Posts Tagged ‘Community Redevelopment’

Life Itself XVI:  Social justice, civil rights, human services, human rights, community development stories

August 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself XVI: 

Social justice, civil rights, human services, human rights, community development stories


Unequal Justice: Juvenile detention numbers are down, but bias persists…ut-bias-persists

To vote or not to vote

North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama…f-playfest-drama/

Her mother’s daughter: Charlene Butts Ligon carries on civil rights legacy of her late mother Evelyn Thomas Butts…lyn-thomas-butts/

Brenda Council: A public servant’s life…ic-servants-life

The Urban League movement lives strong in Omaha…-strong-in-omaha/

Park Avenue Revitalization and Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood…ban-neighborhood/

Health and healing through culture and community…re-and-community

Syed Mohiuddin: A pillar of the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha…tiative-in-omaha

Re-entry prepares current and former incarcerated individuals for work and life success on the outside…s-on-the-outside/



Frank LaMere: A good man’s work is never done…rk-is-never-done

Behind the Vision: Othello Meadows of 75 North Revitalization Corp.…italization-corp

North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification…s-gentrification

SAFE HARBOR: Activists working to create Omaha Area Sanctuary Network as refuge for undocumented persons in danger of arrest-deportation…rest-deportation

Heartland Dreamers have their say in nation’s capitol…-nations-capitol/

Of Dreamers and doers, and one nation indivisible under……ndivisible-under/





Refugees and asylees follow pathways to freedom, safety and new starts…y-and-new-starts

Coming to America: Immigrant-Refugee mosaic unfolds in new ways and old ways in Omaha…ld-ways-in-omaha

History in the making: $65M Tri-Faith Initiative bridges religious, social, political gaps…l-political-gaps

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity in North Omaha…y-in-north-omaha

No More Empty Pots Intent on Ending North Omaha Food Desert…t-in-north-omaha



Poverty in Omaha: 

Breaking the cycle and the high cost of being poor…st-of-being-poor/

Down and out but not done in Omaha: Documentary surveys the poverty landscape…overty-landscape

Struggles of single moms subject of film and discussion; Local women can relate to living paycheck to paycheck…heck-to-paycheck

Aisha’s Adventures: A story of inspiration and transformation; homelessness didn’t stop entrepreneurial missionary Aisha Okudi from pursuing her goals…rsuing-her-goals

Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change…ng-needed-change/

Nelson Mandela School Adds Another Building Block to North Omaha’s Future…th-omahas-future

Partnership 4 Kids – Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers…reaking-barriers

















Changing One Life at a Time: Mentoring Takes Center Stage as Individuals and Organizations Make Mentoring Count…-mentoring-count/

Where Love Resides: Celebrating Ty and Terri Schenzel…d-terri-schenzel/

North Omaha: Voices and Visions for Change…sions-for-change

Black Lives Matter: Omaha activists view social movement as platform for advocating-making change…ng-making-change


Black Lives Matter showcase




Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha…-northeast-omaha/

Girls Inc. makes big statement with addition to renamed North Omaha center…rth-omaha-center

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

Big Mama, Bigger Heart: Serving Up Soul Food and Second Chances…d-second-chances/




When a building isn’t just a building: LaFern Williams South YMCA facelift reinvigorates community…-just-a-building/

Identity gets new platform through RavelUnravel…ugh-ravelunravel/ 

Where Hope Lives, Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha…s-in-north-omaha/



Ty Schenzel



Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison…o-life-in-prison/

A WASP’s racial tightrope resulted in enduring book partially set in 1960s Omaha…t-in-1960s-omaha/

Gabriela Martinez: 

A heart for humanity and justice for all

Father Ken Vavrina’s new book “Crossing Bridges” charts his life serving others…e-serving-others/

Wounded Knee still battleground for some per new book by journalist-author Stew Magnuson…or-stew-magnuson


Ed Poindexter and David Rice in 1970, North Omaha, Nebraska


‘Bless Me, Ultima’: Chicano identity at core of book, movie, movement…k-movie-movement

Finding Normal: Schalisha Walker’s journey finding normal after foster care sheds light on service needs…on-service-needs/

Dick Holland remembered for generous giving and warm friendship that improved organizations and lives…ations-and-lives/

Justice champion Samuel Walker calls It as he sees it…it-as-he-sees-it

[© Ellen Lake]

Photo caption:

Walker on far left of porch of a Freedom Summer













El Puente: Attempting to bridge divide between grassroots community and the system…y-and-the-system

All Abide: Abide applies holistic approach to building community; Josh Dotzler now heads nonprofit started by his parents…d-by-his-parents/

Making Community: Apostle Vanessa Ward Raises Up Her North Omaha Neighborhood and Builds Community…builds-community/



Better Together



Collaboration and diversity matter to Inclusive Communities: Nonprofit teaches tools and skills for valuing human differences…uman-differences

Talking it out: Inclusive Communities makes hard conversations the featured menu item at Omaha Table Talk…omaha-table-talk/

Everyone’s welcome at Table Talk, where food for thought and sustainable race relations happen over breaking bread together…g-bread-together/

Feeding the world, nourishing our neighbors, far and near: Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Omaha nonprofits take on hunger and food insecurity…-food-insecurity

Miles Main Event2











Rabbi Azriel: Legacy as social progressive and interfaith champion secure…-champion-secure

Rabbi Azriel’s neighborhood welcomes all, unlike what he saw on recent Middle East trip; Social justice activist and interfaith advocate optimistic about Tri-Faith campus…tri-faith-campus/

azriel web

Ferial Pearson, award-winning educator dedicated to inclusion and social justice, helps students publish the stories of their lives…s-of-their-lives/

Upon This Rock: Husband and Wife Pastors John and Liz Backus Forge Dynamic Ministry Team at Trinity Lutheran…trinity-lutheran/

Gravitas – Gravity Center for Contemplative Activism founders Christopher and Phileena Heuertz create place of healing for healers…ling-for-healers/

Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer…ther-ray-metoyer

Color-blind love:

Five interracial couples share their stories…re-their-stories

A Decent House for Everyone: Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot builds affordable homes for the working poor through Gesu Housing…ugh-gesu-housing

Bro. Mike Wilmot and Gesu Housing: Building Neighborhoods and Community, One House at a Time…-house-at-a-time/





Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”…of-omaha-central/


Anti-Drug War manifesto documentary frames discussion: 

Cost of criminalizing nonviolent offenders comes home…nders-comes-home

Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young…e-film-and-young

Civil rights veteran Tommie Wilson still fighting the good fight…g-the-good-fight

Rev. Everett Reynolds Gave Voice to the Voiceless…to-the-voiceless/

Lela Knox Shanks: Woman of conscience, advocate for change, civil rights and social justice champion…ocate-for-change

Omahans recall historic 1963 march on Washington…ch-on-washington

Lela Shanks



Psychiatrist-Public Health Educator Mindy Thompson Fullilove Maps the Root Causes of America’s Inner City Decline and Paths to Restoration…s-to-restoration/

A force of nature named Evie:

Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100…e-advocate-at-99


Home is where the heart Is for activist attorney Rita Melgares…ey-rita-melgares/

Free Radical Ernie Chambers subject of new biography by author Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson…bala-ali-johnson


Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands…-of-the-midlands/

Returning To Society: New community collaboration, research and federal funding fight to hold the costs of criminal recidivism down…-recidivism-down

Getting Straight: Compassion in Action expands work serving men, women and children touched by the judicial and penal system…and-penal-system





OneWorld Community Health: Caring, affordable services for a multicultural world in need…al-world-in-need

Dick Holland responds to far-reaching needs in Omaha…g-needs-in-omaha/

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more…he-need-for-more/

Giving kids a fighting chance: Carl Washington and his CW Boxing Club and Youth Resource Center…-resource-center/ 




Beto’s way: Gang intervention specialist tries a little tenderness…ittle-tenderness/

Saving one kid at a time is Beto’s life work…-betos-life-work

Community trumps gang in Fr. Greg Boyle’s Homeboy model…es-homeboy-model/

Born again ex-gangbanger and pugilist, now minister, Servando Perales makes Victory Boxing Club his mission church for saving youth from the streets…from-the-streets/

Turning kids away from gangs and toward teams in South Omaha…s-in-south-omaha/ 

“Paco” proves you can come home again…-come-home-again


Beto reaching out to kids, ©


Two graduating seniors fired by dreams and memories, also saddened by closing of  school, St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High…igh-in-omaha-neb/

St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High: A school where dreams matriculate…eams-matriculate/

Open Invitation: Rev. Tom Fangman engages all who seek or need at Sacred Heart Catholic Church…-catholic-church/

Outward Bound Omaha uses experiential education to challenge and inspire youth…nd-inspire-youth

After steep decline, the Wesley House rises under Paul Bryant to become youth academy of excellence in the inner city…n-the-inner-city



Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary…-ride-to-freedom/

The Great Migration comes home: Deep South exiles living in Omaha participated in the movement author Isabel Wilkerson writes about in her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns”…th-of-other-suns/

When New Horizons dawned for African-Americans seeking homes in Omaha…ericans-in-omaha/

Good Shepherds of North Omaha: Ministers and churches making a difference in area of great need…ea-of-great-need

Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism…ggle-with-racism/


Cover of


Letting 1,000 Flowers Bloom: The Black Scholar’s Robert Chrisman Looks Back at a Life in the Maelstrom…in-the-maelstrom

Coloring History:

A long, hard road for UNO Black Studies…no-black-studies

Two Part Series: After Decades of Walking Behind to Freedom, Omaha’s African-American Community Tries Picking Up the Pace Through Self-Empowered Networking…wered-networking

Power Players, Ben Gray and Other Omaha African-American Leaders Try Improvement Through Self-Empowered Networking…wered-networking/

Native Omahans Take Stock of the African-American Experience in Their Hometown…n-their-hometown

Overarching plan for North Omaha development now in place: Disinvested community hopeful long promised change follows…d-change-follows/

Standing on Faith, Sadie Bankston Continues One-Woman Vigil for Homicide Victim Families…-victim-families/

Forget Me Not Memorial Wall


North Omaha champion Frank Brown fights the good fight…s-the-good-fight/

Man on fire: Activist Ben Gray’s flame burns bright

Strong, Smart and Bold, A Girls Inc. Success Story…-girls-inc-story

What happens to a dream deferred?

John Beasley Theater revisits Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”…aisin-in-the-sun

Brown v. Board of Education: 

Educate with an Even Hand and Carry a Big Stick…arry-a-big-stick/



North 24th Street, photo by lachance (Andrew Lachance)

Fast times at Omaha’s Liberty Elementary: Evolution of a school…tion-of-a-school/

New school ringing in Liberty for students…rty-for-students

Nancy Oberst: Pied Piper of Liberty Elementary School…lementary-school/

Tender Mercies Minister to Omaha’s Poverty Stricken…poverty-stricken/

Community and coffee at Omaha’s Perk Avenue Cafe…perk-avenue-cafe/ 

Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers, that You Do Unto Me: Mike Saklar and the Siena/Francis House Provide Tender Mercies to the Homeless…t-you-do-unto-me/

Gimme Shelter: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Offers a Haven for Searchers…en-for-searchers

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change…-social-change-2


Image result for don benning omaha uno

A brief history of Omaha’s civil rights struggle distilled in black and white by photographer Rudy Smith…apher-rudy-smith/

Hidden In plain view: Rudy Smith’s camera and memory fix on critical time in struggle for equality…gle-for-equality/

Small but mighty group proves harmony can be forged amidst differences…idst-differences/

Winners Circle: Couple’s journey of self-discovery ends up helping thousands of at-risk kids through early intervention educational program…-of-at-risk-kids

A Mentoring We Will Go

Abe Sass: A mensch for all seasons

Shirley Goldstein: Cream of the Crop – one woman’s remarkable journey in the Free Soviet Jewry movement…t-jewry-movement/

Flanagan-Monsky example of social justice and interfaith harmony still shows the way seven decades later…y-60-years-later/

A Contrary Path to Social Justice: The De Porres Club and the fight for equality in Omaha…quality-in-omaha/

Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action…as-social-action/

Doing time on death row: Creighton University theater gives life to “Dead Man Walking”…dead-man-walking/

“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race…mination-of-race/

Bertha’s Battle: Bertha Calloway, the Grand Lady of Lake Street, struggles to keep the Great Plains Black History Museum afloat

Leonard Thiessen social justice triptych deserves wider audience…s-wider-audience/

Park Avenue Revitalization and Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood

February 25, 2018 2 comments


Park Avenue Revitalization & Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood

Appears in March-April 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine (

©Story by Leo Adam Biga

©Photos by Bill Sitzmann


As revitalization has come to diverse, densely-packed, Park Avenue, a tale of two neighborhoods has emerged. The north end, near 30th and Leavenworth and Midtown, finds a millennial haven of developer-renovated historic properties and shiny new projects on once vacant lots.. The south end, bordering Hanscom Park, is plagued by remnants of drug activity and prostitution. In place of chic urban digs are public housing towers. Amid this transience, reinvestment lags.

Meanwhile, nonprofit InCommon Community Development bridges unchecked development and vulnerable immigrant and refugee populations. Its proactive, grassroots approach to alleviate poverty invests in residents. As a gentrification buffer, InCommon’s purchased two apartment buildings with below market rents to maintain affordable housing options to preserve a mixed-income neighborhood.

“It’s crucial to really involve people in their own work of transformation,” executive director Christian Gray says. “We have a very specific assets-based community development process for doing that. It’s a methodology or mindset that says, we’re not going to do for others, and residents themselves are the experts.

“It’s slower, patient but sustainable work because then you have people with buy-in and trust collaborating together for that change. The iron rule is never do for others what they can do for themselves. We made a commitment when we moved in the neighborhood to set the right first impression. We said, ‘We’re not here to save you or to give away stuff for free. We’re here to listen – to get to know you. We want to hear your ideas about change and be the facilitators of that.’ I think that’s made the difference.”

The faith-based organization “starts with the idea people want to be able to provide for themselves and their families,” he says. “We help them build their own capacity and then start building relationships. Then comes leadership development. As we get to know people, we identify their talents-gifts. We talk about how they can apply those into developing and strengthening the neighborhood. The ultimate goal is neighborhood transformation. We want them to see themselves as the neighborhood change agents.”

A hub for InCommon’s work is the Park Avenue Commons community center opened in 2013. It hosts GED, ESL, literacy, citizenship, job readiness and financial education classes, first-time home-buying workshops, community health programs and zumba.

“If someone walks out of there with their GED, better English proficiency or better able to provide for their family, we’re pleased,” Gray says.

The center’s also where InCommon hosts neighborhood meetings and an after-school drop-in space, conducts listening sessions, identifies neighborhood concerns and interests and activates residents’ civic engagement.

“One of our shining examples is Arturo Mejia. He’s super passionate about the neighborhood. He started getting involved with the organization and eventually became a staff member. He leads our ESL and GED programming. He also does community organizing.”


Mejia, a Mexican immigrant, says what he’s found with InCommon mirrors other residents’ experiences.

“InCommon’s invested in me in many ways,” he says. “It’s helped me to use my full potential in my work for the Latino community of this neighborhood. InCommon has found the goodness this neighborhood has. When shown the assets, instead of the negatives, residents find encouragement and empowerment enough to keep reaching their goals.”

The community center resulted from feedback gathered from residents like Mejla. The zumba class was initiated by a woman living there.

“Adults come through the workforce channel. Kids come through the after-school channel,” Gray says.

At an InCommon community visioning process last fall, a group of young men shared the need for a new neighborhood soccer field and with InCommon’s guidance they’re working with the city on getting one. InCommon’s gala last fall recognized area superheroes like them and Mejia.

Besides the center, InCommon’s imprints include a pocket park, a community garden and artist Watie White’s mural of neighborhood leaders.

The first wave of redevelopment there, Gray says, “saw “empty buildings activated and populated and it actually brought an infusion of new people, energy and resources – the positive elements of gentrification.”

“It’s certainly cleaned up – but a lot of the problems remain here – they’re just beneath the surface now.”

As more development occurs, the concern is the people InCommon serves “will be displaced.” That’s where the low income housing come in. The Bristol, fully occupied and awaiting renovation, features 64 studio apartments. The Georgia Row, currently closed and undergoing repairs, will feature 10 or 11 multi-family units.

InCommon is investing $10 million in refurbishmentd. Local and state historic tax credits and tax increment financing monies, plus expected low income housing tax credits, are making it possible.

“As a landlord we’re not only able to preserve affordable housing. but we can integrate individual capacity building services directly on-site with residents,” Gray says.

He looks to solidify InCommon’s work in this and other “opportunity neighborhoods” poised for redevelopment.

“Right now, redevelopment is like a tidal wave people get drowned in. We are interested in getting people to withstand and actually surf that wave and leverage it. People have to have some wherewithal to be able to make their own decisions and not be co-opted into other people’s plans. We’ve started looking at how do we get residents more involved in directing how they want their neighborhoods to grow, so none of this happens in ad hoc form. In this more thoughtful approach to creating neighborhoods, there’d be a vision for what residents want Park Avenue or Walnut Hill to look like.

“The goal isn’t to come up with a plan for them, it’s to facilitate the process so neighbors and stakeholders come up with the plan together.”


A series commemorating Black History Month: North Omaha stories

January 31, 2018 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, family, community, faith, education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part I
Redevelopment, vision, advocacy. protest and empowerment…/when-omahas-north-24th-street-brought-together -jews-and-blacks-in-a-melting-pot-marketplace-that-is-no-more/‎…/art-as-revolution-brigitte-mcqueens-union-for- contemporary-art-reimagines-whats-possible-in-north-omaha/…/brigitte-mcqueen-shews-union-of-art-and- community-uses-new-blue-lion-digs-to-expand-community-engage……/carver-building-rebirthed-as-arts-culture-haven- theaster-gates-rebuild-and-bemis-reimagine-north-omaha/‎…/artists-running-with-opportunity-to-go-to-the- next-level-carver-bank-resident-artists-bring-new-life-to-area/‎


North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification

May 25, 2017 1 comment

North Omaha Development roundup
I am reporting for a new media company in town called MorningSky/Omaha that covers commercial development and real estate news in the metro. My first story for the service appeared a few weeks ago and examined some of the major North Omaha development projects underway, soon to be completed and in the planning stages. We try to look at subjects beyond the construction and desgn details to explore the social-cultural context around them.

Here is an excerpt from the North O story.

North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification

A $1.5 billion North Omaha revitalization effort is underway, earmarked as the catalyst for overturning decades of neglect.



After a stagnant half-century, northeast Omaha is finally seeing concerted redevelopment.

No significant investment followed in the wake of late 1960s civil unrest, white flight, disruptive urban renewal efforts, and job losses. The ensuing decades brought generational poverty and crime issues as vacant buildings and lots sat dormant.

But now hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction projects are underway. These follow on the heels of a new Walmart, the NorthStar Foundation facility, a Girls Inc. addition, two early childhood learning centers and a pair of church-school campuses given new uses. More developments are in the works.

Many projects are mixed-use. The investments are funded by traditional lenders, tax increment financing and philanthropy. The players involved range from educational institutions to real estate development companies to nonprofit community organizations to foundations to individual entrepreneurs.

It’s part of a $1.5 billion North Omaha revitalization effort earmarked as the catalyst for overturning decades of neglect. Combined with a massive sewer separation project rebuilding aging infrastructure, more capital is being infused in northeast Omaha than ever before. Some development is near major North Downtown revitalization, including the new CHI Healthmedical center under construction and the proposed mixed-used redo of the soon-to-be-vacated Creighton Medical Center. As NoDo investments have increased, the city has intensified its look northward to create greater synergy between northeast Omaha and downtown. The goal is realizing a seamless, interconnected landscape of thriving neighborhoods, arts-culture districts and business nodes, all of which would complement each other.

Highlander Courtyard HousingMeanwhile, a new North O is rising up, most visibly with the $88 million Highlander purpose-built village on North 30th Street and the $90 million Metropolitan Community College trio of buildings running along 30th from Sorenson Parkway to Fort Street. On the historic corner of 24th and Lake, a multi-million dollar renovation of the Blue Lion Center has made it the new home of the Union for Contemporary Art. The nearby North 24th Fair Deal Village Marketplace has added a restaurant and grocery store and given micro businesses an innovative home via corrugated shipping containers. At 26th and Lake, a century-old streetcar barn has been saved from demolition and will house a jobs-generating new owner.

All of it has the potential for attracting more commerce.

Nothing, however, is simple in North Omaha. Even as the emerging new facade offers tangible evidence of physical transformation, concerns exist about disenfranchising current residents and businesses. There are also concerns about addressing internal structural issues. Specifically, education, transportation and employment gaps must be filled to prepare people for and link them to living-wage jobs.

Now that progress is finally here, nobody wants it halted, only that it be mindful and inclusive.

Omaha Economic Development Corporation receives part of the credit for revitalizing $60 million in North O projects.

“I think thing are moving on a good track but we always have to be vigilant and diligent,” OEDC President Michael Maroney said. “We certainly don’t want to stop or dictate progress, we just want to make sure it works for the community. There’s a great deal of pride but there’s also a great deal of concern and the two go hand-in-hand. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about what’s happening but we also want to be cautious about how it’s happening and accelerating.”

Maroney knew North O’s day was coming.

“I knew it would – I didn’t know when,” he said. “The reality is we’re basically five minutes from downtown, 10 minutes from the airport. We’re in a very strategic area. A city can only grow out so much and then you have to grow from within and therein lies some of the challenges and concerns we’re faced with. How do we grow within?”

Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce strategic development plan served as an early redevelopment guide.

“It identified nodes of opportunity and to really focus in on key areas within the broad swath of North Omaha, so if things would happen in those areas they would have the best likelihood of succeeding,” he said.

That strategic study led to the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan, which “basically took those nodes and gave more clarity as to what they could begin to look like, I think that began to shape people’s thoughts and attitudes. The need for mixed income housing and more commercial development was loud and clear, and to some degree those kinds of things are bubbling up.”

A driving force and facilitator in getting change-agents to the table is theEmpowerment Network. Maroney works with community partners like it to fashion projects that generate housing, commerce and jobs.

Kristine Gerber, executive director of Restoration Exchange Omaha, likes the transformation she’s seeing in the Blue Lion renovation the Sherwood Foundation funded and the Fair Deal Marketplace OEDC developed.

“Twenty-fourth and Lake is looking really great right now,” Gerber said. “I mean, it’s great that you can go there and find several food, entertainment and shopping choices. I’d love to see that development continue north because there are some great smaller buildings in that area.”

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