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North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl – Friday, August 14 from 6 to 9 pm


North Omaha Arts Crawl 2015-3-1

North Omaha native, resident and artist Pamela Jo Berry saw a need for more art to be infused into her community. So she dreamed up something called North Omaha Summer Arts (NOSA) in order to bring art in all its forms into that underserved neighborhood. With the help of partners and collaborators she’s made it a reality.

This free arts festival for the community, by the community wraps up Year 5 with the annual Arts Crawl- Friday, August 14 from 6 to 9 p.m. At venues up and down and around North 30th Street. Take a stroll or drive from Metropolitan College Fort Omaha campus north to various churches to Heartland Family Service/Solomon Girls Center to enjoy inspiring visual art and soothing live music by artists from the community. Sample the work of established and emerging artists in a wide variety of mediums.

Free refreshments and homemade snacks at each stop.

Before, during or after the Crawl, enjoy some of North Omaha’s other resources, including the Loves Jazz & Arts Center, the Carver Bank, the Union for Contemporary Art, the Bryant Center, Miller Park and the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.

The Arts Crawl lineup:

Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus, Mule Barn Building #21 New this year: Omaha Fashion Week at the Mule Barn

Church of the Resurrection, 3004 Belvedere Blvd. (just northwest of 30th and Kansas Ave.)

Trinity Lutheran Church, 6340 North 30th St. (30th and Redick) Featuring a Community Peace mural made by teens and seniors from the North Omaha Intergenerational Human Services Campus

Parkside Baptist Church, 3008 Newport Ave. (30th and Newport Ave.)

Heartland Family Service/Solomon Girls Center, 6720 North 30th St. (30th and Titus Ave.)

NEW THIS YEAR:

Washington Branch Library, 2868 Ames Ave. is hosting an Arts Crawl reception from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Enjoy art and refreshments at the library.

FREE and open to the public. Family friendly.

Please come participate in this important milestone of 5 years bringing art to North Omaha. Your support is appreciated.

For more info, email pamelajoh100@hotmail.com or call 402-502-4669/402-709-1359.

Thank you,

The North Omaha Summer Arts team

P.S. Please pass the word to friends, family, colleagues. Like and share our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/NorthOmahaSummerArts. Visit and share our North Omaha Summer Arts Crawl Facebook Event page.

Coming Soon: A new book I wrote with Father Ken Vavrina, “Crossing Bridges,” the story of this beloved Omaha priest’s uplifitng life among the downtrodden

July 24, 2015 5 comments

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Blank bookcover with clipping path

COMING SOON A new book I wrote with Father Ken Vavrina-
“Crossing Bridges”

The story of this beloved Omaha priest’s uplifitng life among the downtrodden.

Look for future posts about where you can get your copies. All proceeds will be donated to Catholic organizations.

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NorthStar encourages inner city kids to fly high; Boys-only after-school and summer camp put members through their paces


NorthStar encourages inner city kids to fly high

Boys-only after-school and summer camp put members through their paces

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

NorthStar Foundation nurtures the dreams of young inner city males.

The area’s lone boys-only after school program and summer camp at 4242 North 49th Avenue doen’t put limits on students regardless of socio-economic, family or environmental circumstances. It provides fifth to ninth graders academic and exploratory experiences designed to transition them to high school.

It helps when kids aspire to success and mentors reinforce their aspirations. For director of programming Jannette Taylor that anything’s possible attitude is a welcome change from the despair she encountered as founder-director of Impact One, which among other things does gang intervention work.

“Working with the young people there I knew they had potential but they had to believe it. They’d had so many people telling them they couldn’t do something they started to believe that instead of believing in themselves, and that was a challenge,” she recalls.

After a stint with Weed & Seed under Mayor Mike Fahey, the then-Creighton University law student launched Impact

One as her impassioned response to quell rampant gun violence.

“I was really ambitious and naive. I believed I could do anything.”

In five-years she lost several clients as well as two of her own relatives to violence. Those tragedies brought home the toxic, consequences of limited expectations, negative perceptions and devalued lives. Emotionally wasted, she left, not expecting to return anytime soon.

“You would have a kid fill out an individual development plan and it would be so short-term because they didn’t think into the future what they could do. You’d be working with a kid one day and they’d be dead the next.”

She reached her breaking point.

“It’s hard to lose family members. It’s hard to lose kids you work with and love. I put all this time, energy and effort into trying to help people onto the right path. It was pretty much game over for me. I was pretty much done. I had given all I could give and I didn’t have anything else to give.”

Then NorthStar founder-director Scott Hazelrigg, who’d collaborated with Taylor and used her as a consultant, asked her to join NorthStar. She accepted. Now she’s refocused on helping her community again. Trusting Hazelrigg’s vision helped her decide to return.

“I just believe in what he’s doing – I always have. I think that’s why I jumped on board.”

He saw her as the right fit.

“We recruited Jannette back to Omaha,” he says, “because she really gets it. She cares passionately about these kids and not only wants to see them succeed but passionately believes they will succeed. We just have to give them the structure and the opportunity to do so.”

Cover Photo

Scott Hazelrigg, on the right back row

He says she helped build the NorthStar “climate and culture” that provides many avenues to discover passions and to build skills for future success. The center’s interior features learning labs, homework areas, a rock climbing wall and a basketball court. The exterior includes a sports field and garden. The comprehensive, experiential-based offerings range from art immersion to healthy lifestyles to employment readiness to chess, robotics, computer coding, culinary arts, gardening and lacrosse.

STEM education is stressed.

Youth also make college tours, visit historic cites, attend cultural events, go on wilderness treks and test themselves on the adjacent Outward Bound ropes course.

“Parents are really excited their kids here are able to find what their strengths and talents are,” Taylor says. “We do have research on all of our programs. Everything’s based off of a best practice model.”

At NorthStar every kid’s encouraged to try new things. She says unlike the punitive measures some schools use to deny behaviorally-challenged students participation in things like robotics, NorthStar uses incentives and old-school remedies to motivate kids.

Members are encouraged to seize and own their future rather than have it dictated to them.

“When I talk about our boys, I say these are our new leaders. That’s how I see them. One of the worst things we do is we put limits on kids. At NorthStar we do things and get them to critically think and that’s good because they’re young, they have potential and they believe it. I know they believe in themselves because I see it and hear it every day. In order for that to grow we have to have people that will believe in them and push them forward.

“I want this to be a brotherhood of us believing in the kids and them believing they can do anything.”

 NorthStar

Empowering kids “to think differently about their future and getting them to realize, Hey, we can make opportunities for ourselves, helps prepare them to make smarter choices,” she says.
Molding kids at an impressionable age helps.

“What I love about NorthStar is that the kids are young, they haven’t been jilted by life, they haven’t had people beat them down and tell them you can’t do this. We have them playing lacrosse for God’s sake. They believe they have this potential to go and do great things. When kids have that faith and that belief, you can’t kill that. It really makes me happy to see a kid always in trouble in school or getting kicked out of other programs come and be successful here because we’re not telling him what he can’t do, we’re telling him what he can do.”

She says NorthStar rejects “assumptions kids coming out of North Omaha won’t amount to anything, especially African-American boys.”

“We don’t care what neighborhood you come from or what you’ve been through. We all have a story. What’s more important is where do you think you can go and how can I help you get there. We remove barriers for our kids. It’s why we have seventh graders writing essays for college scholarships.”

With high expectations comes accountability.

“A big component of NorthStar is trying to get kids to stay on course, stay on grade level. The curriculum is based off of Neb. state standards. We have really clear communication with parents, teachers and counselors.”

Hazelrigg says getting kids grade-ready before their sophomore year is critical as that’s when a disproportionate number of African-American students drop out after falling far behind.

He and Taylor say the academically rigorous summer camp is meant to reduce summer learning loss. Then, as during the school year, kids are kept engaged by programming of NorthStar’s own design or of partners’ design.

“Anything we can build up in these kids as far as character and leadership, we do.,” she says “If it’s something that fits with our core areas that will enrich the kids then well do it.”

Thus, NorthStar invites partner organizations in or brings kids out to partners to experience everything from live theater to ballgames.

Hazelrigg says compared to many after school and summer programs “we have more structure,” adding, “When kids walk in the door it’s not three hours of playing basketball – there’s a sequence of things they’re going to do. It’s how we expose them to a broad band of things.”

Taylor says a sure sign the center’s a hit is that despite being only a year-old it’s added feeder schools due to demand by students and parents. “They are our biggest advocates.” She says kids who come there “take ownership over this space and they don’t want to leave.” She notes some school staff want their kids there bad enough that they pay students’ yearly dues.

The center’s a welcome addition to a neighborhood whose troubled Park Crest apartment complex was known as New Jack City for its drug-gang-gun activity. That blighted omplex was razed to make room for NorthStar. Hazelrigg says, “We’re intentionally in the neighborhood as essentially the neighborhood school. We want this to be the safe space for kids living in this area.”

Taylor says the Omaha Police Department’s North Precinct reports reduced crime in the area, which has seen a community garden flourish, a Walmart open and a Heartland Family Services building renovation.

“It just changes the entire community when you have people investing in the communitys.”

For Taylor, the Impact One scars remain, though she says, “There were some good things that happened with that” job,

“Everything you go through is either a blessing or a lesson.”

Now it’s a time for healing and hope.

Visit northstar360.org.

THE GREAT MIGRATION: WHEREVER PEOPLE MOVE, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS


I am posting for the first time an iBook I wrote for 3rd graders in the Omaha Public Schools. As explained below, the book is one of two I wrote for a series of Nebraska Department of Education iBooks that paired local authors and artists with educators in exploring various aspects of African-American history. This was all part of the OPS program Making Invisible Histories Visible. The book I’m sharing here covers the Great Migration. Many elements of the book are missing from this post but suffice to say that the actual iBook is a graphic-heavy, interactice experience meant to be used by teachers in classroom settings with their students. I am making a separate post with my second series book that looks at Civil Rights through the lens of the effort that integrated the Peony Park pool.

You can access the Great Migration book in PDF format at-

http://www.education.ne.gov/nebooks/ebooks/great_migration.pdf

Or you can download this and other books in the series at-

http://www.education.ne.gov/nebooks/ebook_library.html

 

MAKING INVISIBLE HISTORIES VISIBLE

THE GREAT MIGRATION: WHEREVER PEOPLE MOVE, HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

©BY LEO ADAM BIGA

©ILLUSTRATIONS BY VICTORIA HOYT

DEVELOPED BY OCTAVIA BUTLER

 

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

During the summer of 2013, eight Omaha Public Schools teachers each developed an iBook on a topic of Omaha and Nebraska history as it relates to African American history. I wrote two of the 3rd grade books: Civil Rights: Standing Up for What’s Right to Make a Difference and the one shared here, The Great Migration: Wherever People Move, Home Is Where the Heart Is.

Each book paired an Omaha author and artist. Not included in this post are photographs, documents, and other artifacts provided by local community members and through partnership with the Great Plains Black History Museum.

Each book in the series provides supplemental information on the role of African Americans in Omaha and Nebraska history topics.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

The Great Migration: Wherever People Move, Home is Where the Heart Is describes the Great Migration as it pertains to Omaha’s history. Topics covered include jobs, culture, historical events, and local figures. The piece itself is written similarly to a newspaper article, and interviews with local community members inform the majority of the story.

This book is meant to encourage students to compare the experiences of the people in the story to their own lives. There are several activities along the way that allow students to reflect critically on the content of the story. They will explore and analyze photos, newspaper articles, maps, and graphs. Students will examine not only the period of the Great Migration, but also the culture brought to Omaha and other parts of the North because of the Great Migration.

FREEDOM

Freedom means many things to many different people. For some, freedom means the right to be treated equally under the law. Others value the importance of being free to speak one’s mind. Freedom also means the ability to move and travel without limits. Indeed, freedom is about all of these things.

For African Americans, it was important that they be free to move to a place they would be able to express their beliefs, be treated equally under the law, and enjoy other benefits of an open society. With the end of slavery, African Americans began leaving the U.S. South for greater freedom and opportunity in the North and West.

There’s a long history of masses of people moving from one area of America to another. One of the largest internal movements occurred from the 1910s through the 1960s when millions of African Americans fled the South for other regions during the Great Migration.

During both World Wars, the movement of African Americans out of the South rose to such high levels that it became known as the Great Migration. One of the destinations for black people leaving the South was Omaha. African Americans came here not only to enjoy greater freedom but also to take advantage of employment and educational opportunities.

Imagine living some place where you’re made to feel less than a full citizen or even less than human simply based on the color of your skin. For many years African Americans living in the South were treated unfairly and cruelly because they were the black minority and whites were the ruling majority.

The discrimination blacks faced were remnants from the days of slavery. Blacks were denied the same educational, housing, job, voting, and recreational opportunities as whites. The threat of physical violence was real.

These were reasons enough for blacks wanting to leave the South. Other reasons included the hard times that the South experienced in the first half of the 20th century, where most blacks made their living working the land. When crop failures and natural disasters occurred there, some blacks felt they had no choice but to leave to find better fortune in other parts of the country.

Reflect: Can you think of a time you were treated unfairly?

How would it feel to have less rights than someone else because of how you look?

COMING AND GOING

JOBS

Blacks left the South to take advantage of the better paying jobs open to minorities in other parts of the nation. In Omaha, the railroads and the packinghouses were the main job magnets that pulled people here.

Black men could find work as Pullman Porters, baggage handlers and cooks with the railroads, and as laborers in packing plants. Porters dressed in crisp uniforms and prided themselves on giving great customer service to passengers on trains. Packinghouse workers performed physically demanding and dangerous duties. These jobs paid well enough that a black man could support his family and even buy a home.

The Omaha Monitor would promote businesses that hired members of the black community.

The railroad industry provided many jobs for black men

Black women found work as domestic help in well-to-do people’s homes, where they worked as maids, housekeepers, or nannies. Some cleaned offices. Black women were also employed as cooks, laundresses, cleaning help, and aides in hospitals and nursing homes.

It was very important for the black community to promote businesses that not only would serve black customers, but would also hire them for jobs.

Reflect: Why was this important to members of the community when looking for a job?

How did writing about these businesses in the newspaper help the black community?

OMAHA’S GROWTH

The Great Migration had dramatic effects on the communities African Americans left and the communities they moved to. For example, the first wave from 1910 to 1920 doubled Omaha’s black population.

Newcomers were not always warmly welcomed where they moved. Early on in Omaha, blacks lived in multicultural neighborhoods throughout the city. However, outbreaks of racial violence, including the 1919 lynching of a black man, Will Brown, gradually confined blacks to a few neighborhoods on the North and South sides.

Migrants came to Omaha as individuals, couples, families, and groups. They came by bus, train, and automobile. Often, one family member would make the move, find employment and housing, and after getting settled would send for another relative.

 

looking to Omaha Looking to Omaha out of agricultural despair in the South, African-American men “stepping up” from share-cropping to the meat-packing plants.

The vibrant, yet increasingly isolated, black community in North Omaha.

Feeling the effects of destructive segregation and racism from the same Omaha that offered new opportunities.

 

ESTABLISHING COMMUNITY

Blacks largely came here from Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. A group of Christians from Brewton, Alabama, established Pilgrim Baptist Church in Omaha in 1917 during that first big migration movement. These church founders helped build a thriving congregation, which their descendants kept alive. Today, Pilgrim is nearly a century old and still going strong.

A half-century later the migration had slowed quite a bit, but was still in progress. Two women who left the South in the 1960s to make new lives for themselves in Omaha are Luriese Moore and Lorraine Jackson. Moore came from Boligee, Alabama. Jackson came from Brookhaven, Mississippi.

SEEKING A BETTER LIFE

Exactly why migrants left, the mode of transportation they used to get here, and how they did once they arrived differed. But generally speaking everyone wanted a better life, and most found it too. They were motivated to go by the chance for greater equality and freedom and glad to leave behind reminders of slavery.

In the South there were separate facilities and sidewalks for the races. “They had one side colored and the other side white,” Moore recalled. “You just didn’t get in on the white side because you knew where you were supposed to be. There were some stores we couldn’t even go in in my hometown, like exclusive stores that sold very fine clothes. It was just a way of life. We didn’t like it but it’s what was happening.”

Jackson, whose grandparents were sharecroppers, said blacks would go to town and head right back home because “we were expected to stay in our place. There was no hanging out downtown. You did what you had to do and left because you didn’t know what might happen. I mean, you really had to walk careful.”

Moore wanted to join the civil rights protests happening then but her mother wouldn’t let her. Her father transported demonstrators from their rural homes into town to participate in marches and demonstrations. It was a brave thing to do because if the Ku Klux Klan caught him doing it he could have been in serious trouble.

Moore left Alabama for Omaha after graduating high school and marrying. “I had never left the South before,” she said. “I came here on the bus. When I left Alabama I had to sit in the back of the bus and then by the time we got to St. Louis (Missouri) we could sit anywhere we wanted.”

Venturing North to start a new life stirred “mixed emotions” in her. She was recently married at the time, and her husband moved ahead of her to get work at a packinghouse.

Reflect: Have you ever moved to somewhere new before?

What plans did you have to make before moving?

MAKING A NEW START

Moore found life far different here than it was down South. “The integration and everything was all new to me. It was just totally different from where we were. I didn’t see the (colored only or white only) signs we saw in Alabama. You could just go anywhere you wanted to here. You could go to any store.”

However, not everything was open to everybody. Until the 1970s blacks could only live in certain areas and some businesses refused to serve or hire them. But things were far more limiting in the South.

Jackson said the stories she heard about the way things were up North made enough of “an impression” she decided “it was right for me to go.” She came by train. From Mississippi to Illinois, blacks had to ride in separate cars. When they reached Chicago, they could sit anywhere on trains headed West, East or further North. Lorraine headed West to Omaha.

Both she and Moore became beauticians and raised families here. The women, who were able to go into business for themselves here, say they encountered some racism in Nebraska, but overall they feel they made a good choice in coming to the Midwest.

Both have returned to the South almost every year. Their families still own land there. They marvel at how the South has changed. “I can’t believe all the mixed marriages there. And the white people are at the black church,” said Jackson. “I never dreamed I would be seeing this. We’ve got a black mayor there in our hometown. I’m just shocked because I never thought it would ever happen, but it has.”

DRAWING ON THE OLD TO MAKE NEW

African American migrants often feel a strong connection to the South, where their roots are. Their families hold regular reunions, sometimes in their childhood hometowns. Many blacks who left the South have reversed their migration and moved back. Moore said, “Boligee means so much to me because of how my dad risked his life. He could’ve got killed doing what he was doing, just to get the vote. He always preached to us, ‘Hey, when y’all get the chance to vote you vote,’ and I’ve never missed voting.”

Jackson, Moore, and their siblings all finished school and some went on to college. Looking back on how much they overcame, Jackson said it’s “amazing we’re successful – I think it was our upbringing. In that time we lived in we had to be strong and respectful. Faith was a big factor, too.”

Migrants brought their culture wherever they settled. Traditional African American music and food are now staples in the larger culture. North Omaha became a haven for jazz, blues, and gospel music, soul food, stepping, and Southern slang. Emma Hart of Omaha still uses the treasured family recipes for sweet potato pie, candied yams, collard greens, and cornbread dressing brought here from Arkansas by her family. The hospitality southerners are famous for was also brought North.

Similarly, migrants and immigrants of other races and ethnicities have brought and continue bringing their own sounds and flavors. This infusion or blending of cultures has created a richer stew than what existed before.

The Great Migration changed America by dramatically increasing the black population in cities across the land, thus creating a more diverse society.The migrant experience continues to play out in many locales around the world.

SPOTLIGHT: DAN DESDUNES

Dan Desdunes was one of the first major musicians to play in Omaha, and played a major role in North Omaha’s jazz scene and musical culture. He is considered the father of black musicians in Omaha.

Desdunes was born in 1873 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He started studying music when he was 17 years old. He learned to play the violin, cornet, trombone, and trap drums. In 1894, at the age of 21, Desdunes traveled as a musician with different theater companies. During this time, he began to learn to play wind instruments.

After he got married in 1904, Desdunes decided to settle in Omaha. He felt there were good musical opportunities in the city. Since Omaha was in the middle of many bigger cities along the Union Pacific Railroad, many musicians would stop here to perform.

In Omaha, he started the Desdunes Band and the Desdunes Jazz Orchestra. The Desdunes Band started in 1915, and Dan Desdunes led the band until his death in 1929. They played annually in the Ak-sar-ben Parade, and other events for the Chamber of Commerce. The Desdunes Jazz Orchestra was one of the first black orchestras to perform in Omaha.

Desdunes also trained many young musicians. He was a music teacher and bandleader for Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys during the last eight years of his life. He believed that the study of music made people better citizens.

Take a Stand

There were many positive reasons to leave the South and move North. However, the black community still experienced some discrimination in the North.

Make a list of the positive reasons to move North. Then list the struggles still faced in the North.

Think about each list. Next, decide whether you would choose to move North or stay in the South.

Defend your choice by explaining why you chose to move North or stay in the South.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Leo Adam Biga is an Omaha-based author-journalist- blogger best known for his cultural writing-reporting about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. His book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” is the first comprehensive treatment of the Oscar- winning filmmaker. Biga’s peers have recognized his work at the local, state and national levels. To sample more of his writing visit, leoadambiga.com.

MEET THE ARTIST

Victoria Hoyt is an artist working in Omaha, Nebraska, the city she grew up in. She received her BA from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota and her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can find her making paintings and things that make her laugh in her North Omaha home studio, or teaching part- time at Metro Community College. To see more of her work, please visit her website at victoriahoyt.com.

Civil rights veteran Tommie Wilson still fighting the good fight


Omaha’s had its share of social justice champions. They’ve come in all shapes and sizes, colors and styles. Tommie Wilson may not be the best known or the loudest or the flashiest, but she’s been a consistent soldier in the felds of doing the right thing and speaking out against bias. Her work as an educator, as president of the local NAACP chapter and more recently as a community liaison finds her walking the walk. Read my profile about her for The Reader (www.thereader.com).

Tommie Wilson

Civil rights veteran Tommie Wilson still fighting the good fight

Retired public school educator lives by the creed separate is not equal

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

Social justice champion Tommie Wilson experienced the civil rights movement as it happened. For her, the good fight has never stopped.

While president of the local NAACP she brought a lawsuit against then-Gov. Dave Heineman over redistricting legislation that would have re-segregated Omaha schools. As Community Liaison for Public Affairs at Metropolitan Community College she chairs a monthly Table Talk series discussing community issues close to her heart, especially reentry resources. A grandson did time in prison and his journey through the system motivates her to advocate for returning citizens.

“I’m interested in how we can help them to have sustainable, productive lives,” says Wilson, who often visits prisons. “You know what they call me in prison? Mommie Tommie.”

Giving people second chances is important to her. She headed up the in-school suspension program at Lewis and Clark Junior High and the Stay in School program at the Wesley House.

“It took the kids off the streets and gave them the support they needed to be able to go back into school to graduate with their classes.”

Though coming of age in segregated Nacogdoches, Texas, she got opportunities denied many blacks. As a musical prodigy with an operatic voice she performed for well-to-do audiences. She graduated high school at 15 and earned her music teaching degree from Texas Southern University at 20.

She knew well the contours of white privilege and the necessity for she and fellow blacks to overachieve in order to find anything ilke equal footing in a titled world.

Her education about racialized America began as a child. She heard great orators at NAACP meetings in the basements of black churches. She read the words of leading journalists and scholars in black newspapers. She listened to iconic jazz and blues singers whose styles she’d emulate vocalizing on the streets or during recess at school.

 Tommie Wilson as a music prodigy in Texas

Through it all, she gained a dawning awareness of inequities and long overdue change in the works. She credits her black professors as “the most positive mentors in my life,” adding, “They actually made me who I am today. They told me to strive to do my best in all I do and to prove my worth. They challenged me to ‘be somebody.'”

She and her late husband Ozzie Wilson taught a dozen years in Texas, where they helped integrate the public school teaching ranks. When the Omaha Public Schools looked to integrate its own teaching corps in the 1960s, it recruited Southern black educators here. The Wilsons, who came in 1967 as “a package deal,” were among them.

The couple’s diversity efforts extended to the Keystone Neighborhood they integrated. Tommie didn’t like Omaha at first but warmed to it after getting involved in organizations, including Delta Sigma Theta sorority, charged with enhancing opportunities.

“I’ve never shied away from finding things that needed to be done. I’m a very outspoken and vocal person. I don’t have a problem expressing what I feel. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, I don’t care who it hurts. That’s my attitude.”

She was often asked to lend her singing voice to causes and programs, invariably performing sonatas and spirituals.

Much of her life’s work, she says, has tried to prove “separate is not equal.” “I’m a catalyst in the community. I try to motivate folks to do what they need to do.”

She feels the alarming rates of school drop-outs, violent incidents and STDs among inner city youth is best addressed through education.

“Education is the key. Children have to feel there’s love and care about them learning in the classroom. Teaching is more than the curriculum. It’s about getting a rapport with your kids, letting them feel we’re in this together and there’s a purpose. It has to be a personal thing.”

Schools can’t do it alone, she says, “It’s got to start with church and home.”

She applauds the Empowerment Network’s efforts to jumpstart North Omaha revitalization.

“I love everything they’re trying to do because together we stand, divided we fall. If we can bring everybody together to start working with these ideas that’s beautiful.”

She’d like to see more financial backing for proven projects and programs making a difference in the lives of young people.

Since retiring as an educator, Wilson’s community focus has hardly waned. There was her four-year stint with the NAACP. She then approached Metro-president Randy Schmailzl to be a liaison with the North O community, where she saw a great disconnect between black residents and the college.

“We had students all around the Fort Omaha Campus who had never even stepped foot on campus.”

She feels Metro is “a best kept secret” for first generation college students,” adding, “For affordable tuition you can get all the training and skills needed to be successful and have a sustainable life.”

The veteran volunteer counts her 15 years as a United Way Loaned Executive one of her most satisfying experiences in helping nurture a city that’s become dear to her.

A7 79, Tommie Wilson finds satisfaction “being able to share my innermost passions, talking to people about their issues, trials and tribulations and teaching and guiding people to change their lives.”

What’s a good day for her?

“A good day is when I make a difference in the lives of others. Hardly a day goes by somebody doesn’t ask for advice.”

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend; Going to Africa with The Champ; B & B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

April 21, 2015 2 comments

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend

Going to Africa with The Champ

B&B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

©by Leo Adam Biga

All hail Terence Crawford of Omaha for claiming his second world boxing title with his 6th round technical knockout of Thomas Dulorme on April 18 in Arlington, Texas.

Crawford vaulted to world prominence with his three signature wins last year in the WBO lightweight diviion, beginning with his unaminous decision over then-lightweight champion Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland and followed by Crawford twice successfully defending his title in his hometown before huge crowds at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Those three wins earned him consensus boxer of the year recognition, including the coveted Fighter of the Year nod from the Boxing Writers Association of America. It was long anticipated that his dominance of the rather weak lightweight division would see Crawford move up a weight division or two in time. With the junior welterwight title vacant, it only made sense he would test himself there, though doing it this soon after reaching the top may have been a bit of a surprise. Then again, Crawford, who had trouble making the lightweight limit, has the frame that allows him to naturally carry the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds with ease and with his performance against Dulorme it’s obvious he can carry his power up to that weight class, and probably well beyond it, too. It’s a good bet that within a few years he’ll move up another weight class or two, certainly to welterweight and perhaps all the way up to middleweight. When all is said and done he stands a good chance of fighting for and perhaps winning another world title or two or three. Should he do that, perhaps adding another Fighter of the Year award for good measure, on top of what’s already, he will be mentioned with maybe a dozen or so all-time boxing legends. That’s where he’s come to already at age 27.

No single Nebraska-born athlete has dominated his sport in this way or to this extent since Bob Gibson went on his 10-year pitching tear for the St. Louis Cardinals from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. Gibson led the Cardinals to two World Series titles and very nearly to a third. His combined Series numbers of 7 wins and 2 losses and 1.89 ERA give you an idea of how brilliant he was in the post-season. He was twice the Series MVP. His regular season numbers and awards were equally impressive. He posted a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts in 1968, when he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP. He won a second Cy Young another year. His dominance contributed to Major League Baseball lowering the mound. Terence Crawford’s string of four wins in a year-and-half over world-class fighters, two of those wins earning him world titles, and each victory more impressive than the last, is just about equal to where Gibson was at his peak in his sport. Just as Gibson was acclaimed by many to be the best pitcher, not to mention the best athlete, player and competitor in baseball, Crawford is nearing that kind of accilmation as the best fighter in the ring today. Once Floyd Mayweather retires, Crawford may be the guy everyone talks about in that vein. Just as Gibson still had a few good years left after 1968, Crawford has at least another three to five prime years left. Anything after that will be gravy.

As Crawford’s career blossoms, it’s rapidly becoming obvious that Bob Arum, the man behind Top Rank, the fight organization the fighter is contracturally signed to, is not alone in procaliming this warrior as the next big thing in boxing. When he looks at Crawford’s considerable talent and prodigious work ethic Arum sees a dependable and bankable star that he and Top Rank and HBO can ride for a decade or more, barring injury or other things that could interrupt this meal ticket. Having covered Crawford the last year or two, I see what Arum and others see in him – a dedicated, mature young man with a good heart who is also well-grounded about who he is and what’s he’s doing and how he wants to help his family, his friends and his community. Like all great fighters and athletes regardless of the sport, he views what he does in the ring as a job, and he views all the work that goes into preparing him for his fights as part of the job. It happens to be a profession that he’s passionate about and respects and thus he never cuts corners. That attitude and practice will keep him sharp and help him avoid the pitfalls many top-flight boxers suffer once mega fame and fortune come their way.

On this same blog you can find my various stories about Terence, who also goes by Bud. I have links to those stories below. I recently did some new writing about him for a project drawing attention to his B&B Boxing Academy in North Omaha and I’m sharing that here for the first time. Bud and comanager Brian McIntyre are founding partners of the academy and they have a beautiful dream to make it a full-fledged resource center for underserved youth. What follows is a kind of prospectus for what the gym is about and who it serves.

To learn more about Bud and his boxing journey, here are inks to my stories about him:

http://leoadambiga.com/2015/01/08/sparring-for-omaha-boxer-terence-crawford-defends-his-title-in-the-city-he-calls-home/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/06/25/bud-rising-bud-crawfords-tight-family-has-his-back-as-he-defends-title-in-his-own-backyard/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/25/terence-bud-crawford-in-the-fight-of-his-life-for-lightweight-title-top-contender-from-omahas-mean-streets-looks-to-make-history/

http://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/in-his-corner-midge-minor-is-trainer-friend-and-father-figure-to-pro-boxing-contender-terence-bud-crawford/

Look for more from me about Bud and his ever expanding story as I preview the trip to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa that he and BoMac will be making.

I am going on this adventure as the 2015 recipient of The Andy Award, a grant for international reporting presented by UNO’s International Studies and Programs to a news entity, reporting team or individual journalist whose reporting raises the global awareness of Nebraskans.

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Going to Africa with The Champ                                                                                                                              Every year Nebraskans make humanitarian mission trips to Africa, often through medical, educational or religious institutions and other non-governmental organizations.

In June a small group of Nebraskans will travel to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa with the goal of raising awareness about challenges facing people there and ongoing efforts to find solutions. Headlining the trip will be two-time world boxing champion Terence Crawford from Omaha and Pipeline Worldwide co-founder Jamie Nollette, who was the fighter’s fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha. Nollette’s nonprofit works with partners doing sustainable water and agricultural projects in Rwanda and Uganda that aim to improve living standards and encourage self-sufficient practices.

Last August Crawford traveled there with Nollette. What he witnessed profoundly impacted him. He saw a scale of human need he’d never experienced before. He saw people trying to move on from a traumatic past. If progress can be made there, he thought, then perhaps problems facing his northeast Omaha community, where his B & B Boxing Academy serves at-risk youth, can be surmounted.

Joining the fighter this time will be Crawford’s co-manager and B & B partner Brian McIntyre and myself. I’ve closely followed Crawford’s rise to boxing stardom in a number of articles I’ve written.

The reporting I do in Africa will be featured in a future Omaha Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com) issue as part of its long-running Journeys series. I will also write about the experience for The Reader (http://www.thereader.com) and the Omaha Star (http://theomahastar.com) and possibly other publications.

On our journey we will glimpse various aspects of Rwandan and Ugandan life that reflect on these nations’ troubled recent history. Tribal-sectional tensions and harsh government policies have led to coups, revolutions, civil wars, reprisals and atrocities. In Rwanda, feuding ultimately resulted in a genocide whose repercussions are still felt today as reconciliation efforts continue. In Uganda, a succession of dictators and instability has given way to the iron clad rule of president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, whose reign has been marred by human rights violations and the invasion of Congo.

Picking up the pieces is not the only narrative with currency in Rwanda and Uganda. But recovery is a primary theme there. So is the need for these poor, developing nations to build infrastructure, stimulate work, maximize resources and achieve enduring, empowering solutions to fresh water and arable land shortages, among other problems.

My chronicles for various Omaha publications will cover my and my travel companions experiences with:

•meeting perpetrators and survivors of genocide
•visiting a genocide memorial and the Hotel Rwanda
•visiting projects building fresh water wells and growing food
•meeting aid workers

We will meet meet people who have been internationally recognized for their humanitarian work, including the famous Sister Rosemary.

We will go on a safari, do gorilla trekking and see all manner of natural wonders.

We will also attend an African boxing convention where we will meet athletes and coaches from across the continent.

The trip is just one way Heartland residents engage with Africa and other developing regions. Opportunities to serve and learn about places in need are as far away as Africa and as near as North Omaha. Everyone who goes on these journeys comes away changed, their world vision broadened, their humanity deepened. My reporting will cover this transformation and lessons learned, too.

Look for more on this in the weeks to come.

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Here’s a look at the B&B Boxing Academy that is so close to Crawford’s heart.

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The B&B Boxing Academy 

The Mission
B & B Boxing Academy is a community-based athletic center that builds body, mind and character. Expert, caring coaches help members reach goals inside and outside the ring. Positive, structured activities teach confidence, discipline and healthy habits for a lifetime. Learn the winning edge at B & B, the home gym of two-time world champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.

Boxing Brothers
Boxing brothers Terence “Bud” Crawford and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre have shared the same dream for years. Coming up through North Omaha’s hard knock streets, they were determined to make it in the sport they love in order to give back to their community.

After a solid amateur ring career BoMac turned pro but found his real calling as coach and manager. His prize pupil, Bud, fulfilled the early promise he showed as a youngster. Under the tutelage of BoMac and Midge Minor, Bud became one of America’s best amateur fighters and now has carried his hard work and talent all the way to a world professional championship.

Omaha has entered the spotlight of the sport after his two rousing WBO lightweight title defenses in front of packed CenturyLink Center crowds and loads of HBO viewers. Those victories, combined with his winning the title at the start of 2014 in Scotland, earned him Fighter of the Year recognition. He recently added to his lustre by winning the WBO light welterweight title with a TKO over Thomas Dulhorme on April 19 in Arlington, Texas.

But reaching the top was never the end of Bud and BoMac’s quest. Their vision has always included a gym serving youth located in the very neighborhood they grew up and got their own boxing start in.

The pair’s B & B Boxing Academy, opened in October, 2013, is a nonprofit dedicated to building the body, mind and character of young people, including at-risk youth in need of positive, structured activities. Team Crawford has expended blood, sweat and tears turning the former garage and storage space into a working gym that gets lots of use. Since the doors first opened it has been a magnet for young people. Some are there for competitive boxing, others just to get fit. Many kids who come reside in the neighborhood. They walk or ride their bikes there. Gang violence is a real threat on what can be mean streets. It reminds Bud and BoMac of when they were young and flocked to the neighborhood CW Boxing Club. It was their refuge from the lures and dangers of those same inner city streets. They want the Academy to serve the same sanctuary role for today’s youth.

“It’s not just all about boxing,” Bud says. “We’re trying to teach the kids how to be young women and young men. We’re teaching them to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. You’ve got to be able to control yourself in the ring as well as outside the ring and boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.”

Team Crawford’s coaches and trainers are mentors who care. They teach lessons for life. Having a caring adult to provide direction means the world to young people who may not have that support at home or even if they do still need another guiding hand.

“If they feel like nobody cares than they’re not gong to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person,” says Bud, who had parents, teachers and coaches steer him straight.

Bud knows from personal experience the difference a gym can make for a young person working out anger issues.

“It’s a good place to come and get away, release some stress, release some steam if you’re having problems at home or school and you just need to let it out. What better way to let it out than on a bag, rather than going somewhere else and letting it out the wrong way. I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances. They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.”

Kids who compete under the B & B banner train as a team, vying for titles and trophies against fighters from other gyms. But you do not have to fight to be a B & B member. Every member receives instruction and mentoring from top-flight coaches and trainers with decades of experience. Every member is exposed to winners and champions.

BoMac says the Academy, located at 3034 Sprague Street, offers “the remedy” for young people at-risk of falling prey to negative behaviors. All that he and his fellow coaches need is to get youth through the door and then, he says, they can “shape and mold” them to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

As B & B expands it will offer tutoring and academic support programs through community and corporate partnerships. A commercial kitchen serving fresh, hot meals for members of the gym and the community is envisioned. The renovated-expanded gym will add showers, a dedicated fitness-weight training room, meeting spaces, a second ring, more punching bags and new workout equipment.

Even as Bud’s career grows ever larger, he pledges to make B & B an ongoing part of his unfolding legacy.

“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the fame or anything like that. I could be anywhere but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”

His fondest wish is that some young people training at B & B now or in the future will one day take over the Academy. Then they, too, will pay forward what they received to help a new generation of young people. Each one, to teach one…

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Terence

The Fighters
The young people coming to the B & B Boxing Academy all have different reasons for being there but all share in common a desire to improve themselves with the help of coaches who care.

Haley Roberts
Small for her age, 14-year-old high school freshman Haley Roberts struggled with self-esteem issues until working out at the gym.

“I was self-conscious about how small I was and everything. I felt different from everyone else because everyone had a sport they were good in but i was never good at sports. Then when I found boxing I realized I had more strength and power than I thought, and I put it to good use,” she says.

“I enjoy coming. I just enjoy the sport. It helps my confidence, it helps me feel better about myself all around.”

She likes the communal approach used at the gym.

“I enjoy the different people who train me. Certain days we’ll work on certain things, like our footwork or straight punches. We just work on different things as a group. It’s really a team environment.”

Having a world champion on hand in the person of Terence “Bud” Crawford is an extra benefit of training there.

“When Terence is in town to train everyone comes in and wants to train with him. It’s really cool seeing the Crawford entourage coming in.
It’s amazing actually just watching his fights and realizing, ‘Oh, I train with him.’ It’s really cool, too, that he kind of helps everyone (with pointers).”

With Bud and Co. behind her, Haley is excited about her potential in and out of the ring. She looks forward to traveling to tournaments next summer to prove herself in competition.

“I’d like to show everyone that girls can do what guys can do. I’d like to go as far as I possibly can in the sport.”

Away from boxing, her new-found confidence has her intent on studying forensic science in college. Her goal is to become a crime scene investigator.

Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo
Siblings Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo hail from a boxing family. Their uncle Alfredo Angula is a highly regarded Mexican prizefighter who once held the WBO light middleweight title. The boys, ages 10 and 13, respectively, were trained by their father at home before they tried out some gyms. After meeting Bud they fell in with him and his B & B Boxing Academy and they have not looked anywhere else since.

Training there Alan’s learned the value of putting his all into the sport.

“It’s like really hard work – hitting the pads, hitting the bag, doing pushups, doing jumping jacks, it’s just a lot of hard work. It pays off in fights, you know,” says Alan, who was among the first fighters to compete for B & B.

The brothers say the work ethic that boxing demands carries over to their schoolwork and chores.

Alan says it doesn’t hurt either being surrounded by champions who exemplify what it takes to be successful. “It gives me motivation,” he says. Getting advice from a world champion, he adds is, “really awesome.”

Ary also appreciates having Bud in his corner. “He’s very gracious. He motivates everyone in the gym. Whenever I’m tired and I sit down he’s like. ‘Go hit the bag and exercise more.’ He’s like always there. He’s great, he’s really a nice guy to be around. He’s very cool and funny. I like him a lot.”

He says the coaches look out for him and his brother: “They’ve always got our back.”

Ary. who’s battled obesity, appreciates the health benefits he sees from getting in good shape and staying fit. “It’s helped me lose weight and it’s gotten me in good condition.” That’s given him a better self-image.

At other gyms the brothers were sometimes the only kids present. At B & B they often work side by side with kids their own age trying to get in shape and learning the ropes of the Sweet Science just like them.

Alan says, “You’re not like the only kid around here, you’re surrounded by kids that want to do this sport. too.”

The brothers have become good friends with Haley Roberts.

While Alan has been fighting in competitions and winning trophies for the gym, Ary has yet to enter a tournament, but he feels boxing has already given him much.

“A lot of kids go through bullying at school and I think it’s good for those kids to go in the sport because it gives you confidence. I know because I was bullied when I was smaller. If kids want to mess with you, you know how to defend yourself.”

The confidence that comes with being able to handle oneself is important to Alan, too.

Both brothers also enjoy traveling to different cities and states for tournaments for the education and experience it gives them.

Treven Coleman-Avant
Promising amateur lightweight Treven Coleman-Avant, 24, an Omaha Burke High School graduate, wants to be the next champion produced by the gym. In addition to Bud, there is top U.S. ranked amateur light heavyweight and Olympic prospect Steven Nelson. Treven, who trains with both in Omaha and in Colorado Springs, has shown well at regional and national competitions and so he sees no reason why he cannot follow their footsteps.

He uses their dedication to the craft and what they accomplish inside the ring as inspiration and benchmark for himself.

“It all comes with work ethic – hard work and heart. I feed off those guys’ energy and I add it onto mine. Omaha isn’t done producing champions, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Just like his role models, he wants to be a champion outside the ring, too. He senses the same is true for all the people who train there.

“There’s been a flood of new people coming in wanting to get their life changed and that’s the goal of the gym being down in this environment – to pull people off the streets and change their lives.”

Treven says the mentoring he’s received there inspires him to mentor others by “giving advice, showing the right steps to take that you didn’t take.” At B & B, he says, “you learn great leadership,” adding. “It’s built me up as a person. Boxing takes a lot of discipline and dedication and I take that attitude to the other things I do in life – to my work, to being a father. You’ve got to give it your all or you’ll come up short.”

Treven, who has been around boxing his whole life, has developed a special bond with Bud that’s made him a member of Team Crawford.

“To be part of his team and to see where he’s come from to now is a tremendous thing. He’s been like a brother to me.”

In the spirit of giving back to the community, Treven conducts fitness classes at the gym most weeknights and weekends to help young men and women sharpen their minds and bodies.

The Dream
“We’re busting at the seams.”

That assessment from B & B Boxing Academy co-founder Brian “BoMac” McIntyre sums up why the popular North Omaha gym must grow in order to meet the surging demand for its services.

Located at 3034 Sprague Street in a former garage and storage facility, B & B is home to WBO world lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, who trains there under BoMac. Together, they opened the gym to provide their underserved community a safe, clean environment to box and get fit in.

With the Academy attracting more participants, the gym has reached physical capacity. On warm summer nights the place over-brims with youth and young adults going through their paces – running, working the bags, shadow boxing, sparring. To accommodate the overflow, the doors and fences are opened and the parking lot emptied of vehicles to create a makeshift outdoor training site. If the numbers keep growing as expected members will need to train in shifts.

A much larger connected space, three times the size of the existing one, is available. The vision is to acquire that warehouse and convert it into a spacious, state-of-the-art gym and to repurpose the current space into new uses that provide academic and community support.

B & B Boxing Academy is a nonprofit, community-based athletic center developing young people to reach their potential. The youth and young adults who train there share the same aspirations and dreams of wishing to improve themselves and realizing their potential.

BoMac, Bud and their Team Crawford family of coaches are dedicated to touching as many lives as possible. B & B is their vehicle for producing winners in the ring and in life.

 

Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled


So, everyone has a story, and that’s certainly true of two Omaha native music talents, one now passed, Julie Wilson, and the other, Dominque Morgan, whose future seems bright after some dark days.  Julie Wilson performed on and off Broadway, in movies and television, but she made her greatest mark as a cabaret singer in New York City.  Life wasn’t always roses for her, though.  A marriage to a famous theater figure didn’t work out.  Her folks back here got ill and stopped her career to care for them.  Her two sons went through some wild times, including right here in Omaha.  One of her boys died young after years of drug abuse.  In more recent times Wilson suffered health problems that affected her voice.  But she was one tough broad who wouldn’t give up.  She was only human though and after fighting the good fight she died the other day at age 90.  I only interviewed her once and she was a hoot.  I also interviewed her actor son Holy McCallany, who spoke lovingly about his mother. The subject of this story though is a musical artist of a very different kind, Dominque Morgan, who is only his 30s and has a modest career as a R&B, soul and hip hop artist based in his hometown.  Dom, as his friends call him, spent some years behind bars for bad decisions he made as a young man and he lost both his parents.  But he’s all in these days with doing the right thing by his life and music.  He’s very active as an advocate in the gay-lesbian-transgender community.  My profile of him for The Reader (www.thereader.com) reminds me that we all carry baggage, we all experience heartache, we all long to express passion.  He and Wilson couldn’t have been more different, yet they both loved performing music and sharing their gifts with others.

NOTE: Later this week I plan posting the interviews I did with Wilson and her son Holt as a kind of tribute to her.

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Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled

Singer-songwriter doesn’t let travails slow his roll

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

R&B and soul singer-songwriter Dominique Morgan, 33, has emerged as an urban music force with multiple Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards nominations for his Love Chronicles album.

His tunes of love and loss come from personal experience: an abusive relationship, homophobia, both parents passing, incarceration.
Alfonzo Lee Jones, founder-president of Icon One Music, the local label Morgan records on, says the artist has “absolute determination.”

Music is Morgan’s passion and sustenance. When he bravely came out at 14, he leaned on music for solace.

“It was an important part of my secret life. I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music.

No one knew this was my salvation, this was my safe space,” Morgan says. “I was very closeted about music. I didn’t sing in front of people. But I had this desire to perform. I wrote songs in a notebook I hid under my bed. I was just very insecure and being a performer is the ultimate exposure.”

He got up enough nerve to sing in Benson High’s mixed chorus and to audition for its Studio Singers show choir.

“I was frightened to death to audition. I didn’t know how to dance in time, I didn’t know how to read music, I felt so behind.”

He made the cut anyway.

“It was the first time I had been chosen for something and somebody saw something special in me. That experience was amazing. It opened me up to discipline, group dynamics, being a leader.”

Though his parents accepted his sexual identity they didn’t want him dating. At 16 he got involved with a 21 year-old man. Full of rebellion, Morgan left home to live with his partner.

He says he silently suffered abuse in that co-dependency before finally leaving at 19.

“I really had no self-esteem. The relationship tore that completely apart.”

Broke and feeling he had nowhere to go, he lived a gypsy existence between Omaha and Lincoln

“I did not want my family to see me.”

love_chronicles-front

He committed nonviolent crimes – stealing cars in a valet dodge and writing bad checks. He slept in the cars and attended to his personal needs in public and dormitory restrooms.

“It was how I was surviving.”

His desperation led to many poor choices.

“I have this need for people to like me and to want to be around me. I was constantly putting myself in precarious situations because of that.”

He let friends think he was going to school.

“I had to keep up a facade with them.”

He did the same with a local boy band, On Point, he joined.

“It was my first experience recording in a studio and performing outside of high school. It was bittersweet. I was enjoying it but I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew eventually it would blow up in my face.”

The pressure of maintaining the illusion grew.

“Those internal thoughts are hell. All these balls i was juggling. I found myself in a cycle. I didn’t want to face how bad of a situation I was in.”

Once again, his only comfort was music.

“It was how I got through each day. It was just peace for me.”

Wracked by fear and blinded by denial, he says, “I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t go on much longer like that. I just didn’t know what the stopping point was for me.”

Getting arrested in Lincoln in 2000 was that point. Assigned a public defender, he pleaded no contest to several counts of forgery and theft. Unable to make bail, he sat in Lancaster County

Jail months awaiting sentencing. The judge gave him eight to 12 years.

Morgan’s reaction: “My life is over.”

His next tour months were spent at the state correctional system’s Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

Life in stir came as “a complete culture shock,” he says. “I couldn’t let anybody know I was frightened because you can’t show any weakness. Besides, I was out. I was young, gay and black – three strikes against me. So I came in fighting. I wanted them to respect me. I was watching boys get raped, people be sold, stabbed, beaten with padlocks. I was like, I just want to make it home.”

He didn’t pursue an appeal – “I thought if I fought it I was going to go crazy” – and instead accepted his lot.

He served in Omaha, Tecumseh and Lincoln facilities, sometimes segregated from the general prison population, for his own safety he was told. Other times, he mixed with convicted murderers and rapists.

While incarcerated his father died suddenly. He’d been Morgan’s only regular visitor. Morgan stopped calling home. Hearing freedom on the other end only made his confinement worse. “It was too much for me.”

He turned to music to cope.

“It was like this wall burst in my head and these words, these songs, these melodies just flooded out of me. I thought, One day I want to sing my songs. Music kept me going. It was my saving grace.”

He wrote the songs in long-hand, with a pen, in notebooks and on kites (internal request forms). He utilized mics and mixing boards in prison music rooms, buying access to the gear via handmade checks he covered with the $1.21 a day he made working in the kitchen. He earned a culinary degree he uses today as a caterer.

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In a prison talent contest he revealed music chops he’d kept on the down low. The prospect of using those chops on the outside kept him sane. After serving eight-plus years, he got out February 2009 and cared for his ill mother until she died that December.

“It was devastating.”

His youngest sibling, Andrea, came to live with him.

He tracked down Icon One’s Alfonzo Lee Jones and began writing songs for the label. Jones admires “the soul and feeling” Morgan puts into his writing,” adding, “Dom paints a vivid picture with every song he composes. You can feel the emotion. That’s powerful.”

Morgan says in Jones he’s found “more than a producer – he’s like a brother to me.”

Meanwhile, Web and radio hosting gigs brought Morgan to the attention of East Coast artists he’s now working with.

His music took off as a recording artist and live performer, he says, once he stopped trying to position himself as a gay singer-songwriter. That transition came with his outreach work for the nonprofit LGBT advocacy group, Heartland Pride.

“I am a singer who happens to be gay. I can still be myself through that but I let the music speak for itself.”

thin_line-front

His life and career were rudely interrupted last fall when informed he’d not served the mandatory minimum for one of his charges. He found himself detained four months at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

“It was like watching my life die. It almost killed me wondering how much of my life is slipping away while I’m gone.”

A parole board review set him free in February.

During that limbo he was removed from the Pride board for not disclosing his criminal past. That prompted a Facebook post by Morgan laying out his troubled journey and hard-fought redemption.

“I can’t be OK and love who I am now and be ashamed of such a large portion of what made me who I am,” he says. “I felt I needed to own my story. I wanted people to really know where I came from.”

He’s since co-founded Queer People of Color Nebraska. It seeks to start conversations in the African-American community and larger community about the challenges of being black and gay in America.

His advocacy for equal rights led him to co-direct a recently released “Black Lives Matter” video.

“I want to do it loud and proud,” he says.

The release party for his new album, Loveaholics Anonymous – Welcome to Rehab, is April 25 at The 402 in Benson.

Follow Dom at http://www.facebook.com/dniquemorgan.

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