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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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Community Features

1,200+ attend Rebuilding the Village Conference featuring Eric Thomas

OMAHA, Neb. – June 11, 2024 – On Friday, June 7, more than 1,200 attendees walked through the doors of  the CHI Health Center Omaha & Hilton Omaha Downtown to listen to captivating speakers during the 17th Annual Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon. Hosted by the Empowerment Network, the event also featured the Revive Omaha Black Business Expo, as well as a powerful and energizing speech delivered by keynote speaker Eric Thomas, Ph.D., a New York Times best-selling author, educator and motivational guru.

“Think Big and Take Action! The Rebuilding the Village Conference was a tremendous success, bringing together local and national leaders, visionaries and community members who are committed to making a tangible difference,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder, Empowerment Network. “We were able to convene over 1,200 participants including 600 youth from our Step-Up Omaha program.  This conference is more than an event; it’s a movement that empowers teamwork to revitalize our communities. Together, we are forging a path towards sustainable growth and collective prosperity.”

Timothy Christian, Board Chair, Empowerment Network and CEO Night Fox Entertainment, Eric Thomas ET and Willie Barney, CEO and Founder, Empowerment Network.  Photo Credit Nehemiah Barney

The Rebuilding the Village Conference and Luncheon brought together community leaders, activists, entrepreneurs and stakeholders to address critical issues facing underserved communities. With a strong focus on professional and community development, this year’s conference was centered around career advancement, DEI, entrepreneurship, leadership development and wealth building. Sessions were designed to enhance collaboration and strengthen the economic impact in Omaha and beyond.

As keynote speaker, Thomas talked about the importance of inclusive leadership strategies, purpose with emphasis on working collectively. “As a leader, you have to stop ambushing, as a leader, you have to stop doing the one-on-one, as the leader, you have to stop being in isolation,” said Thomas. “You’ve got to understand why [purpose] is so significant; it’s so significant because whoever you are, whatever assignment you’re on, you have to fulfill that assignment.  You are better when you move together.”

Supported in part by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of The Obama Foundation, the Empowerment Network is dedicated to building safe and thriving communities through economic, educational and social success. Programs like Omaha 360 and Step-Up Omaha exemplify these efforts. My Brother’s Keeper Alliance promotes supportive communities for boys and young men of color, ensuring they feel valued and have clear pathways to opportunity.

With representation from New Orleans, Kansas City, Lansing, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis and other national cities, attendees came far and wide to network, build community and grow professionally and personally during this year’s conference.

This year’s agenda also included special sessions just for Step-Up youth which aligns with the mission of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.  Breakout sessions focused on driving change, community investment and connecting students with their gifts and strengths.

“There’s always more work ahead, but we have seen a measurable impact through our collective work and collaboration with hundreds of organizations and the engagement of thousands,” said Barney. “Step-Up students are graduating from high school, going to college and entering the workforce.  Graduates of Legacy Wealth are buying homes, launching and scaling businesses, saving and investing.  Alumni of Redefine the Game are receiving promotions, advancing their careers and moving into leadership. We are launching the next round of these cohorts and two others focused on fund development and leadership.”

In the coming months, the Empowerment Network is working with partners to launch the next phase of transformation this summer – pathway to careers, wealth and ownership. Additional growth opportunities including:

  • Connecting 200 more youth per year to the Step-Up youth employment and entrepreneurship programs, to grow to 1,000 students per summer within three years
  • Expanding STEAM programming including drones, robotics, music production, entrepreneurship and culinary.
  • Launching Skill Up! and EmPower Up! for hundreds of North Omaha adult residents to increase wages by providing wrap around and certified educational services
  • Investing in small businesses, entrepreneurship, tourism and job creation
  • Expanding efforts to reduce gun violence by an additional 50%
  • Assisting 250 organizations, small businesses, neighborhoods and churches with capacity-building

As an effort to invest back into Omaha’s Black-owned businesses, the conference featured entrepreneurs during the Black Business Expo, in addition to three breakout sessions specifically for small business owners.

More than 20 panel discussions and interactive workshops led by industry experts and community leaders were also held.

“We greatly appreciate all the attendees, sponsors, speakers, volunteers and all engaged.  We encourage you to support small businesses and stay engaged,” said Barney.

To learn more about the Rebuilding the Village Conference visit To stay connected with the Empowerment Network and learn about upcoming events, visit Follow Empowerment Network on Facebook at


About the Empowerment Network

The Empowerment Network is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing economic, social, and civic progress within Omaha’s African American community, North Omaha and the region. Through collaborative efforts and innovative initiatives, the Empowerment Network strives to create opportunities for empowerment and transformation in every zip code and neighborhood in Omaha and beyond.


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Community Features

2024 Revive Omaha Black Business Guide

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Community Features

New cohorts prepare to launch…Leadership, Fund Development, Wealth Building & Career Advancement


Great News!  After announcing four cohorts late last year, the Empowerment Network decided to delay the launch of the initiatives as they ran into the holiday season, received formal notice of their award of $10 million through the North and South Omaha Recovery Plan and continued the national collaboration with their partner cities introduced at last year’s African-American Leadership Summit.

The Network is now prepared to move forward with the four capacity-building cohort opportunities with their national strategic partners and advisors Dr. Pamela Jolly, Dr. Randal Pinkett, Dr. Jeffery Robinson, Suzan Hart and Anna Barber.

Keys to Fund Development to Make Your Vision a Reality & Intro to Cohort

Anna Barber, fundraising expert that has helped to raise hundreds of millions of dollars including for the Smithsonian’s National Black History Museum in Washington D.C., will lead a six-month cohort on Fund Development:  building a donor base to make your vision a reality.

Barber will share insights gained through her work with major universities, the Museum, Obama Foundation and other national clients.  Participants will develop a comprehensive step by step plan to build and maintain a strong, diversified donor base.

Complete this form to express interest in the Fund Development Cohort with Anna Barber.


Collaborative, Transformation Leadership and Powerful Storytelling & Intro to Cohort

Suzan Hart, one of world’s top storytellers and presenters, will launch a Collaborative Leadership and Storytelling cohort:  Maximize Opportunities with the Power of Your Story.

Participants will learn more about the transformational power of collaboration and enhance their presentation skills by defining purpose, understanding their value, and releasing the power of their story.

Complete this form to express interest in the Transformational Leadership and Storytelling Cohort with Suzan Hart.


Advancing Your Career with Key Principles from Redefine the Game & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Jefferey Robinson of BCT Partners will return to Omaha to help launch the 5th Cohort of the Redefine the Game Institute, an innovative career advancement and leadership development program. Over 150 have participated with most receiving promotions and increased compensation, expanded career opportunities or leadership positions within new organizations.

Complete this form to express interest in the Redefine the Game Institute cohort with Dr. Randal Pinkett and Dr. Jeffrey Robinson.


Understanding Your Wealth Building Code and Developing Your Plan & Intro to Cohort

Dr. Pamela Jolly a nationally recognized wealth-building strategist returns to launch the third cohort of the Legacy Wealth Initiative.  Graduates of Legacy Wealth have developed wealth plans, saved thousands of dollars, become homeowners, launched and purchased businesses, invested individually and collectively and made contributions to their community.

Complete this form to express interest in the Legacy Wealth Cohort with Dr. Pamela Jolly.


Stay connected to the Empowerment Network website for the next steps.   

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