills that are under consideration at the Nebraska Unicameral. Both advised attendees to stay informed and engaged by connecting with them on Facebook and tracking the bills on the state website.
Brad Christian-Sallis, with Civic Nebraska reminded everyone of the importance of their vote and reaching out to elected officials.
“State Senators are state senators. They don’t just represent their district…reach out to them all,” said Christian-Sallis.
He also spoke about the importance of stopping the disenfranchisement of ex-felons by restoring voting rights immediately instead of the current two year waiting period. “We are over represented in these systems, so when we are not allowed to vote, it’s hurting our community.”
Another critical topic discussed was the number of attempts nationally to restrict voter participation. Republican lawmakers across the country, including in Nebraska, are attempting to reduce voter participation with a series of bills and legislation. It appears to be in response to the outcome of the national election and highly focused on reducing the impact of the black and brown vote in urban communities.
“The issue in 2021 is voter suppression,” said Preston Love, Jr. of 4Urban.org and Black Votes Matter.
“There are 43 states, who have legislation, over 200 pieces of legislation to suppress the vote, that includes Nebraska. In Nebraska, there are a number of voter suppression bills and others that are trying to make voting easier and more successful.”
The convention included breakout sessions where attendees could interact with key leaders and elected officials on topics including criminal justice, education and advocacy.
Breakout panelists and speakers included: Edward Ventura – Nebraska Education Association; Lisa Fricke – State Board of Education; JaKeen Fox; Chris Carithers, Douglas County Election Commission; Preston Love, Jr., Krystal Fox; Mark Foxall; Alex Mitchell; Dr. Franklin Thompson; and others.
McKesson took time to recognize the lead organizer behind VREM, Barry Thomas, and the heroic work going on behind the scenes by many organizations.
“The goal is to educate our community locally so that we are recognized as a political force to be respected and adhered to throughout,” said Barry Thomas, Political Action Chair for the Omaha NAACP.
Thomas continued, “We have too many examples, in the modern republic and throughout all history, to ignore the power possessed when the fingers realize they are actually on the same hand. And that hand is a needed part of the body. North Omaha and the Black community can become the fist that powers change for our people.”
McKesson recognized a number of organizations including the Heartland Workers Center, led by Sergio Sosa.
Gabriela Pedroza, community organizer representing the Heartland Workers Center, had this to say: “This is an amazing collaboration. We are working to get out the vote, increasing voting in areas where we see voter turnout is low. We are phone banking and we will start canvassing when the weather permits. It’s a lot of work but it pays off. If people want to volunteer, they can join our team.”
Also instrumental in planning and executing the event was Alex Mitchell, a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“It’s great to see the next generation leading the way,” said Preston Love, Jr. Love has dedicated his life to engaging generations in the political process and now focuses on helping youth to understand the significance and importance of their role.
The event was presented by the Voter Registration, Education, and Mobilization (VREM) collaborative. VREM is made up of a number of organizations including UNO’s Black Excellence, the League of Women Voters, NAACP, Black Votes Matter, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Heartland Workers Center, the Omaha Pan-Hellenic Council, Civic Nebraska and others centered on civic engagement.
Watch the full event here.
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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.”