15-year vision for North Omaha revealed

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May 25th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Many people that live in some of the poorest areas of North Omaha face difficult challenges in finding good-paying, full-time jobs and access to a quality education. But one community organization has a 15-year goal to reverse this trend.

In celebration of the nonprofit community advocacy group’s fourth year anniversary, The African American Empowerment Network hosted a “Partnering towards Prosperity” conference last week. At the Creighton University luncheon, Willie Barney, the current president of the organization, said everyone needs to unite to transform the community.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin with Willie Barney and his wife at the “Partnering towards Prosperity” conference luncheon. (Photo by Angel Martin)

“We want the greatness of Omaha that has been written about across the country and internationally,” he said. “We want that greatness not just in certain portions of the city, but in every portion of the city.”

Barney said the group’s goal is to ensure everyone in the city, no matter their zip code, has “the same opportunities at education… the same opportunities to create a business, to go to school, to be successful, to raise your family. That is our goal plain and simple.”

There are many inherent disparities linked to living in the poorest neighborhoods of North Omaha, including opportunities for meaningful employment, higher rates of crime and criminal activity, and a lack of access to quality health care and education.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was the luncheon’s keynote speaker. Franklin is now the CEO of “Purpose Built Communities”, a nonprofit group that works with poor communities across the country and allocates both material and intellectual resources to help break the cycle of poverty. Franklin shared a personal story with the Omaha audience about the organization’s success in Atlanta.

“It is possible to reverse the negative trends,” she said. “And it’s not money. It’s hard work, it’s integrity, it’s alliances and partnerships, and I’d like to say it’s taking it a bit at a time.” Franklin added that approach is embodied in the Empowerment Network’s plan. “Taking it a bit at time,” she repeated. “And as you do that, building on the momentum so that it becomes faster and faster.”

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle spoke to the group at the Empowerment Network's four-year anniversary luncheon. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Franklin also told the audience that it is important that this transformation be presented as a “win-win” scenario for both the residents of North Omaha and the greater Omaha metro.

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle also attended the luncheon. Suttle spoke to the group about his support of an organization called “Workforce Solutions”, a community nonprofit group dedicated to helping people living in poverty and challenged neighborhoods to find good-paying jobs that will eventually break the cycle of poverty and despair.

“It’s going to think like a business and work like a business,” he said. “Instead of sending the unemployed and the underemployed out to the streets to end up with 40 job applications each week and call it success.”

“We’re not going to do that,” he said. “We’re going to focus on every individual person [and] your barriers to success.”

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