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North Omaha makes voting history: Collaboration makes a major impact

Published:  May 26, 2020

History was made in North Omaha!  All eyes now on the general election.

Four years ago, in 2016, North Omaha voted at an abysmal 6% during the primary.  With effective collaboration and purposeful coordination, the community responded in 2020 and generated a 22% turnout.

The nearly four times increase is substantial and deserves to be celebrated.  North Omaha residents, you made it happen!

Many individuals and organizations should be recognized for their efforts to inform and mobilize the community.  Preston Love, Jr and North Omaha Votes Matter.  Precious McKesson with NONA.  Sergio Sosa with the Heartland Workers Center. Kimara Snipe with Nebraska Civic Engagement Table.  The League of Women Voters, Pastors and Faith Leaders, and others helped to produce the increased turnout.

All of the candidates that ran for office should also be celebrated.  Omaha had one of the most diverse slates of candidates in the history of the city.  There were African-Americans and other people of color on the ballot in just about every major race.

The newly formed Black/North Omaha Media Collaborative also played a key role. Radio stations 101.3, 95.7 and 100.3 all featured candidates and discussed key issues on their stations.  The Omaha Star and NoiseOmaha all provided critical information to residents.

Another major piece of the success was the approval to make vote by mail an option for all residents.  The election commission led very effectively by Brian Kruse and Chris Carithers, sent vote by mail post cards to all Douglas County residents.  Kruse and Carithers have proven to be very community minded and have made themselves very accessible in all parts of the city.

As a result, Douglas County also set records for voter turnout in a primary election.  85% of the votes cast in the 2020 primary election were by mail.

If the method produces higher voter participation, it should definitely be considered and added as a practical and measurable solution.  The same process should be implemented going forward for every election.

In addition to this group of the change makers, the strong slate of candidates and the vote by mail model, special recognition should also go to Sal Issaka and the Omaha Housing Authority.

With the issues presented by the Coronavirus, the election commission was forced to relocate a number of polling centers and move them away from their traditional locations in the OHA Towers.  The change was made to protect the health of seniors and other residents in the towers.

The community response led by Preston Love and Sal Issaka mobilized quickly to innovate and create a workable solution. This collective group worked together in a joint effort with Kimara Snipes in South Omaha and the election commission to generate positive results.  As reported by Preston Love, Jr, using the vote by mail option, all of the towers experienced an increase in votes.  Overall, the votes from tower residents increased by two and a half times previous years.  Evans Tower had a dramatic 80% increase from 2016 to 2020.

The Omaha Housing Authority Vote By Mail (VBM) mobilization effort was a collaboration of multiple organizations, including Black Votes Matter Institute of Community Engagement, Nebraska Civic Engagement Table, the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha and NONA-North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance.

The North Omaha community should be proud of its turnout for the primary. Yet, there’s more work ahead.   The turnout county wide was 37%, so there’s still a gap that must be closed.

Come November, North Omaha must respond in a strong way to assure their voice is heard.  The community must also be vigilant regarding misinformation and voter suppression efforts.

During the 2008 and 2012 elections with Barack Obama on the ballot, North Omaha generated very high voter turnout.  With the importance of the upcoming election, it will be urgent and critical for North Omaha to reach the same level of participation.

There’s a strong likelihood that the Coronavirus will still play a major role.  The state and county should be prepared to once again offer vote by mail as a reliable and safe option.

Congratulations North Omaha!  Now, let’s set a new record during the general election in November.   Get involved.  Register to vote.  Vote by mail.  Become a volunteer for a campaign.  Make contributions to your candidate.

History is calling.  Together, we can set new records for voter participation in the general election.

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City of Omaha receives $34 million for Lead Remediation

City of Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Deputy Administrator Edward Chu, EPA Region 7

Regional leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development joined together to renew their commitment to helping the City to Omaha to remove lead from the soil and paint in North Omaha.

EPA is investing nearly $30 million and HUD added $4 million.

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Black Political Summit sets a new foundation for North Omaha

Nearly 150 joined in on the first Black Political Summit hosted by Preston Love, Jr.


The room at the Highlander was buzzing with energy and dialogue for nearly four hours as leaders and residents worked together to identify barriers to voting and solutions to register 15,000 new voters in North Omaha and increase voter participation to 60% in the primary and 70% in the general election.

Participants were divided into groups to brainstorm solutions to increase voter mobilization and turnout with churches, young professionals, Latinos, South Sudanese, grassroots and community agencies.

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Community Features

Thousands attend 12th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake

The sun made it better, but it was cold!

With weather making it feel as low as 0 degrees in the morning, thousands still made their way to historic 24th and Lake in North Omaha for the Empowerment Network’s 12th annual Christmas in the Village.

“When we started the event 12 years ago, we wanted to create a cultural community celebration and holiday tradition for kids and families that they look forward to every year,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network. “The fact that thousands would come out in this weather and enjoy themselves with smiles, hugs and laughter shows us we are accomplishing that goal.”

Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is presented by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation. Major sponsors 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.

Braving the cold, kids were lined up to see and take a picture with Santa inside the Revive Center and Lake Point building.

Heaters stood next to the area where families could board the free carriage in front of OEDC.

Parents and community members packed Dreamland Park to watch the Burke High Drill Team, Pear Tree Performing Arts and the Hope Community Choir.

Throughout the day visitors could hear the beautiful sounds of Omaha’s top artists and musicians in the background as they walked through the district celebrating the holiday.

“It was a wonderful time,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice President of Community Development and Operations for the Empowerment Network, and event manager.  “So many families having a great time and enjoying all of the activities put on by our partners. Absolutely wonderful.”

The event started with the Bulldogs Drill team marching down 24th Street in front a horse drawn carriage holding Santa and Mrs Claus.  Guests lined the street and followed along as families and cartoon characters followed next in the carriages.

“The Drill team did an amazing job,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “They were excellent and brought great energy to kick off the day.”

From there kids, families and community members had dozens and dozens of options of where to go.

Face painting, Raku pottery, balloons, snacks, arts and crafts, letters to Santa, live nativity animals, free family photos, snack bags, hot cider, cookies, and hot chocolate all free for families.

The Omaha Police Department and Fire Department were both on hand.  OPD handed out candy canes and stickers.  The Fire Department had many youth excitedly sitting in the fire engine.

One of the most popular stops was the Black Votes Matter Toy Give Away sponsored by UNO Athletics.

“We gave out over 1,200 toys in less than an hour,” said Preston Love, Jr, Founder of Black Votes Matter and 4 Urban.  “This is our third year for the partnership and it feels great to help families, many of which couldn’t afford to purchase toys for the kids even though some are working two and three jobs.”

Kids and parents could be seen walking throughout the district with large boxes and bags with gifts, toys, snacks, gloves, hats and other goodies.

Excitement was in the air as children caught a glimpse of Santa for the first time or had the opportunity to see and touch a donkey, camel and other animals.

The Fair Deal Village provided delicious snacks, cookies, goodie bags and included face painting.

Another popular spot was the Big Tent on the Northwest Corner of 24th and Lake. The Empowerment Network hosted the Holiday Boutique with over 20 small black businesses and entrepreneurs.

“It was our first time during the 12 years that we had the heated tent for the Boutique and it took some adjustments with the weather,” said Aisha Conner, Village Empowerment Center Manager and coordinator of the Boutique.

“But, our vendors did very well.  Many of them selling out of merchandise or close to it.”

Local businesses like Styles of Evolution, Ital Vital Living and Fair Deal Marketplace attracted hundreds of visitors.

Styles of Evolution recently celebrated 18 years and a grand opening as they moved back into their restored, renovated and expanded spaced. Owners Don and Yvonne McPherson once again sponsored a free drawing to win a 40” big screen television.

“One of our main goals when we started was to connect families to small businesses for the holidays,” said Barney.  “This is awesome to see over 70 businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, contractors, media companies and musicians generating income and recycling dollars in the community.”

Ital Vital Living always has a creative display and activity at their location for community festivals.  For this year, they featured “Whoville” complete with the Grinch and some tasty smoothies and snacks.

The Elks gave out toys and provided food for kids.   Next door, the Carver Legacy Center gave out reindeer antlers, pop its and other items for kids.

Arts and cultural venues also attracted some large crowds.

The Union for Contemporary Art featured an exhibit and housed the Empowerment Network community partners showcase that highlight their services and hosted interactive activities for kids.

NorthEnd TeleServices, a first-time partner, gave out stocking stuffers and hosted a Make a Wish Tree.

The Great Plains Black History Museum presented three exhibits and hosted a balloon artists.

“We want to thank all of the community partners that worked with us to put on the event,” said Quaites-Ferris.  “We have families that have attended every year and a lot of new families this year as well.”

“Many of them said they had no idea all of these buildings, stores and venues were here.  They look forward to coming back even beyond Christmas in the Village which is exactly what we wanted to see happen.”

Photo Credits:  Surreal Media Labs

Initial Photo Gallery:  Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake 2022

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