President Obama hosts panel with leaders from Tulsa, Newark, Yonkers and Omaha, including Empowerment Network CEO and Founder, Willie Barney. Photo Credit: Obama Foundation
President Obama Names Omaha a My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Model Community
The New Obama Foundation Initiative Will Provide Additional Support to Boys and Young Men of Color in Omaha
My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation, has announced that Omaha is one of four MBK Model Communities, a new initiative that seeks to expand the implementation of evidence-based practices and impact for communities across the country.
Omaha was selected from a network of hundreds that have an evidence based track record of success in positively shifting outcomes for boys and young men of color. Each MBK Model Community represents a tangible example of the systems-level impact that communities can have when working to achieve the MBK Milestones.
The MBK Milestones are six key life milestones that research shows are especially predictive of later success, and where interventions can have the greatest impact.
Willie Barney, CEO & Founder of the Empowerment Network, joined President Obama onstage at an MBK Impact in Action event to share the city’s efforts to reduce violence and address root causes. The Empowerment Network facilitates and leads MBK Omaha!
“In 2014, in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, I challenged every community in the country to implement strategies to help boys and young men of color,” said President Obama.
“Today, I’m proud to see the incredible impact My Brother’s Keeper Alliance communities are having – helping hundreds of community leaders across the country solve problems for the next generation.”
Thanks to the tireless efforts of MBK communities, cities like Omaha have changed the odds – creating opportunities for our young people to achieve their full potential. – President Obama
“The MBK Model Communities initiative represents the next phase of the MBK Alliance’s work to help communities take on their biggest challenges – and I look forward to continuing this work alongside them for years to come.”
Model communities means the city has demonstrated measurable outcomes with at least one of the milestones and the Obama Foundation is committed to working with the community to deliver excellence and results in all six milestones in the next five years.
“We are incredibly honored by this recognition and the investment and support from President Obama, Obama Foundation and MBK,” said Barney. “The collaborative efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents is reflected through the Empowerment Network, Omaha 360, Step-Up Omaha, City of Omaha, Omaha Police Department, foundations and the MBK partnership.”
“We want to thank and recognize all of our partners, especially those on the front lines, doing the work every day with our youth and families.” – Willie Barney
“Through comprehensive collaboration across all sectors of the community, we are starting to return to 40 year lows in gun violence by addressing collaboration, prevention, intervention, enforcement, reentry and focusing on root causes. We know there’s a lot more work ahead to continue reducing gun violence and we’re excited to build on and expand this amazing partnership with the Obama Foundation and MBK in Omaha and across the country.”
Each selected MBK Model Community has achieved significant impact in at least one of the six MBK Milestones by instituting programming and initiatives that have positively shifted outcomes in the educational or violence reduction ecosystems throughout their municipal areas. Omaha was chosen because of their demonstrated impact in MBK Milestone Six: Remaining Safe from Violent Crime – All youth and young adults should be safe from violent crime.
In Omaha, Nebraska, city-wide homicides were reduced by 30 percent from 2011 to 2022. Prior to the pandemic, Omaha had experienced a 50% reduction in homicides and 60% reduction in non-fatal shootings. In 2023, Omaha is currently returning to 40-year lows in homicides.
“Omaha is honored to be recognized as a model city by President Obama and the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “One city can definitely set an example and make a difference in the lives of boys and young men of color. We are proud to be that city.”
“The successful strategies and partnerships we have created in Omaha to significantly reduce gun violence, improve police-community relations, and fund summer youth employment programs can be adapted for other communities to have similar impactful and sustainable outcomes. Thank you for this great recognition and the opportunity to build on the progress we have made with the Empowerment Network to make Omaha a safe city.”
The African-American Empowerment Network will lead the Model Communities initiative for MBK Omaha. The Obama Foundation’s MBK Alliance will provide MBK Omaha with the necessary support to continue implementing systems-level change in these areas and to grow their impact in other areas within their municipal infrastructure. Specifically, the MBK Alliance will provide MBK Omaha with:
- Access to direct coaching, evaluation support, and peer-to-peer learning
- Direct resources, including an $800,000 grant ($400,000 a year for two years)
- Ongoing technical assistance for their work
“As we strive to build safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color across the country, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is proud to recognize Omaha as an MBK Model Community,” said Dr. Adren Wilson, MBK Alliance Executive Director. “Omaha has demonstrated a commitment to Milestone Six: All Youth Should Remain Safe from Violent Crime, achieving a 30 percent decrease in city-wide homicides from 2011 to 2022.”
“By providing direct coaching, peer-to-peer learning, financial resources, and evaluation support, the MBK Alliance is confident that Omaha will continue to serve as a beacon of hope and best practices for other communities to follow. Together, we can ensure our boys and young men of color have access to the opportunities they need, including the opportunity to remain safe from violent crime.”
By investing in and spotlighting Omaha as an MBK Model Community, the MBK Alliance intends to seed other communities across the country with knowledge, best practices, and resources so that they too can achieve systems-level impact in the lives of boys and young men of color.
“This is an immense honor for the Omaha community to be named a model city by the Obama Foundation! The synergy of community partnerships, led by the Empowerment Network, Omaha 360 and embraced by the OPD has forged a new Omaha. Thank you to the Obama Foundation, the Omaha community and all the Omaha police officers!
– Police Chief Todd Schmaderer
Beyond the reductions in violence, the Empowerment Network had the opportunity to present other positive changes at the national event held in downtown Chicago. Prior to the pandemic, African-Americans in Omaha saw increases in employment, improvements in education and reductions in poverty. The collective and collaborative work also served as a catalyst for unprecedented public/private investments in North Omaha.
Empowerment Network/MBK Omaha Delegation for Obama Foundation Model Communities Announcement in Chicago, IL:
John Ewing, Jr, Vice-President of Empowerment Network Board; Wende Kotouc, Co-CEO and Co-Chair, American National Bank, 1st Business Partner; Katie Weitz, Executive Director, Weitz Family Foundation; Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Vice-President of Community Development, Empowerment Network; Thomas Warren, Sr., Chief of Staff, Mayor Jean Stothert’s Office; Willie Barney, CEO and Founder, Empowerment Network; Yolanda Barney, Vice-President, Revive Omaha!; Chief Todd Schmaderer, Omaha Police Department; Ricky Smith, Omaha 360 Director; Empowerment Network; Denzell Dial, MBK Omaha, Step-Up and Mentoring Participant; Tim Christian, Board President of the Empowerment Network; Jennifer Green, Grants and Operations Manager, Charles E. Lakin Foundation; and, Jonathan Chapman, Vice-President of Community Collaboratives, Empowerment Network.
Non-fatal gun assaults have been reduced measurably in Omaha since 2007 and 2008. Prior to the pandemic, Omaha experienced a 63% reduction in non-fatal gun assaults. After an increase in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic, Omaha is starting to see a decline once again.
Homicides in Omaha were decreased to the lowest level in 40 years prior to the pandemic. Similar to most major cities, homicides increased the first year of the pandemic, but have decreased the last three years.
Full Statements and Quotes:
“We are incredibly honored by this recognition and the investment and support from President Obama, the Obama Foundation and MBK. The collaborative efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents is reflected through the Empowerment Network, Omaha 360, Step-Up Omaha, City of Omaha, Omaha Police Department, and the MBK partnership.
“Model city doesn’t mean we’re perfect or have it all solved and figured out, but it recognizes the great collaborative work that is happening here in Omaha and the collective outcomes that have been generated.”
We want to thank and recognize all of our partners, especially those on the front lines, doing the work every day with our youth and families. Through comprehensive collaboration across all sectors of the community, we are starting to return to 40 year lows in gun violence by addressing collaboration, prevention, intervention, enforcement, reentry and focusing on root causes. We know there’s a lot more work ahead to continue transforming Omaha into a safe and thriving city in every zip code and we’re excited to build on and expand this amazing partnership with the Obama Foundation and MBK.”
– Willie D. Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network
“Omaha is honored to be recognized as a model city by President Obama and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. One city can definitely set an example and make a difference in the lives of boys and young men of color. We are proud to be one of those cities.
The successful strategies and partnerships we have created in Omaha to significantly reduce gun violence, improve police-community relations, and fund youth employment programs can be adapted for other communities to have similar impactful and sustainable outcomes. Thank you for this great recognition and the opportunity to build on the progress we have made with the Empowerment Network to make Omaha a safe city.”
– Mayor Jean Stothert
“The Empowerment Network Board of Directors is excited for our continued partnership with the The Barack Obama Foundation / MBK Alliance. This new phase of our partnership is significant as The Empowerment Network is now an official MBK Model City. MBK’s investment over the next two years will allow The Empowerment Network to build on the tremendous work we’re currently doing and continue our goal of creating a measurable blueprint for cities around the country.”
– Timothy L. Christian, President, Empowerment Network Board and CEO of NightFox Entertainment
“As one of the original criminal justice covenant leaders and first board president I’m excited that we have this amazing opportunity to partner with the Obama Foundation to move this important work forward. Willie Barney and I have discussed the power of bringing our community together and partnering with the Omaha Police Department and so many other partners to impact lives. To reduce gun violence and homicides and laying a foundation for better economic, educational outcomes, increasing home ownership, improving medical outcomes and increasing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. We always believed this could be a national effort to impact lives across this country and this partnership gives us that opportunity. We are proud to be a Model City and we look forward to partnering with other communities across America.
– John Ewing, Vice-President of the Empowerment Network Board, Douglas County Treasurer and former Deputy Chief for Omaha Police Department
“It is great to see that the work the Empowerment Network has done in working with and facilitating cradle-to-career partners to transform our city over the past 16 years, has resulted in the Obama Foundation now recognizing Omaha as a Model City.”
– Teresa Hunter, CEO of Family Housing Advisory Services, Board Member of the Empowerment Network
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.